MEDIA
05/11/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

ESPN Ombudsman Criticizes Network For Tony Kornheiser Suspension, Suggests Hannah Storm's Clothing 'Distracts'

ESPN ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer criticized the network for its handling of the Tony Kornheiser/Hannah Storm situation, saying the network's justification for Kornheiser's suspension proved "disingenuous" and hinting that Storm's "choices for attire are not helping either [her] or the network."

Kornheiser was suspended for two weeks for panning Storm's "SportsCenter" outfit:

Hannah Storm in a horrifying, horrifying outfit today. She's got on red go-go boots and a Catholic girl plaid skirt way too short for somebody in her 40s or maybe early 50s by now. And she's got on her typically very, very tight shirt so she looks like she's got sausage casing wrapped around her upper body. You know, honestly, I know she's very good, and I know I'm not supposed to be critical of ESPN people ... but Hannah Storm, c'mon now."

"Should there have been consequences for Kornheiser's remarks?" Ohlmeyer wrote. "Absolutely. A response from the network was warranted. It's unseemly to have a commentator publicly deride and insult a colleague's appearance. It's not good for morale, and it's not good for business. Regardless of whether the audience is interested in the internecine squabbles of employees, it can make viewers uncomfortable -- and simultaneously damage two valuable reputations."

Ohlmeyer, however, took exception with the network's justification for Kornheiser's suspension:

That said, the network's rationale seemed disingenuous. Instead of rightfully suspending Kornheiser for denigrating a fellow employee, the company's statement issued an all-encompassing dictum that "hurtful and personal comments" would have "significant consequences." This seemed ludicrous to many mailbaggers. It established a very low disciplinary bar, considering that a sizable portion of what ESPN airs and prints involves blunt opinion and criticism -- and much of that criticism could liberally be interpreted as "personal and hurtful."

To imply that punishment awaits announcers and analysts who levy such remarks, no matter whom the target, doesn't seem realistic. Was this about criticizing a colleague, or lobbing "hurtful and personal comments," period? The reality is that no one likes to be criticized before an audience of millions, no matter how it is delivered (humor, serious commentary or sarcasm). And it's simply human instinct to take criticism personally.

Ohlmeyer ended with commentary on Storm's wardrobe, citing the network's policy on anchor attire and suggesting that Storm's attire "distracts the audience from interesting content professionally presented":

In terms of attire, all ESPN commentators are supposed to select their wardrobes with the approval of producers and consultants. The byword of corporate guidance is "appropriateness," but a large number of the letters on the Kornheiser suspension questioned just that -- the appropriateness of Storm's clothing choices.

Storm is an excellent sports broadcaster -- knowledgeable, articulate, likeable and entertaining. Her breezy, relaxed delivery works particularly well on morning "SportsCenters." She's had an exemplary career, but if critiques in this mailbag reflect the audience at large, her choices for attire are not helping either Storm or the network. If anything distracts the audience from interesting content professionally presented, ESPN should take notice.