The sports world is one of the last bastions of unabashed machismo, and few are surprised that ESPN would be ensnared within the #MeToo/sexual harassment web now permeating popular culture in the United States.
A former part-time reporter accused longtime anchor John Buccigross of sexual harassment and ESPN of rampant sexism. ESPN denies the allegations and also on Thursday released text messages between the alleged victim and Buccigross to show that they had, in ESPN’s words, a “consensual, personal friendship that spanned months.”
This is in response to an inflammatory report published Thursday by the Boston Globe that stated Adrienne Lawrence, a former ESPN on-air personality, filed a complaint saying she was harassed by Buccigross. She believes she was retaliated against by ESPN.
ESPN counters strongly, saying, according to CNN, that it had “conducted a thorough investigation and found these claims to be entirely without merit.” The sports behemoth also said it chose not to renew Lawrence’s contract, nor give her full-time employment that she coveted at the same time ESPN cut 100 other on-air personalities in April.
ESPN also released portions of the electronic interactions between Lawrence and Buccigross to bolster its belief it had conducted a thorough investigation and found Lawrence’s complaint wanting.
Lawrence then forwarded to CNNMoney the “full archive of messages” between herself and Buccigross, as opposed to what ESPN released. The archive that Lawrence claims is the full exchange between the two provides important details lacking in the messages released by ESPN, like shirtless photos Buccigross took of himself and sent to her.
ESPN gave a rationale for this to CNNMoney: “While we didn’t include every message submitted in the legal proceeding, we felt the released portions capture the nature of the friendship over a period of months. We purposefully excluded the pictures each party shared in the course of the text conversation.”
The text messages show that Buccigross initiates contact with Lawrence.
The text messages indicate mutual respect and a benign friendship. However, Buccigross was including flirty words like “dollface”, “pretty face”, “doll” and “#dreamgirl” within a month of their burgeoning friendship. The messages that began in June 2016 and went through September of that year also included smiley-face emojis with heart eyes.
Lawrence was mostly seeking career advice from Buccigross, a mentor, and how to navigate the labyrinth of ESPN. However, the two also discussed more personal matters, including dinner plans with each other and their favorite teams.
After about three months of texting back and forth, Buccigross sent Lawrence shirtless photos of himself on two separate occasions. Lawrence simply answered the fist time with “Lol!!!!!!” and then “You need to wear clothes, sir.” After further conversation, including talk of making plans to see each other that weekend, on Aug. 9 Buccigross sent the second shirtless picture of himself, and Lawrence responded, “You’re too funny! Have a good show tonight.”
According to the screenshots Lawrence provided to CNNMoney, she did not send him any further texts until the next day, when she texted him to offer condolences on the death of ESPN’s John Saunders. Buccigross replied, “Thanks, doll. I need a hug.”
After a few days of no texts between them, Buccigross texted Lawrence to say, “Forget about me? Better options?” followed by two smiling emojis. Several hours later, Lawrence replied, “Sorry about that… got tied up with family. Hope your weekend’s good.” Buccigross then responded, “Hope all is ok. I cancelled everything just in case you hollered. Bourbon and Oreos tonight.” Several hours later, when Lawrence had not written back, Buccigross followed up: “Next time, just drop a note.”
The next morning, Lawrence answered Buccigross, “Sorry if you were disappointed. I would’ve sent a note but we didn’t have a date or time set. I have a lot going on with my family right now and my focus needs to be there. Hope you understand and can have a fulfilling next few days off.”
Some respondents to the Boston Globe indicated that perhaps Buccigross was developing an attraction to Lawrence, but that this failed to equate to harassment or sexism. Others championed Lawrence for stepping into the hornet’s nest of public accusations of sexual harassment. Still others chastised Lawrence for what they characterize as frivolous and innocuous.
There would be no texts for a period of days, and then Buccigross would reach out, and Lawrence would respond. At the end of August, Buccigross sent her a text in which he said, “Really bummed I did/said something to turn you off. I’m sorry if I did. I won’t bug you anymore. But I’m here if you ever need any support. You’re interesting, smart, delightful and pretty. Now decide what to be and go be it. I’m confident you will.”
To that, Lawrence responded, “What makes you say that?”
Buccigross wrote back, “Instincts. Perceptiveness is a strength. I don’t want to over dramatize your day. You got things to focus on. I’m probably overprotective of women. You have it tough in many ways. I don’t EVER want to be a negative.”
Lawrence responded, “I appreciate that. This stuff is very complicated and it is overwhelming even just battling these seasonal allergies. Anyways, I do appreciate your support. I’m hoping to draw on it more in the future once I have better footing where I stand now. :)”
Lawrence believes that while she only sought a professional relationship with Lawrence, Buccigross spread rumors that they were romantically involved. When she shared her beliefs with superiors and HR, she said she was rebuffed and told to drop the matter. After her contract was not renewed, she filed a complaint with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities in August (ESPN’s headquarters is in Bristol, Connecticut). She believes she received retaliation and missed out on career opportunities as a result of her complaints.
Lawrence said she believes ESPN is trying to silence her and that the nature of their interactions go far beyond the text messages provided to CNNMoney.
Buccigross declined media inquires for a response to Lawrence’s charges. But ESPN referred CNNMoney to what he told the Globe. Buccigross admitted sending the two shirtless photos, but denied starting rumors of a relationship.
“I considered Adrienne to be a friend,” he said. “I’m sorry if anything I did or said offended Adrienne. It certainly wasn’t my intent.”