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Wednesday, July 26, 2006
Harold Reynolds Fired: Is Sexual Harassment Situational or Dispositional?

Neil Best of Newsday writes about Harold Reynolds' surprising firing from ESPN--allegedly because of a sexual harassment complaint filed against him--and in the process, suggests that sexual harassment is a significant problem at the network:
Harold Reynolds, one of ESPN's most visible analysts and a longtime panelist on "Baseball Tonight," has left the network in the wake of one or more incidents of sexual harassment.

Three people who work at ESPN and were familiar with the case said the cause was a pattern of sexual harassment, apparently culminating in a recent incident involving one of the network's young production assistants . . .

Harassment charges are nothing new at ESPN, which operates out of a sprawling "campus" in relatively isolated Bristol, Conn., and employs many production assistants in their early 20s. The network has an extensive program of education and sensitivity regarding gender issues and an elaborate system for pursuing claims of sexual harassment.

Keith Olbermann of MSNBC, a former ESPN host, told The New York Observer in 2004 he had testified in "three or four major cases at ESPN."

Among the prominent ESPN personalities accused of improper behavior in the past is Mike Tirico, who will debut as the play-by-play man for "Monday Night Football" in the coming season. He was suspended by ESPN in 1992 for what were reported at the time to be allegations of sexual harassment. Another host, Jason Jackson, was fired in 2002, reportedly for harassment.
If these accusations are a true--a big "if" since we've seen no evidence in a court of law--what do they suggest about the power of workplace "situation" on the behavior of employees? In other words, to what extent do the workplace circumstances in which ESPN anchors find themselves--being famous ex-jocks or sports guys around young women in a college campus-style setting--cause or encourage some of them to do really stupid things? Has ESPN created a workplace enviroment akin to a male locker room, or is this really about the individual wrongdoers and not about their workplace?

Note: please see update from 10/31/2006: Harold Reynolds Sues ESPN for Wrongful Termination


Yes, I think sexual harassment can be situational; though I'm not sure that the "good 'ol boys club" atmosphere created by ESPN is completely to blame. Rather, the "situation" that might predicate this kind of behavior is the fact that, as you mentioned, the workforce is so young. I think younger people tend to have more of a tolerance for sexual jokes, e-mails, comments, cat calls, etc.--I'd go so far as to say that they comprise part of our Gen X/Gen Y vernacular--that we tend to see them as humorous rather than offensive. All it takes, however, is one new production assistant who doesn't take a joke so well, and all of a sudden Harold Reynolds is getting fired for something that everyone else in the office usually discounted as a funny joke. Hopefully this was the situation (and not something more serious).

That being said, situational factors have never been a good defense, so Harold should know better.

Anonymous Taylor -- 7/26/2006 12:38 PM  

I don't feel like sexual harassment can be situational. It is wrong in any case to go beyond the limit of workplace standards. Whether you're working at ESPN as a production assistant or in Congress as an intern, no authority figure has the right make the working environment uncomfortable for others.

You can not point the finger at the environment generated by ESPN as the problem. The fact is that young students just graduating from college need a job. And for a production assistant, ESPN is a large network that represents good opportunity for job advancement. And for ESPN, the production assistant are merely part of a job market that they need to operate. So the fault in this case rests soley on Harold Reynolds, if the charges are infact accurate.

On another note, I'd like to say that I thought Harold Reynolds was the best analyst on Baseball Tonight, and that he provided some of the most interesting analysis from a player's standpoint. Its sad to see him lose his job, but if he had recurrent problems with sexual harassment, I don't blame ESPN for firing him.

Blogger bqiu -- 7/26/2006 12:48 PM  

Although many people have claimed that sexual harrassment was the cause of the firing, there is another theory that HR was fired because ESPN was going to play up Alex Rodriguez's struggles during the Yankees/Rangers series this week, and HR refused to go along. While you obviously don't want people sexual harrassing coworkers, it might be even worse if ESPN is firing anchors who refuse to go along with a lack of journalistic integrity.

Anonymous Taco John -- 7/26/2006 12:56 PM got to be kidding.....right?

Blogger Oberon -- 7/26/2006 1:27 PM  

Allegedly, Mr. Reynolds took a young production assistant (PA) out to dinner at an Outback restaurant over the weekend. At the conclusion of the dinner, Mr. Reynolds gave her a "hug" that, for whatever reason, she deemed inappropriate. If "hug" is another way of saying massive groping, grinding and feeling, then I'm not sure this is really situational. According to Deadspin and other websites, Mr. Reynolds apparently had some issues with other PAs over the years.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/26/2006 2:29 PM  

It cannot make sense to any man who knows that his primary target for Sexual matters is women. Putting the two together is sexual harrasment in in of itself. Considering what some girls where to work these days, I am never surprised every time another person is accused of harrasment, because every guy is already picturing the girl in his bed. Harrassment, and alleged harrassment will always be a problem in the office, because people like to have relations. What is there to do about it. I hope someone knows

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/26/2006 2:38 PM  

As a female, I think harassment can be situational, flowing both ways, but especially in environments around the sports me. It is tragic that HR is gone from Baseball Tonight and it seems from the New York Post article today that it might be a misunderstanding and he "wants his job back"...however it turns out, there is a lot more to it. Check out ESPN: The Uncensored History (2000) by Michael Freeman.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/26/2006 2:40 PM  

I hope that anonymous "do you see what women wear to work these days" comment wasn't serious.

