Reynolds fighting to restore his name after ESPN firing

OTHER VOICES

The Kickoff

November 07, 2006|By STEVE KELLEY | STEVE KELLEY,THE SEATTLE TIMES

Harold Reynolds pulled into the parking lot at ESPN on July 24, preparing for an appearance later that day on SportsCenter. He was going to break down the swing of Boston Red Sox left fielder Manny Ramirez.

By his own admission, Reynolds had the best job in the business. He got to watch all the baseball he wanted and then talk about it for ESPN on the most-watched baseball shows on the planet.

He loved his work and was so good at it, he signed a six-year contract extension four months earlier. It was the fourth contract he had signed with ESPN in 11 years.

Reynolds was a popular fixture on Baseball Tonight. He was part of an all-star group that broke down games on site at the World Series. He worked as an analyst on live major league telecasts and also did the Little League World Series and the College World Series.

"It was a dream job," Reynolds said Sunday by telephone from New York. "It was the perfect fit. It was great. I never thought I'd work anywhere else again but ESPN."

But July 24, as he went into the office, he was hand-delivered a letter that told him his contract was being terminated.

"I was stunned," Reynolds said. "I'm still sitting here [more than three months later] and can't believe this is happening. Before I could even open my mouth, I was fired."

Earlier in that month, at a Little League game, Reynolds, who is happily married and has a young daughter, exchanged what he publicly has characterized as "a brief, innocuous hug" with a female intern.

Steadfastly, he has said nothing more happened. That same evening he had dinner with the intern at a Boston Market. Again, he says, nothing more happened.

Three weeks later, the intern complained.

Reynolds had one meeting with ESPN's human resources department. Soon after that, he was gone.

"They have [sensitivity] classes at ESPN for things like this," said Reynolds, an Oriole in 1993. "But never in the 10 previous years I've been there have I ever had to go to one of those classes. The way they are, if they want to work with me on new interview techniques, if they want to show me a new studio, anything like that, they take me by the hand and walk me down the hall to the studio or the meeting room.

"You would think if they thought there was a problem, I would have had to go to one of those training sessions. But never, not one time ever, was I told to go to one of those classes."

Reynolds also said there never has been any language in his contract that warns about the consequences of inappropriate sexual behavior. Not even in the newest contract he signed in March.

"And there are guys who do have those things in their contracts," Reynolds said.

You would think if Reynolds had a history of inappropriate behavior, if the network thought there was a potential for trouble, it would have been addressed in the latest contract. But he says according to the contract, the only reason he could be fired was for "failure to perform."

"If I thought I did something egregious, I wouldn't be so public about this," Reynolds said. "I'd be moving down the road. It would be, `See you later.' But I'm not doing that, because this is ridiculous."

When he was first handed the termination notice, Reynolds said he wanted to "stand up and shout from the rooftops, `This is not right.'"

But he stayed relatively quiet until last week when he filed a lawsuit against ESPN claiming it breached his contract. He says ESPN never gave a specific reason for his termination. He's asking for damages for the remainder of his contract.

"The last thing I wanted to do was file a lawsuit," Reynolds said. "But I think there was a rush to judgment by ESPN. They didn't do a thorough investigation, and I couldn't live with myself without fighting for what I think is right.

"There has been too much rumor and innuendo and speculation out there, and none of it is right. I had to contend with this craziness. I want the things that I stand for to be restored. If I didn't pursue this, there would be a picture out there of a person that I'm not."

I've known Reynolds for more than 20 years. I covered him when he was with the Mariners from 1983 to 1992. He is one of the kindest, smartest, most sensitive athletes I've ever met.

He is a thousand-watt light bulb, as gregarious as anyone I've ever met. He even hugs me every time we see each other.

Reynolds was one of President George H.W. Bush's "Thousand Points of Light." He was awarded Major League Baseball's Clemente Award for his humanitarian work and also received the Martin Luther King Humanitarian Award from the city of Seattle.

He deserves better than this. The intern believed the hug was inappropriate, but Reynolds deserved a chance to answer the charge. After 10 spotless years with ESPN, and with all his impressive credentials, he should have been granted a thorough investigation.

"I served ESPN," Reynolds said. "I moved there [Bristol, Conn.]. When they needed someone, they knew they could call me."

Steve Kelley writes for The Seattle Times.

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