'Those Guys Have all the Fun': So what exactly is in that top-secret ESPN book?

James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales’ followup to their excellent 2002 Saturday Night Live book, Live From New York, is an oral history of ESPN, and its contents have been a closely guarded secret (GQ recently posted some of the book’s juiciest Olbermann sections). Until today, that is. Publisher Little, Brown just lifted their embargo, meaning that we can now reveal some details of the much-anticipated project. So what’s the big secret? The book is enormous — 700-plus pages of interviews with big names like Keith Olbermann, Chris Berman, Rush Limbaugh, Michael Eisner, Erin Andrews, and many, many more. The authors talked to more than 550 people and cover an amazing amount of ground. It’s a serious, impressive piece of work, if a little too long and padded out with less-interesting material. The book offers a nuanced look at ESPN, does some top-notch TV-biz reporting on the early days of the cable industry, and offers compelling behind-the-scenes stories about a number of big events (ESPN’s botched takeover of Monday Night Football, the creation of the X Games, the Rush Limbaugh-Donovan McNabb blowup). But what everyone will probably want to talk about, at least for now, is the dirt. And there’s a bunch of it: the book is packed with huge egos and bad behavior. Here are just a few highlights:

– “The company would have Christmas parties up at some horrible place in Bristol [Conn., where ESPN is based],” says former general counsel Andy Brilliant. “A couple of them were drunken orgies…. It became like a big frat party. There were a lot of drugs being done in the bathroom. There was quite a bit of screwing going on afterward, a lot of it extramarital. But everybody went back to business the next workday.”

– “There was screwing in the hallways,” says onetime reporter Sal Marchiano of ESPN’s early days. “Okay, maybe not in the hallways, but there were a couple of stairwell stories…. There were drugs in the building, that I knew. There was one guy who dealt pot.”

– At one point in the ’80s ESPN kept an apartment in New York City. “I remember [an ESPN exec] coming in and saying, ‘We gotta get rid of this apartment…because the mail boys got a couple of our secretaries hooking over there,'” says former ESPN CEO Bill Grimes. “Hooking! That’s what he said…. ‘They’re making money after work when no one’s there. It’s getting out of control.'”

– Sexual harassment was an ongoing issue. In the late ’80s the problem got so bad that anchor Karie Ross actually stood up in front of 200 or so people in the cafeteria and demanded that it stop. Her plea didn’t have much impact. “No fewer than fifty cases of sexual harassment were reported by women on the staff to ESPN management in the first half of the 1990s,” the authors write.

– Keith Olbermann is hardly the network’s only cranky anchor. “I was introduced to [Chris Berman], and my title was mentioned,” recalls marketing senior VP Lee Ann Daly. “He was like, ‘Oh, goddammit, do we need another vice president?’ And I just said, ‘Nice to meet you, too, Mr. Berman.’ ….there was really no need to be a jerk. But that kind of stuck with me. I noticed that Chris Berman was rarely happy. He was always very difficult to please.”

– The biggest villain in the book? Quite possibly the town of Bristol, Conn., which is apparently so isolated and dull that it drives ESPN execs who work there to all sorts of boorish behavior. “I think part of the sexual harassment stuff was location,” says former ESPN chairman Steve Bornstein. “It’s one hundred miles from real civilization, and you got the kind of testosterone, jock mentality, frat house approach that’s pretty much a recipe for stupid decisions being made.” Or as another exec, Bill Creasy, puts it, “What a s—hole. I mean, what were they thinking [locating ESPN HQ there]?”

That’s just a small sampling of what’s in this huge book, which hits stores on May 24. So are you excited to read when it hits stores on Tuesday? What are you most looking forward to finding out?

Comments (42 total) Add your comment
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  • RoeLuv

    Hmm I wonder how parent company Disney feels about this

  • Coachurly

    I love ESPN and can’t wait to read these tawdry tales.

    • Glass

      That’s funny, I hate ESPN and I can’t wait to read these tawdry tales!

  • daisyj

    Love the sensationalist translations here: “I heard a story once about some people getting it on in a stairwell” becomes “Wild sex in the hallways!”, “There was this one guy who sold pot” turns into “Rampant drug dealing!”
    .
    Also, who knew that Connecticut causes sexual harassment?

    • Jeff

      Well said! I was thinking the same thing.

  • Kevin

    I live about 15 minutes from ESPN Headquarters and for years have heard about what goes on there. Rumors are always floating around. It’s fitting that employees refer to it as “The Campus” because that’s what it seems like.

  • Donnell Suggs

    I cannot wait to read this book.

    • Bo King

      Donnell, I cannot wait to borrow your copy of this book.

  • Heather

    Wow, I’ve heard a lot of terrible excuses, but sexually harassing people because you’re in the backwater of CONNECTICUT is one of the most ridiculous. It’s not the Australian Outback, I’m sure there’s plenty to occupy people’s time.
    And I agree with daisyj. A guy selling pot doesn’t seem that scandalous. In fact, most of this sounds like these people have never stepped foot on a college campus if they think all this is wild controversy.

  • Live in bristol

    I live in Bristol, and it is a dump of a town. But saying that the town is the reason for all that crap going on is like saying women bring on harassment because of how they dress. That’s crap. Anyone who does that is responsible for their own actions, not the town.

  • Ap

    I wonder why they haven’t moved the company.

    • Big Walt

      My guess is money, money, and money.

    • Jack

      Yeah, it’s a huge 15 building campus. It’d be impossible to move ESPN headquarters quickly, but they took a step that way when they moved the late SportsCenter to the LA office.

    • Dip

      ESPN has been playing Switchfoot all year long for clolege football and NFL games. We Are One Tonight’ and Mess of Me’ were used the most this year. NBC used their songs once or twice as well.

  • Marvin

    as a fan of the 4 letter network, this book has 2 b a must read 4 me. even b4 i heard that there was a book coming soon about wat its really like inside the headquarters, i’ve always wondered wat its like behind the scenes

    • Mark

      For one, I’m guessing they spell out words like four, to and what so I’m sure you won’t like it.

      • James

        Thanx Mark. Wat a dumass mRvin is.

  • Dave

    Priceless!,

  • Big Bruce

    I’m from Bristol, live within sight of ESPN. God I could tell stories for days.

    • Little Bruce

      Tell us your tales! Do it here, or write your own book. Whichever is more convenient for you.

    • Tammi

      I was examining sohmteing else about this on another blog . Interesting. Your view thereon is diametrically.Opposed to what I translate to begin with. I am stock still reverberating over the various points of view, but I m inclined to a. Bang up extent toward yours. And irrespective, that’s what is so topnotch about modernised majority rule and the market place .of ideas on line . I will are available back once again .

  • Big D

    This sounds surprisingly interesting. I may have to big it up.

  • bosfaninva

    I’ve been watching ESPN since 1979! A friend of mine from college lived in Terryville, just outside Bristol, and when I went to visit his home this was on. It was really low-rent, but still so cool!

  • R

    I am sick and tired of this executive low lifes insulting Bristol. I have spent my life in Bristol and would never exhibit the type of behaviour these so called “classy” types do. I personally wish they would get out of our lovely city and go do their crimes on humanity some other place. Bristol has it’s issues and ESPN is adding to them and has not once offered anything but insults to Bristol and it’s citizens who are a hell of a lot better than these execs.
    Grow up and put the blame where it should be, on the scum that exhibits this behavior !!!

  • EJ

    I don’t need to learn anything lol. I lived it. Not in the 80s but in the late 90s. I saw what went on but not to this extent. It was NOT a fun place to work. I will tell you that.

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