Most of you probably don't remember Fred Hickman's somewhat brief tenure as an ESPN anchor and talking head and most of you also were probably unaware that the man is no longer working for them. Hickman was signed on from the YES network in 2004 to a significant contract to come over to the WWL, due mostly to their obsession with hiring "names" away from other networks, preferably those that once worked at other large cable networks. (See: Storm, Hannah.) Like Storm, Hickman once worked at CNN/SI as a lead anchor during the 90s and even won a couple of Cable Ace Awards for his work. As ESPN does with all of its on-air talent who leave the network, there was no formal press release or anything about it. Hickman apparently left the station this past May.
Hickman's role was on SportsCenter, but he also hosted the NBA Shootaround and did plenty of fill-in roles. ESPN will not comment on on why Hickman is no longer with the company due to its policy and also because there is a rumored medical reason for his absence, which HIPAA laws preclude them from commenting on. But other current and former colleagues suggest the Hickman experiment was doomed to fail from the get-go and some suggest that the reason his quick exit from the WWL are very murky, but were also very obvious.
According to some people close to the network, Hickman missed more than 200 days in a little under three years at ESPN. The reasons for his absence were, according to many of the individuals who knew about this varied from legitimate to absurd. Here are some Hickman anecdotes outlined by a few anonymous ESPN-ers and other individuals willing to share:
• He would make up numerous illnesses both for himself and those close to him, including ex-wives, great aunts, etc. similar to a way that a college freshman would embellish family emergencies to get out of class.
• On at least one occasion when Hickman was supposedly out for a dire emergency, one of his colleagues spotted him getting a haircut.
• His unpreparedness was legendary — one current ESPN person who used to work at CNN says that he would consistently leave her in the lurch during broadcasts and referred to him as "Fred fucking Hickman." On some occasions when other anchors were preparing for their on-air reports, Hickman would be nowhere to be found, causing panicked producers to look for him. Sometimes, he would just be in the cafeteria, unaware that he was causing problems.
• SportsCenter anchor John Anderson still begins his top 10 plays segment by saying "Number 10...Fred." This is an inside joke done to pay homage to Hickman's tenure. The origins of it come from when one PA wrote out the top 10 play list by giving name indications on each play. Number 10, in this case, was given to Hickman and marked "Fred" on the prompter. Hickman, in turn, read "Number 10...Fred " on air. Anderson supposedly asked producers if he should continue with his Hickman joke after he was gone. The answer was a resounding "yes."
• ESPN was apparently warned about Hickman's work ethic and odd behavior prior to hiring him from CNN staffers, but chose to do so anyway.
Now, obviously, there could be legitimate reasons for Hickman's departure that are medical related — mental, physical, otherwise — but it appears to be one of the worst kept secrets in sports media that Hickman is one of the bigger flakes in the industry. I'd be curious to see where Hickman lands his next job, given his seemingly ridiculous work reputation and high price tag. But as one ESPN personality suggested, sometimes all you need is a recognizable name and face to continue to be on television — even if you completely suck at it.
If there are any more amusing Fred Hickman anecdotes out there from people who've worked with him, feel free to share and I'll update this post with them. Or better, any insight into the real reason why Fred Hickman is no longer with ESPN, that would be helpful.