ESPN Suspends Tony Kornheiser for Being Himself

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ESPN Suspends Tony Kornheiser for Being Himself

Many sports fans consider this time of year the “dry season.” College and pro football is over, the interminably long NBA regular season has more than 20 games yet to be played, spring training has not yet begun, and March Madness is still weeks away. Winter Olympics notwithstanding, there’s not a lot going on.

Even during the “dry season,” however, television and radio honks have to talk about something . Occasionally one will talk too much, and something like this happens.

ESPN television personality Tony Kornheiser was suspended Tuesday for remarks he made about fellow anchor Hannah Storm on his local Washington, D.C. radio show.

Kornheiser, who is co-host of the popular show “Pardon the Interruption,” made his comments Friday, expressing chagrin at what Storm, 47, was wearing. Calling her outfit horrifying, the talk show host said Storm’s blouse was so tight that it looked like “sausage casing,” and that her skirt was "way too short for somebody" her age.

According to Kornheiser, no woman in her late 40s (actually, he posited that Storm may be over 50) should be on the air in a “Catholic school plaid skirt.”

He either realized he had gone too far with his remarks, or he was told so (I suspect the latter), because he apologized for his remarks, both personally and on the air. ESPN decided an apology wasn’t enough, however, and suspended Kornheiser for two weeks.

I may be in the minority here, but I think the suspension was too harsh.

ESPN is suspending Tony Kornheiser for doing what they hired him to do, what they pay him to do. He’s not a reporter per se; he is the on-air equivalent of an opinion columnist. He’s paid to offer opinions on sports-related topics, and if all his opinions were run-of-the-mill and milquetoast in tone, he’d be out of a job. Kornheiser’s job—as well as that of his PTI partner Michael Wilbon—is to be provocative.

Now, you could argue that Kornheiser’s comments were professionally discourteous, and I’d have no problem with that argument. It is bad form to publicly trash a colleague, particularly one from the same network.

But otherwise, the comments he made were not out of character. Kornheiser evinces strong opinions. He criticizes people. He pokes fun at people, including himself.  This is another of the reasons I don’t think he should have gotten more than a reprimand from the network.

If you’ve ever seen Tony Kornheiser, you know he’s not the slightest bit telegenic. He’s sixtyish, balding, and nebbishy, and speaks with a whiny Long Island honk of an accent. Heck, Hannah Storm could probably kick the crap out of him. Kornheiser knows this, and picking on himself is part of his shtick.

Hence this quote, with which he opened his radio show on the day after HannahGate: “I'm a troll, look at me. I have no right to insult what anybody looks like or what anybody wears. That, I think, should go without saying.”

He apologized on the air. He apologized to Hannah Storm. That, plus a small verbal whack on the wrist from the Mother Ship, should have been enough for a first offense. Instead, ESPN is essentially suspending Kornheiser for being himself.

Punishing someone for simply doing his job is not without precedent at the Worldwide Leader. In 2003, the network hired Rush Limbaugh to be a panelist on Sunday NFL Countdown. Limbaugh quickly became embroiled in a flap regarding on-air remarks about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

“The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well, black coaches and black quarterbacks doing well,” Limbaugh said. “There is a little hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve.”

ESPN summarily fired Limbaugh for racially insensitive commentary, and at the time, I thought, For what? I mean, what did ESPN expect from one of the most—if not the most—provocative celebrity in the country, one with a history of racial insensitivity? As repugnant as I find Limbaugh personally, I don’t think he should have been fired. He was doing what he was hired to do.

Just like Tony Kornheiser.

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