ESPN is apparently a wild place to work. When I heard last month that SVP Keith Clinkscale was leaving the company to become an independent producer and his 25-person content development department was being eliminated, I knew something was strange. These are the people who created the popular 30 for 30 documentaries, Sports Nation and other sports/entertainment fusion programing for the network.
Now, Deadpin has the goods on what allegedly caused him to leave. ESPN reps are saying that this way is a more efficient business model, and perhaps that’s true. But, with accusations of threatening coworkers, inappropriate sexual behavior on an airplane in front of ESPN reporter, Erin Andrews AND a lawsuit about this Deadspin article that was filed BEFORE the article was published… I’d say the ugliness is just beginning to make it’s way to the surface.
Last month, ESPN announced it was eliminating its bi-coastal, 25-person Content Development department, which was responsible for the network’s 30 for 30 series, among other things… Shortly before ESPN’s announcement, we received an email from the spouse of an upper-level Content Development executive who is leaving ESPN. “This place is a s**t show,” our tipster wrote. The group, he wrote, had been dissolved to “get rid of” Clinkscales—whose transgressions allegedly included a physical altercation with a co-worker and an incident of masturbation in front of sideline reporter and peeping victim Erin Andrews. Top-level ESPN personnel knew of these incidents, these sources said, but nevertheless kept them quiet…
Among the disgruntled was the former content development executive (the wife of our initial tipster), who asked that we not use her name though she fully expected to be identified by her former colleagues at ESPN. We’ll call her Connie… according to Connie, the complaints about Clinkscales were all over the place. Some complained about his creative input and his lousy show ideas. Some b****ed that he was an incompetent manager and was stretched too thin to be effective. Some reported that he was a selective bully with rage issues and often said inappropriate things. Once, according to Connie, he openly fantasized about slitting the throat of ESPYs producer Maura Mandt, making a slashing gesture across his throat…
Earlier this year, Clinkscales traveled to Los Angeles with Erin Andrews for a work-related event. Andrews sat in the middle, while Clinkscales was on the aisle. It was in either first or business class. What happened next was related by Andrews herself to both Connie, her husband, and ESPN anchor Sage Steele. At some point during the trip, Andrews saw Clinkscales masturbating in his seat, beneath his iPad. When he realized he had been caught, Andrews told Connie, Clinkscales panicked and muttered, “You know, I’m one of your bosses.” Andrews, still scarred from the very public peephole stalking incident, was angry but conflicted, Connie tells me. She shared the incident with a handful of people at the network, but refused Connie’s suggestion that she go to HR. “Do it anonymously then,” Connie advised. Erin declined. She just wanted it to go away.
Andrews did not respond to email requests or text messages from me for comment. A call to one of her attorneys, Scott Carr, was not returned. Another source not connected to Connie recently asked Andrews if Clinkscales had jerked off in front of her. Andrews acknowledged that it had happened, according to the source.
Connie’s job was dissolved along with the group. She says that Skipper knew some of the problems she’d encountered under Keith over the years and that Skipper had thanked her on several occasions for “not suing us three or four times.” On Tuesday, she met with John Walsh. Word had gotten out that we were working on a story. Connie was still mum about where the information had come from but that she was aware that people were talking. Something was bound to come out.
I spoke with Clinkscales last week. He denied the Andrews incident and further denied having any physical altercations with his ESPN co-workers, but he would not comment further. On Tuesday, I reached out to Keith again and he once again denied the allegations. “Do you have an attorney?” I asked. He didn’t have one.
Hours later he referred all of my follow-up questions to his newly appointed attorney, Judd Burstein. He and Clinkscales thought they had figured out who our source was. On the phone, Burstein began to recite, with almost theatrical bravado, this lengthy statement on behalf of Keith:
“This allegation is completely, 100% false. Human Resources never received a complaint about this incident and Erin Andrews never made that claim. Keith has in his possession email conversations with Erin after they traveled together and those conversations show no mention of this incident and the emails and the phone conversations Keith had with Erin after the trip were completely friendly…”
I interrupted: “I didn’t say that the Andrews incident was reported to HR. I specifically told Keith it wasn’t reported to them by her because I was told that she was still rattled by the peephole incident.”
“Right!” Burstein replied. “Nothing to HR. Then where’s the proof? These allegations are unconfirmed and completely fictional. And whoever’s telling you this story—and we’re pretty sure we know who that person is—she better be prepared for a lawsuit if this story comes out.”
* * *
At 1:24 p.m. today, more than four hours before this story had come out, Burstein called to say Clinkscales was suing a woman he believed to be the anonymous source of our story—which, to remind you, we hadn’t published yet.
Hours later, we had in our hands a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, which detailed in public the allegations that we had not yet decided to publish. In the suit, Clinkscales and his lawyers write that “an embittered, soon-to-be unemployed ESPN executive has outrageously defamed an innocent supervisor out of spite and racial animus.” The defendant, according to the complaint, “believed that she should have been promoted to the position to which Plaintiff was appointed,” and was “routinely insubordinate” and “at times incompetent.”
The suit accuses the defendant of starting a “smear campaign” and seeks compensatory damages of “in no event less than $75,000,” along with unspecified punitive damages and “such other and further relief as deemed just and proper.”
There is SO much going on with this. On one hand, if you catch wind that someone is making these sort of serious accusations about you and your character, you HAVE to counter. But the fact that he knew exactly where the information came from and filed within four hours before even seeing what Deadspin wrote definitely is cause for the side eye. Le sigh being a woman and working in sports can be hard. Erin Andrews will be scrutinized for not going to HR, “Connie” will be looked at as a snitch for giving information to Deadspin and more than likely, no one will really care if it’s true that Clinkscales did all those things and will still manage to get business and create more projects.
Men in sports are rarely ostracized when it comes to these type of situations.