ESPN earned 30+ Emmys using fake names for on-air talent

ESPN has been accused of using aliases for its on-air talent on the show “College GameDay” in order to win Emmy awards that they were ineligible for, according to a report by The Athletic. The scheme, uncovered by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS), involved ESPN inserting fake names into the entries and then re-engraving the trophies to be awarded to the hosts.

According to the report, this practice has been going on since at least 2010, with fake names appearing as recently as 2020. The aliases used by the ESPN talent included Kirk Herbstreit (Kirk Henry), Lee Corso (Lee Clark), Chris Fowler (Chris Fulton), Desmond Howard (Dirk Howard), Samantha Ponder (Steven Ponder), Tom Rinaldi (Tim Richard), Gene Wojciechowski (Gene Wilson), Chris Fowler (Chris Fulton), and Shelley Smith (Shelly Saunders).

The purpose of this ruse was to allow the on-air talent of “College GameDay” to win Emmy awards for the show’s outstanding weekly studio category. While the show’s analysts and hosts were prohibited from being included in the credit list for that specific category according to NATAS guidelines, they were eligible to win individual awards for categories such as outstanding host, studio analyst, and emerging on-air talent.

The report states that “College GameDay” won eight Emmys for outstanding weekly studio show between 2008 and 2018. However, the on-air talent was not allowed to take home trophies for the show’s collective award. The use of fake names allowed ESPN to circumvent this rule and win the collective award for the show.

NATAS discovered the fictitious credits submitted by ESPN and brought it to the attention of the network’s senior management. ESPN took responsibility for the actions of its personnel and conducted a thorough investigation. The network has returned the statuettes issued to the fictitious individuals and has committed to implementing internal accountability and procedural changes.

The Athletic also found additional fake names that closely resembled on-air talent, but these names could not be directly verified as pseudonyms. One of the on-air talent, Wendi Nix, confirmed that she received an Emmy around the same time her alias, Wendy Nickson, appeared on an Emmy credit list. She claimed to have no idea that the award was improperly obtained.

According to a person involved in the ESPN Emmy submission process, the use of fake names was driven by the egos of the on-air talent who wanted recognition for their contributions to the show.

While 37 fraudulent trophies have been returned, there are indications that ESPN may have extended this practice beyond “College GameDay.” A recent Instagram post by “SportsCenter” anchor Linda Cohn featured three additional trophies in the background. NATAS confirmed that Cohn has only won a single Emmy, raising suspicions about the legitimacy of the other trophies.

ESPN has acknowledged the wrongdoing and apologized to NATAS for violating guidelines. They have also worked closely with NATAS to overhaul their submission process and prevent such incidents from happening again. ESPN brought in outside counsel to conduct a thorough investigation, and individuals found responsible for the credit fabrication have been disciplined.

Credit fabrication is punishable by disqualification and the requirement to return the trophies. As a result, senior leadership on “College GameDay” has received a one-year disqualification from Emmy eligibility. Additionally, several ESPN executives involved in the production of the show have been ruled ineligible for future Emmy participation.

This revelation raises questions about the integrity of the Emmy awards and the measures taken by networks to secure recognition for their talent. It also highlights the competitive nature and egos of on-air personalities who strive for recognition and accolades. The incident serves as a reminder of the importance of upholding the credibility and fairness of award systems in the television industry.

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