NFL TV, ESPN Suspend Five Ex-Players Over Harassment Claims
(Bloomberg) -- The NFL Network, ESPN and Bill Simmons’ The Ringer have suspended five on-air commentators and a senior executive after allegations of sexual harassment by a former co-worker.
The former football players, including Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk, Heath Evans and Ike Taylor, allegedly groped and made sexually explicit comments to Jami Cantor when they were colleagues at the NFL Network, according to a lawsuit filed against NFL Enterprises by Cantor.
The allegations against the retired players and former NFL Network executive producer Eric Weinberger, who’s now president of sports commentator Bill Simmons’s media group, are part of a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court. An amended complaint filed Monday detailed specific acts of harassment by several individuals who aren’t named as defendants.
Weinberger sent “several nude pictures of himself and sexually explicit texts” and told Cantor she was “put on earth to pleasure me,” according to the complaint. Cantor says he also pressed his crotch against her shoulder and asked her to touch it.
She said she was also sexually harassed by on-air talent. Faulk would ask Cantor “deeply personal and invasive questions” about her sex life; he also fondled her breasts and groped her behind, according to the complaint.
Taylor sent Cantor “sexually inappropriate” pictures and a video of him masturbating in the shower, according to the filing. Donovan McNabb, a former analyst, also texted her explicit comments, according to the complaint.
Faulk, Taylor and Evans have been suspended pending the investigation, said Alex Riethmiller, a spokesman for the NFL Network. McNabb now works for ESPN, which said in a statement that neither the former quarterback nor another employee identified in the complaint, Eric Davis, would appear on its networks during an NFL investigation into the allegations.
Weinberger has been suspended from Simmons’s media properties, including The Ringer website, according to a statement. He hung up the phone when reached by a Bloomberg reporter, and Simmons didn’t return emails seeking comment on the allegations.
Joel Segal, who represents Taylor, didn’t immediately return a voicemail seeking comment. Jordan Bazant, who represents Faulk and Evans, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegations. Representatives for McNabb didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment.
Cantor first filed her case in October, claiming wrongful termination. Laura Horton, a lawyer for Cantor, said by phone, “It’s outrageous conduct and I fully intend to hold the NFL Network responsible.”
While several men across politics, media, entertainment and the technology industry have been fired over allegations of sexual harassment, this is the most sweeping indictment to surface at the intersection of sports and media.
Earlier this year, Fox Sports fired executive Jamie Horowitz after allegations of harassment; former big-league catcher and Toronto Blue Jays analyst Gregg Zaun was let go for inappropriate behavior toward female coworkers; and former NFL quarterback Warren Moon was accused of harassment. None have the star power or name recognition among casual sports fans like Faulk or McNabb.
At the NFL Network, Weinberger helped create and oversee the network’s live programming, and when Simmons praised his professional record when he hired him. “He’s a talented guy with an impeccable reputation, someone who is uniquely equipped to help me build an innovative multimedia company from scratch,” Simmons said in a 2015 statement.
“I know from experience that you’re only as good as the people around you, and Eric is one of the very best,” he said at the time.
Cantor said she complained about the sexual advances from former NFL players to Marc Watts, the league’s talent coordinator but that he did nothing. According to the complaint, he told her, “It’s part of the job when you look the way you do.” Watts didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.
Cantor said she also raised concerns about other working conditions at the network, including a failure to reimburse her for expenses and a lack of compensation for the hours she worked. She was terminated by her supervisor at the NFL in October 2016, when she was 51, and replaced by a 30-year-old, according to the complaint.
The revelations and suspensions are the latest in a series of challenges to the NFL, which is coping with falling television ratings amid player protests and public rebukes from President Donald Trump. Earlier this fall, fans witnessed a the owners’ public fight over whether to extend Commissioner Roger Goodell’s contract.
At one point, furious that Goodell suspended star running back Ezekiel Elliott after an accusation of domestic violence, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones threatened to sue his fellow owners. Jones eventually yielded, and the contract was ratified. Elliott will be eligible to play when Dallas hosts the Seattle Seahawks on Dec. 24.
The case is Cantor v. NFL Enterprises LP, BC678714, California Superior Court (Los Angeles).
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