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ESPN Suspends Tony Kornheiser For Being Himself

Many sports fans refer to this time of year as the “dry season”. College and pro football are over, the NBA’s endless regular season has over 20 games to play, spring training hasn’t started yet, and March Madness is still weeks away. Despite the Winter Olympics, not much is happening.

Even in the “dry season”, however, the horns on TV and radio must be talking about something. Sometimes we talk too much, and something like this happens.

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

Kornheiser, who is co-host of the popular show “Pardon the Interruption,” made his comments on Friday, expressing his grief over what Storm, 47, was wearing. Calling her outfit awful, the talk show host said Storm’s blouse was so tight it looked like “a sausage casing” and her skirt was “way too short for someone” to his age.

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

Either he 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 to the ‘antenna. ESPN decided that 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 paid him to do. He’s not a journalist 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 of his opinions were trite 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 would have no problem with that argument. It is bad form to publicly dump a colleague, especially one from the same network.

But otherwise, the comments he made weren’t out of line. Kornheiser displays strong opinions. He criticizes people. He makes fun of people, including himself. This is another reason I think he shouldn’t have received more than a reprimand from the network.

If you’ve ever seen Tony Kornheiser, you know he’s not telegenic at all. He’s in his 60s, bald and nebbishy, ​​and speaks in a whiny Long Island accent. Heck, Hannah Storm could probably kick her ass. Kornheiser knows this, and taking it out on himself is part of his shtick.

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

He apologized on air. He apologized to Hannah Storm. That, plus a little verbal slap on the mothership’s wrist, should have sufficed for a first offense. Instead, ESPN is essentially suspending Kornheiser for being himself.

Punishing someone for simply doing their job is not unprecedented at the world leader. In 2003, the network hired Rush Limbaugh to be a Sunday NFL Countdown panelist. Limbaugh soon found himself embroiled in a strand regarding on-air remarks about Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.

“The media has been very eager for a black quarterback to succeed, for black coaches and black quarterbacks to succeed,” Limbaugh said. “There’s a bit of hope invested in McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance on this team that he didn’t deserve.”

ESPN summarily fired Limbaugh for a racially insensitive comment, and at the time I thought, for what? I mean, what did ESPN expect from one of the most, if not the most provocative celebrities in the country, one with a history of racial insensitivity? As repugnant as I personally find Limbaugh, 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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