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Pardon the Suspension: Should ESPN Have Benched Kornheiser?

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ESPN has suspended its Pardon the Interruption host Tony Kornheiser for remarks he made, on his radio show, about the clothing choices of his ESPN colleague Hannah Storm. Here’s the rundown on his comments from The Big Lead, which broke word of the suspension:

Hannah Storm in a horrifying, horrifying outfit today. She’s got on red go-go boots and a catholic school plaid skirt … way too short for somebody in her 40s or maybe early 50s by now.” [She’s 47.] “She’s got on her typically very, very tight shirt. She looks like she has sausage casing wrapping around her upper body … I know she’s very good, and I’m not supposed to be critical of ESPN people, so I won’t … but Hannah Storm … come on now! Stop! What are you doing? … She’s what I would call a Holden Caulfield fantasy at this point.

This is apparently quite a big deal among people who follow sports heavily; not being one of them, I must punt. (Which I understand is a basketball term.) Corporate rules are not First Amendment issues, and I’m inclined to think that it’s probably fair for a company to suspend one employee for saying that another employee looks, basically, like an old tramp. (See Slate’s Jack Shafer for a gloss on Kornheiser’s “Holden Caulfield” reference.)

Obviously, this kind of thing is all about context and expectations: you wouldn’t expect Howard Stern to be suspended for this remark, but it wouldn’t fly from, say, Matt Lauer to Meredith Vieira. Here, as in so many things, sports TV occupies a kind of twilight zone between news and entertainment. [Update: Deadspin, by the way, advances the theory that reason for the suspension was actually Kornheiser’s comments about ESPN’s Chris Berman’s weight. Thanks Scott Tobias for the pointer.]

The objections to the suspension mainly lie in whether there’s some sort of double standard or overreaction at work—if, for instance, ESPN is handling the situation differently than if Storm were a man, or if it had ignored similar behavior in the past. (The flip side is, is Kornheiser equally as mean-spirited about his male colleagues? Is ESPN trying to compensate for trouble with sexual harassment charges?) Again—not up enough on PTI in particular or sports-TV in general to know if this kind of ugliness is typical there, though Shafer’s Slate analysis does make Kornheiser seem like quite the silver-tongued charmer (“I apparently got ripped in my own newspaper, the Washington Post, you know, by a two-bit weasel slug named Paul Farhi, who I would gladly run over with a Mack truck given the opportunity.”)

But here’s where I throw it to the sports fans: Should Kornheiser’s apology have been enough, or does he deserve even worse? And since PTI and similar high-volume, talk-radio-on-TV shows give me the beginnings of a seizure whenever I watch them for five seconds, can someone explain their appeal to me?

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