In any case, I think that sexual harassment can be situational, although no situation exists that can excuse the act of sexual harassment or change the basic definitions of sexual harassment. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but I'm sticking to it.

On that same topic, I think it's better to take it from a different angle.

Rather than ask if the sexual harassment can be situational and look at it individually, I'd like to ask whether or not workplaces, especially ones which might be determined to place individuals at greater risk (if this is what we mean by situational), should be required to provide more employee training or lay more groundrules.

Is this something that should be addressed further legally? Many states encourage or require training to some degree, but should it be made industry specific? Is that inappropriate?

I believe that ESPN did institute more training after incidents publicized a few years ago, but can they do more? Should they? Are informational sessions on sexual harassment beneficial in deterring it?

What is strange about the Harold Reynold's firing is that ESPN has an allegedly horrible history with sexual harassment (Mike Tirico) and overall bad behavior from prominent employees (Gary Miller). This has led to suspensions and demotions, but few firings. At the least, ESPN seems willing to suspend or otherwise punish employees before firing them.

This doesn't excuse Harold's act, but the fact that he was fired outright has to raise some alarms. In addition, he had just signed a new six year contract with them (I believe).

He must have been warned about it before, if he has a prior history of harassment. It will be interesting to see if any more information is forthcoming in the next few days. I don't believe we've heard the last on this issue or incident yet.

Blogger Satchmo -- 7/26/2006 5:50 PM  

I don't feel like sexual harassment can be situational.

Anonymous BioquimicBoy -- 7/26/2006 6:55 PM  

I would have to agree with some synicism with the other anonymous about what woman wear. Could you imagine walking into a club and them telling you there are specific ground rules for talking to girls. If what Harold did was outside the workplace, he should go unscathed.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 7/26/2006 9:22 PM  

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Anonymous Kevin Collier -- 7/27/2006 9:18 AM  

ESPN instituted a dress code in 1991 in an attempt to combat harassment. It didn't do much good.

Blogger David -- 7/28/2006 1:46 PM  

Harold Reynolds & Sexual Harassment Allegations

Harold is a personal friend of mine (like my little brother) so I know his side of the story which will soon come out at his attorney’s discretion. Not only am I personal friend of Harold, I am a professional fact-finding investigator in discrimination cases, including sexual harassment cases.

Under the law, nothing that Harold did fits under the definition of sexual harassment. According to the law; “Any unwanted (unwelcome) words, touching, gestures or action of a sexual nature constitutes sexual harassment.” In order to have a case of sexual harassment the allege victim must tell the person initiating the actions or gesture that their actions and gesture is unwelcome and unwanted. If the person ignore the victims warning and persist with the behavior, that constitute sexual harassment. This never happened in the case of Harold Reynolds and ESPN’s Human Resource manager should be fired for not knowing the law and the definition of sexual harasssment.

Unwanted sexual advances are determined by the allege victim. To one woman, a hand shake can be considered sexual harassment. To another a mere look could be considered sexual harassment and to another a friendly hug can be sexual harassment.

What is unusual about the ESPN case against Harold Reynolds is that none of the white victims have been identified. In contrast, in the case of the allege black victim vs Duke University, not only was the so called black victim identified, but all of her family members and ex-boyfriends were also identified.

Keep Harold in your thoughts and prayers


Harold’s Friend

Anonymous Haorld Reynolds Friend -- 7/29/2006 12:34 AM  

I really can not comment on the direct situation as I personally was not a witness, however as a student of human nature and the pantomime, I see in Reynolds an articulate, intelligent african-american male that has held his position as a ESPN employee for 11 years. In this highly visible position, the man has shown no evidence of malevolence, no signs of the guilt-ridden individual the media has made him. In my own extensive experience working with people, I have found that men and women both create these "situations" by there own actions or lack of action. Then there are those whom have their own personal agenda. Several years ago, I worked with a young lady, whom shall remain nameless. She was very forthcoming when it came to her sexual needs and desires and while I make it a personal rule to never fraternize with my co-workers, her constant advances, combined with the accentuation of her physical attributes through creative wardrobe choices, made it difficult even for me not to take notice. Weeks pass and one of my superiors was let go for sexually harrassing this woman. I was very surprised and almost offended. You see people honestly believe that we as men can not control our own urges as we should, but a woman can tell her COO that she is wearing a remote controlled dildo in her vagina and she gets promoted while he gets terminated. I sincerly hope that none of these are the case, for if it is there is a chink in ESPN's armor that is about to be exposed. A MAN APART

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/06/2006 4:06 PM  

Don't touch chicks at the job. Period. How hard is that?

The only caveat, and it is one that I wouldn't suggest anyone take seriously, is a woman with higher rank than yourself. Then, you'll only get fired for being annoying.

And "Harold Reynold's Friend" has the law entirely wrong!!! Believe that crap at your own peril.


Blogger SmittyBanton -- 8/06/2006 7:32 PM  

Anagram for Harold Reynolds...


Maybe his name speaks more than we think it does.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/12/2006 11:46 PM  

It dosent get any dumber than that last post. Wish I had stopped reading one post sooner.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 8/23/2006 4:18 PM  

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