ESPN’s Jeannine Edwards to Ron Franklin: Who’s ‘Sweet Baby’ Now, A-hole?
No one noticed — because who watches all those meaningless New Year’s Day college football bowl games, much less listens to them on the radio? — but ESPN Radio’s broadcast of the Fiesta Bowl had a little drama. Even if you’re an alum of the University of Oklahoma and were listening, or are an alum of the University of Connecticut and were listening for the first half, you wouldn’t have heard anything askew. The drama was all behind the scenes.
At least until three days later, when someone lost a job over it.
According to a report on SportsbyBrooks.com that’s been picked up all over the Internet, The Worldwide Leader pulled scheduled play-by-play man Ron Franklin from Saturday’s broadcast after he had a run-in with sideline reporter Jeannine Edwards the day before. Edwards and Franklin were reportedly in a production meeting for Friday’s telecast of the all-important Chick-fil-A Bowl with a few other people, and at some point Franklin addressed Edwards in a dismissive tone, “Listen to me, sweet baby, let me tell you something …” (The original report had Franklin referring to her as “sweetcakes,” but in a USA Today story Edwards said it was “sweet baby.”) When Edwards objected to being spoken to that way, he reportedly said, “OK, then listen to me, a–hole.”
ESPN management caught wind of this — Edwards told USA Today that a colleague reported the exchange — and Franklin was yanked from the next day’s Fiesta Bowl broadcast. It apparently was too late to replace him in the Chick-fil-A booth. Or maybe management folks felt that was too big of a game — No. 23 Florida State vs. No. 19 South Carolina — to leave it in the hands of a B-team broadcaster.
On Tuesday, ESPN fired Franklin, perhaps because they’d been down this road before. Back in 2005, during a Notre Dame-Purdue game that was turning into a rout, he berated sideline reporter Holly Rowe for commending the Boilermakers for not giving up. “Holly, it’s not giving up,” he said. “It’s 49-21, sweetheart.” He got a talking-to that time, a dismissal this time.
Now, I’m sure this story is fueling all sorts of outrage. There no doubt are those outraged that Edwards or any woman would be spoken to like this in a professional setting. There surely are those outraged that Franklin would be so harshly disciplined for something that happened in the privacy of a behind-the-scenes meeting. Everyone on both sidelines gets outraged about everything in these days of the PC apocalypse.
I come down squarely on the 50-yard line here. Having worked in the ultimate boys’ locker room of media — a newspaper sports department — for more than two decades, I have seen and heard it all. I can’t count the number of times I was called “a-hole” or something much worse. Most of those times, the words were spoken in jest or in a flustered moment. People on deadline act in harsh ways. They call each other names. So I don’t really have a problem with Franklin calling Edwards an “a-hole,” per se.
I do have a problem with “sweet baby,” though. (“Sweetcakes,” too, and anything else with the flavor of “sugar.”) Women have made great strides in all of the business world, and nowhere has that been truer than in sports media. During my newspaper days, I had the pleasure of working with a couple of trail blazers, Lesley Visser and Jackie MacMullan, who pretty quickly earned the respect of male colleagues at a time when most guys still looked at female sports reporters as nothing but a pretty face and nice piece of ass standing with a microphone along the sideline, serving as eye candy more than as a legitimate reporter. Even the compliments they got at first tended to be backhanded — calling someone “a good woman reporter” is playing into a stereotype, like “a good black quarterback.” But these women worked at the craft of being a reporter and a columnist, and paved the way for other women to enter the sports media profession without having to have the word “woman” or “female” as part of their job title. And certainly without having to be called “sweet baby.”
Here’s my litmus: Was Franklin’s comment merely an expression of him being annoyed at hearing something he didn’t like in a conversation, or was it an expression of him being annoyed at a woman saying something he didn’t like? Judging from the context that’s been reported, I think the latter is the case. If Franklin had used a racial epithet to quiet a black colleague or called a gay colleague a fag to shut him up, it’d be no less offensive.
And here’s another factor, which flies in the face of me being OK with the A-word: Franklin allegedly used that term of endearment only after Edwards objected to being referred to as “sweet baby.” So he apparently was using it to express his displeasure at being called on his sexist remark. That only compounds the sexism, as I see it.
Why do things have to get so complicated, though? And who knows if there’s even more to the story? What did Edwards say or do to set off Franklin? After he called her a name, did she fire some ageist quip back at the 68-year-old grey hair?
Even though I’m writing about it now, I wish this all weren’t happening out in public. And I’m ambivalent about the firing. An ESPN big cheese should have simply taken Franklin into a room and let him know what’s acceptable, and then they should have brought in Edwards and worked things out. That’s how my son’s second-grade teacher handles things.
And it’s not like Franklin disgraced ESPN by doing something offensive on the air. It’s not like he, say, acted all giddy and celebratory while reporting on a misfortune that had befallen someone in the sports world. No, Ron Franklin didn’t do anything of the sort. That was the handiwork of morning SportsCenter anchor Hannah Storm and NFL guy Adam Schefter, in reporting Monday’s breaking news that the Cleveland Browns had fired Eric Mangini:
Laughter? High-fives? I look forward to seeing the raucous SportsCenter reaction if Hannah or Adam is ever fired.
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