It’s a lot going on in this story so I’m going to try my best and break it down for you. Deadspin.com published a story yesterday about Keith Clinkscales – former ESPN’s senior vice president for content, development, and enterprise – who left the company to become an independent producer. Clinkscales headed the bi-coastal, 25-person Content Development department, which was responsible for the network’s 30 for 30 series, among other things. ESPN’s executive vice president for content, John Skipper, told Sports Business Journal that “this is a more efficient and better model.”
But shortly before ESPN’s announcement, Deadspin received an email from the spouse of an upper-level Content Development executive who is leaving ESPN.
Here are the details:
“This place is a sh*t show,” our tipster wrote. The group, he wrote, had been dissolved to “get rid of” Clinkscales—whose transgressions, we’d learn in subsequent conversations with the tipster and his wife, 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.
And this is where things got weird. Clinkscales is now suing the woman he believes to be our source. Just to be clear: A former ESPN senior vice president is suing another former ESPN executive on the grounds that she defamed him in a story that we hadn’t written yet. That we’re now publishing. What follows is the story of how the sh*t show spread to us.
You can read the back-story for the cause of the lawsuit here.
But if you don’t have time to read the whole story (or just don’t feel like it) here is the short story. And these are all just allegations.
According to the tipster’s wife, who was not named but was called Connie in the story, senior members of the group had pushed for Clinkscales’s ouster, with Connie advocating. There were complaints from different people about Clinkscales’s creative input, his lousy show ideas, his selective bully with rage issues and often said inappropriate things.
In one incident, according to Connie, she said she had a heated disagreement with Clinkscales during the production of ESPN’s Red Bull: New Year No Limits in 2007. The argument was centered on whether or not to air part of a stunt during the live show. Connie alleged that Clinkscales threaten to kill her, physically and verbally assaulted her and then fired her.
Another incident involved Erin Andrews. Here’s what Deadspin said:
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.
So before this story was even published by Deadspin, Clinkscales filed a lawsuit against a woman he believed to be the anonymous source of Deadspin’s story.
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.”
If all of these allegations that “Connie” made are true, then this doesn’t look good ESPN. ESPN has been involved in some controversial situations surrounding how they unfairly treat employees (see Bruce Feldman). And Erin Andrews just can’t get a break. Its bad enough have a stranger peeping in on you while your naked, but to have a co-worker allegedly masturbate in front of you on a plane is just too much.
I’m pretty sure we’ll see more to this story in the coming months.