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Another Dame Defecting: Why Can’t ESPN Keep a Woman?

It’s not you, it’s me?

There’s something rotten in the state of Connecticut—Bristol, to be precise.

Bristol, as you may know, is where were the headquarters of ESPN: The Worldwide Leader in Sports, is located. And the something rotten, is whatever has their high profile female talent running for every available exit.

For years ESPN has been the dream destination of every wannabe female sports reporter in the country. Well maybe not every last one, but there’s no doubt that a large number of sports reporters on local network affiliates, and those working their way up the ranks through other means, have had the national exposure that ESPN offers in the back of their mind at some point.

And it’s not like it’s a complete pipe dream for talented, or even moderately talented, reporters either. The network has countless cable television channels, local affiliates and radio stations in a number of major cities, a robust website, and nationally syndicated radio programs. Which translates into a heckuva lot of jobs and not an impossible place to get a foot in the door.

It wasn’t all that long ago that women working in sports was a joke, at best, and an impossibility, at worst. Once nothing but a egomaniacal boys club, ESPN has done an exceptional job in recent years of spotting and cultivating female talents. Many of whom have gone on to become some of the most popular on air talents at the network, male or female.

Co-anchoring SportsCenter, working as a reporter, or hosting your own show on ESPN was once considered an end point—the pinnacle of a career. But these days it seems like more of a stepping stone to something…anything else. Since longtime network favorites Erin Andrews and Michelle Beadle announced their departures within six weeks of each other in late spring 2012, ESPN has lost five of its top female talents.

Now, it would be one thing if they were moving on to high profile positions and achieving great success elsewhere. But, generally speaking, that really hasn’t been the case thus far. Let’s review:

We miss you Beads.

We miss you Beads.

Michelle Beadle

In May 2012 Michelle Beadle announced she was leaving ESPN for vague and various opportunities at NBC. As the co-host of SportsNation, Beadle went from a relative unknown to one of the most popular personalities on the network in under two years.

Her signature sarcasm and sardonic style, combined with a sometimes wicked sense of humor, somehow made an hour of her co-host Colin Cowherd a less than torturous event. Even an enjoyable event. A miracle in itself.

Since leaving ESPN, Beadle has appeared sporadically on tabloid trash like Access Hollywood and commercials for Bridgestone. Her show The Crossover premiered in early 2013 and hasn’t really been talked about since—at least not in a positive way.

Verdict: Better off before.

Erin Andrews

Now a probiotics enthusiast.

Now a probiotics enthusiast.

With many of the contracts of their on-air talents expiring in 2012, one of the biggest questions at ESPN was whether or not they would retain fan favorite Erin Andrews. The speculation lasted nearly six months before an official announcement was made that she would not return.

Andrews left the network to be an in-studio host for Fox’s college football Saturday. The reviews were not great and Andrews’ awkward presence made it quite clear why we never once saw her on SportsCenter in nearly a decade at ESPN. It’s because she’s downright terrible in the position.

Who knows if she’ll be back in the same role in 2013 or if Fox will ever find the right fit for her. Andrews carved out a niche at ESPN, but Fox doesn’t have anywhere near the number of potential landing pads for her. Not yet, at least.

Verdict: Better off before.

Turner's treasure.

Turner’s treasure.

Rachel Nichols

In January 2013 reporter Rachel Nichols abruptly announced she was leaving ESPN for Turner Sports and its subsidiary CNN. The reports made it clear that the decision was effective immediately and she was practically on the clock at Turner by the time the announcement was made.

Nichols was one of the most utilized female talents on the network in recent years, having worked as a sideline reporter for Monday Night Football, a correspondent for SportsCenter, NFL Countdown, NBA Countdown, and E:60. Which is why her sudden exit was such a surprise.

Nichols was thrown into the deep end of the pool on her very first assignment, covering a little event known as the Super Bowl. But it allowed her to hit the ground running for Turner, who obviously had no question about her capabilities and future with the company. Her role will continue to grow and develop—including anchoring her own weekend sports show and covering the Olympics in 2014.

Verdict: Better off now.

Jenn Brown 

The one that got away.

The one that got away.

After four years as a freelance correspondent for ESPN, Jenn Brown was hired full time in 2010 and worked mostly as a sideline reporter for college football before being relegated to X Games coverage in 2012.

After the departure of Andrews and Beadle, many thought Brown was in line to step into a more prominent role. But ESPN executives must have disagreed, preferring the dimpled Samantha Ponder for a promotion instead.

Brown’s departure from ESPN was officially announced in March 2013, but considering she had been being fazed out for months, one wonders how mutual this decision was. Although something tells me they’re going to regret letting this one go. Particularly if Ponder is the next woman out the door.

Apparently she’s now working as a sideline reporter at the G4 channel and will appear on the NBC show American Ninja Warrior when it premiers this summer.

Verdict: Better off before.

Fox's newest fox.

Fox’s newest fox.

Charissa Thompson

Now it looks like Charissa Thompson is following her (mostly) blonde cohorts out the backdoor in Bristol. Awful Annoucing recently reported that the SportsNation’s co-host will be leaving ESPN to return Fox, her previous employer.

Thompson’s future role at Fox is not yet known, but could very well have something to do with the launching of the their television network Fox Sports 1.

Verdict: Time will tell.

So What’s Going On Here? 

Obviously that’s a question yet to be answered. More like a question that will never be answered, as whistle blowers aren’t generally rewarded with anything but contempt, professionally. But with five prominent female departures in 10 months, it’s hard to imagine that there isn’t something at ESPN contributing to the exodus.

It would be one thing if they had all moved on to bigger and better things, but so far Nichols seems to be the only legit success story. Beadle has fallen off the map. Andrews is mostly known for yapping about probiotics. Brown has been MIA for almost a year. And who knows what the future holds for Thompson.

Whatever the case may be, ESPN needs to find the root cause and rectify it. They’ve long been the Worldwide Leader in Sports, but it was by default, due to an absolute lack of competition. It may be quite awhile before any of the new sports networks can legitimately challenge ESPN for supremacy, but every time another network poaches one of their top tier stars, a little bit of time is shaved off their reign.

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