In the wake of a shocking exposé, ESPN said it was “clearly wrong” for using fake Emmy submissions to obtain awards for members of its team.
Since at least 2010 — but possibly going back as far as 1997 — ESPN submitted fake names in Emmy entries. When some of the non-existent people won more than 30 awards collectively, the sports network had the awards re-engraved for real on-air personalities, according to an investigation by The Athletic.
Kirk Herbstreit, Lee Corso, Chris Fowler, Desmond Howard, Samantha Ponder, and others were among those who received the deceptively acquired Emmys, but there’s no evidence that the “winners” knew about the scheme.
The operation’s ringleader has yet to be identified.
In statement to The Athletic, 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.”
Thirty-seven ill-gotten awards have since been returned, sanctions issued, and multiple ESPN employees have been ruled ineligible from future Emmy participation by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences — NATAS, the organization that administers the Emmys.
Craig Lazarus, vice president and executive producer of original content and features, and Lee Fitting, a senior vice president of production who oversaw “College GameDay” were among those barred from the awards, according to the report.
Fitting, who was ousted from ESPN in August after 25 years, and Lazarus both declined The Athletic‘s request for comment.
“College GameDay” was the “nexus of the scheme,” according to the report, with Fitting helming the show at the time.
“College GameDay” won eight Emmys from 2008-2018 for outstanding studio show. Hosts, analysts, and reporters, however, could only take home a trophy for individual feature wins, not wins for the show as whole. ESPN used the fake names to get around the rule.
“You have to remember that those personalities are so important, and they have egos,” unnamed sources told The Athletic in regard to the reason behind the scheme. “It’s very important to the people who go (to the ceremony) and the old-school television guys.”