ESPN took an unusual step Thursday night in publishing a series of text messages between "SportsCenter" anchor John Buccigross and former anchor candidate Adrienne Lawrence, who is pursuing a harassment action against the network.
The network said it released the texts to show Buccigross and Lawrence had developed a consensual friendship and that no harassment took place, contrary to what Lawrence is claiming. Lawrence's case is covered by The Boston Globe in an article that also depicts the network as being extremely hostile toward female employees.
Buccigross told the Globe he "considered Adrienne to be a friend" and that he was sorry "if anything I did or said offended Adrienne. It certainly wasn’t my intent.”
Buccigross did confirm one part of Lawrence's story: that he sent her photos of him shirtless. He said Lawrence texted him about possibly getting together after she received the first photo. He also said he and Lawrence regularly exchanged texts and discussed professional and personal issues over a period of several months.
Lawrence came to ESPN in 2015 under a two-year racial diversity fellowship program. The network decided not to hire full time her after she completed the fellowship this year. Lawrence said the decision was part of the network's retaliation against her for going to supervisors with claims of harassment. She also said she pushed back against rumors she and Buccigross, 51, were in a relationship.
Lawrence filed an action with the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities in August, the Globe reported. The case is on track to become a federal lawsuit after the commission granted Lawrence's request to release the case. Lawrence was an attorney before joining ESPN.
ESPN said in a statement that it investigated Lawrence's claims and found them to be "entirely without merit."
The Globe article was the third major story around the network this week.
On Wednesday, management called an all-hands meeting to tell staff to refrain from commenting about political or other non-sports matters. One exception would be if a politician such as President Donald Trump became part of an actual sports story.
On Thursday, ESPN's parent company, Disney, agreed to purchase most of the assets of 21st Century Fox, including more than 20 of Fox's regional sports networks, for a reported $52.4 billion.
Last month, the network went through with a third round of layoffs, this time of mostly behind-the-scenes personnel, to cut $80 million in costs. About 100 people, much of them on-air talent, were let go in spring 2017, and more than 300 employees, many of them longtime staffers, were laid off in 2015.