The new face of NBC's Olympics primetime coverage was suspended for three months early in his career at ESPN after six women came forward with allegations of sexual harassment
UPDATE (THUR 12/7/17): NBC says it's sticking with Mike Tirico as Winter Olympics host, saying "Mike has repeatedly assured us that this behavior is long in his past, and we have no evidence of anything to the contrary in his tenure at NBC Sports."
When NBC announced last February that former ESPN anchor Mike Tirico would succeed Bob Costas as the new face of NBC's primetime Olympics coverage, they couldn't have anticipated that six months later, a seatide of sexual misconduct allegations would force TV networks and producers to disassociate themselves from some of their biggest stars. Which may be why the network seemingly paid no mind to published reports that Tirico was suspended from ESPN for three months earlier in his career after six women came forward with stories of harassment.
As chronicled in the unfortunately-titled 2011 book Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, early in his career Tirico came to represent the worst of the "boy's club" atmosphere at the sports network in the early 90s:
One of the most notorious cases to arise was that of Mike Tirico, who became very unpopular with some of the women on staff. They said Tirico never took "no," or even "leave me alone," for an answer, and that some of his flirtations got way out of line -- especially offensive, some argued, because Tirico claimed to be happily married.
One woman told of being approached by Tirico at a 1992 staff party with the come-on, "You are the most beautiful person I've ever seen." Even though firmly rebuffed, Tirico would not relent, and reportedly followed the woman to her car when she left the party, then reached in through the car window and thrust his hand between her legs as she attempted to start the engine.
Another book, ESPN: The Uncensored History by former New York Times writer Michael Freeman details the story of a different female co-worker, a producer of the afternoon SportsCenter that featured Tirico at the time.
According to the producer's account, Tirico sent her several emails confiding that he wanted to sleep with her, approaching her later at a bar where he is alleged to have said to her, "I wish I was single. If I was, I would throw you on the table right here and f*ck your brains out." The producer said she told him to go away and leave her alone, but he persisted, attempting to follow her home in what she described as a high-speed car chase.
Eventually six different women are reported to have stepped forward with accusations against the then-rising sports anchor, and although Tirico maintained they were based on "misunderstandings," ESPN quietly suspended him in 1992 for three months without pay.
When these accounts first publicly surfaced in ESPN: The Uncensored History in 2000, Tirico disputed the book's reporting in a New York Times article, telling the paper: "Several items about me in the book are simply not true. Any issues from eight years ago have been appropriately dealt with. Since then, I'm confident that my dealings with colleagues at ESPN and ABC have been positively received."
Indeed, there's no reporting that Tirico's alleged behavior extended beyond this early period in his career. In ESPN: An Uncensored History, John Walsh, a former executive for the sports network suggested that Tirico returned to work a different person. "'Michael was twenty-four years old then,' Walsh said. 'He has [since] been beyond perfect. He goes out of his way in terms of friendship. He goes out of his way in terms of being good to people."
Still, for NBC -- a network already plagued by its association with several alleged sexual predators -- it would seem the optics of Tirico fronting its most high-profile broadcast event of the year couldn't come at a worse time.