ESPN and the SEC are incensed over an SEC Network announcer’s pervy comments about female gymnasts.
A promotion for a Feb. 14 Alabama-Arkansas women’s gymnastics meet during an SEC Network broadcast of a men’s basketball game between Missouri and Arkansas on Saturday night prompted a sidebar between lead announcer Richard Cross and basketball analyst Barry Booker.
Cross suggested the event could be “a good Valentine’s Day date night idea if you’re in one of those places.”
“Go hang out with the ladies … I mean, I wanna go see some scantily clad girls!” Booker replied.
“No, no!” Cross said emphatically. “One of the great family atmospheres that you will find in all of college athletics is gymnastics meets.” He also made a point to emphasize it was Booker who had made the off-color comment.
“That was Barry Booker.”
“I’ll stay home and watch — actually, I’ll be on the road,” Booker added. “I’ll be somewhere in my hotel room watching ‘Friday Night Heights.’”
Booker reportedly apologized later in the broadcast, but the damage had already been done.
Both the SEC and the ESPN-owned SEC Network were quick to denounce Booker’s comments.
“The comments related to the sport of women’s gymnastics made by basketball analyst Barry Booker during yesterday’s telecast of the Arkansas at Missouri men’s basketball game are inappropriate and do not meet the expectations we have for the SEC Network,” SEC commissioner Greg Sankey said in a statement on Sunday. “The SEC’s women’s gymnastics student-athletes deserve our support for many reasons, including their dedication and achievement. We are in communication with the SEC Network and ESPN personnel, and I am confident this issue will be handled appropriately.”
The SEC Network quote-tweeted the SEC’s statement with the following response:
“The comments made during yesterday’s telecast were inappropriate and unacceptable. We take this matter seriously and are addressing it internally. SEC Network respects all student-athletes, and is committed to showcasing women’s sports with the utmost regard.”
Former Arkansas gymnast Sydney McGlone also condemned the remarks.
“As a former gymnast in the SEC, I am disappointed in the comments made yesterday towards gymnasts during the ARK/Mizzou basketball game,” McGlone tweeted on Sunday. “However, I’m glad the commentator is being reprimanded and we are able to address the issue.”
“I was mostly disappointed with the comment due to the ill intent and the sexualizing of a sport that has already faced so much when it comes to sexual abuse,” McGlone told the Washington Post. “A lot of times gymnasts are already seen in a negative manner for what we have to wear, and the fact that a trained professional would make such a comment was just discomforting!”
Booker, a former Vanderbilt basketball star, has been an analyst for the SEC Network for six seasons. He faced backlash back in 2014 for flipping off a producer during an Alabama-LSU game.