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HomeSportsESPN employed aliases to win Emmy awards for 'College GameDay' personalities

ESPN employed aliases to win Emmy awards for ‘College GameDay’ personalities

In March 2023, Shelley Smith, who worked 26 years as an on-air reporter for ESPN, received a call from Stephanie Druley, then the network’s head of studio and event production. Druley said she wanted to talk about something “serious” that needed to stay between the two of them, Smith recalled. She then told Smith that Smith needed to return two sports Emmy statuettes that she had been given more than a decade earlier. That request was one of many ESPN made of some of its biggest stars last year after the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS), the organization that administers the Emmys, uncovered a scheme that the network used to acquire more than 30 of the coveted statuettes for on-air talent ineligible to receive them. Since at least 2010, ESPN inserted fake names in Emmy entries, then took the awards won by some of those imaginary individuals, had them re-engraved and gave them to on-air personalities. Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Chris Fowler, Desmond Howard and Samantha Ponder, among others, were given the ill-gotten Emmys, according to a source briefed on the matter, who was granted anonymity because the individual is not authorized to discuss it publicly. There is no evidence that the on-air individuals were aware the Emmys given to them were improperly obtained. “I think it was really crummy what they did to me and others,” said Smith, who worked at ESPN from 1997 until her contract expired last July. The fraud was discovered by NATAS, which prompted an investigation by that organization and later by ESPN. Those probes resulted in sanctions beyond the return of the trophies.
In a statement, ESPN said: “Some members of our team were clearly wrong in submitting certain names that may go back to 1997 in Emmy categories where they were not eligible for recognition or statuettes. This was a misguided attempt to recognize on-air individuals who were important members of our production team. Once current leadership was made aware, we apologized to NATAS for violating guidelines and worked closely with them to completely overhaul our submission process to safeguard against anything like this happening again. We brought in outside counsel to conduct a full and thorough investigation and individuals found to be responsible were disciplined by ESPN.” Adam Sharp, of NATAS, said in an email: “NATAS identified a number of fictitious credits submitted by ESPN to multiple Sports Emmys competitions.
When brought to the attention of ESPN senior management, the network took steps to take responsibility for the actions of its personnel, to investigate thoroughly, and to course correct. These steps have included the return by ESPN of statuettes issued to fictitious individuals and commitments to implement further internal accountability and procedural changes at the network.” An ESPN spokesperson said Lazarus declined to comment, and Lazarus didn’t respond to an email seeking comment. Fitting was let go by ESPN in August after 25 years at the company. He did not respond to voice and text messages. The Athletic reviewed the credit lists for the years the show won: 2010, 2011, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. In each one of those seven years, names similar to the names of on-air personalities – and with identical initials – were listed all under the title of “associate producers.” While reviewing the 2010 and 2011 credit lists, The Athletic found three additional names that could not be verified that also closely resemble the names of “College GameDay” talent: Erik Andrews (Erin Andrews) in 2011; Wendy Nickson (Wendi Nix) and Jenn Brownsmith (Jenn Brown) in 2010.
Nix confirmed that she was given an Emmy around 2010 and said she had no idea it was improperly obtained; it just arrived in the mail one day. She was not contacted about returning it before or after she left ESPN in August 2023. Brown, who left ESPN in 2013, confirmed she also was given one and didn’t know it was ill-gotten. She said: “This is all news to me and kind of unfortunate because you’ve got people who believe they rightfully had one. There are rules for a reason … it’s unfortunate (those were) abused and for so many years, too.” Brown said she has not been contacted by ESPN about returning it. Andrews, who left ESPN in 2012, declined to comment through a spokesperson. In its 2022 transparency report, NATAS referenced the scheme: During credit vetting, Sports Administration identified one network’s use of fabricated identities in association with one or more submissions. The matter was referred to counsel and remains pending. Fake names appeared in ESPN’s Emmy submission for “College GameDay” as recently as 2020 – a year the show did not win – but were not in the 2022 entry. Lastly, in a November 2023, Linda Cohn, a “SportsCenter” anchor since 1992, posted a photo on Instagram of four Emmy awards and wrote: “My Fab 4. The latest delivered today. Still grateful.” In the photo is an Emmy award for outstanding daily studio show from 2023. Because of the rule change, Cohn was eligible to receive that award. She is listed under “host” in the credit list and that word is engraved on the statuette’s base. As for the three Emmys in the background of the photo, one reads: STUDIO SHOWS ESPN SPORTSCENTER LINDA COHN The two others read: OUTSTANDING STUDIO SHOW – DAILY “SPORTSCENTER” ESPN LINDA COHN Under NATAS rules, Cohn was ineligible to receive a statuette as an on-air personality for any “SportsCenter” wins in the category of daily studio show.


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