Sean Salisbury Has A Lot On His Mind

We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Sean Salisbury is at a transitional period in his life and talks rapidly — almost haphazardly — about anything that pops into his head. He's overtly defensive at times, and in our almost 2-hour phone conversation yesterday, he went through a deliberate unloading process. It was therapeutic, unhinged, and veered dangerously close to being completely out of control and incomprehensible during certain segments. Sure, it might be a calculated move for him to agree to this interview due to his new role at OPEN Sports, but he hasn't talked about what happened to him at ESPN or being at the ass-end of so many jokes, "rumors", and blind criticism until now. He was as candid as he could be, but for the always charming legal reasons, he can't go into specifics on some things. He admits in the interview that the last two years have been the "most miserable" ones of his life: the death of his father, the suspension at ESPN, not having his contract renewed at ESPN last March, and, of course, those stories ("rumors...lies!")about him on the internet a lot of which had originated or were trumpeted by Deadspin. (There's a reason why Sean Salisbury was a Deadspin Hall of Fame nominee last year — not for good reasons, either.) Due to its length it will be broken up into two parts. The second one will run tomorrow. It is edited for clarity and brevity, but not as much as either one of us or you, frankly, would like. But it doesn't feel right to present it any other way. Part one, after the jump.So….how are you? SS: I'm…great. Probably since about last March, I've not worked much but it's been a changing part of my life, A.J. When I left ESPN and I decided – and they decided – we're both going different directions…you know, when you leave something like that there's going to be an empty place because for 12 years I was with a company and I loved the people I worked with and worked for. They gave me a platform . For a guy that was an average quarterback, to be a broadcaster for 12 years…whenever you do something for 12 years whether it's marriage, or job, or family you're drawn to it. So those people treated me great and I have no qualms about leaving it, at the time I needed to do some other things. But these last five months for me have probably been as peaceful as I have had in a long time. And this is the longest I've been without work for a while so it was time to go back and get a job. And fortunately with OPENSports, I've got the beginning of something special and this is something I've been looking forward to for a long time. Good. Was there a part of you that did want to leave ESPN? Was it time to go? [T]here's a part of me that wanted to stay at ESPN. And yes there was a part of me that wanted to go. And ESPN has been so good and so dominant and they're all-encompassing: When you're with ESPN, you're an ESPN guy. I get it. The ESPN brand is as big as any brand on the planet right now, especially the sports planet. So, yeah there was a part of me that wanted to stay there. But I also know that after 12 years, financially, if you've worked as many hours as I have as a broadcaster — and what I'd like to think according to them was a productive 12 years — you want to get paid like it. But that's not the main reason…it was time for me to head out. You know, I got my undergraduate degree at ESPN and I need an MBA and a doctorate and that's what I'm working toward. They were awesome to me. And they wanted to go in a different direction and it wasn't just me it was my contract was up, they honored the contract, and they decided to go in a different direction and so was I and so did they. And I'm okay with that, they've got good people there…It hurts to leave something that you've been doing for a long time but I also know in order for me to branch out and challenge myself I need a new challenge and so did they. No hard feelings. There's part of me that wakes up every morning and says "Huh. It'd be nice to be there." But I've never found myself more excited in the past 8-10 years to be doing something new and I think here at OPENsports with the innovation that we have we're going to make it the best in the business. I'm just a mouthpiece for it. The people behind the scenes make it go and I'll just talk opinionated football and give them good stuff and hope that in return that validates why we're on the air. There was all of this rumor and speculation about why you left ESPN. One of the main things was that you (supposedly) took a picture of your genitals on your cellphone and showed it around to interns. I'm sure you've heard those rumors before. Anything about them remotely true? I've heard ‘em. I've lived ‘em for two years. There's a lot of bald-faced lies in there. I don't have to do a lie detector, but the truth of the matter is, I would. It changed my life, man. What was said. It was hurtful. The "alleged" cellphone incident took place in 2006 "supposedly." When someone comes up to your kid at school and asks them about it because they've Googled your name and it's lies and it's not true…It's changed me, A.J. And my feelings have been hurt. We've all done silly things, but I can tell you now – and I'll make this real clear and to the point: One, the reason I haven't addressed it in two years is because I wouldn't want to throw other people under the bus and I wouldn't want to shock the world. And number two is, I'm a team guy who's always protected the guy next to me and will continue to do it. Number three is, I haven't addressed it because it's so absurd and such a bald-faced lie from what the speculation is out there from media outlets, and internet and bloggers that hop on and want to beat you up because they don't like my opinion in football. It NEVER happened. And I have written proof at my house on an ESPN document that states that it didn't happen. And, A.j. …let's think about this now: What in the world would anybody stupid enough…first of all, I wouldn't know the difference between an intern and a p.a. I know they're more talented than I am. And they make everybody at ESPN sound better and look better. And they're the true heroes. If you want to get mad at me for catering Monday Night Football food for the p.a.'s and the camera people and the production people so they could have something to eat on Monday night? I'm guilty of that. The other thing…a bald-faced lie. I have the written proof. Plus, at that time at a Disney company? Who would be nuts enough to do that? And anybody else, you too, would've been fired on the spot. I worked two more years. My departure at ESPN had nothing to do with that. As for speculation, they can say whatever they want, but I can tell you now, written proof, it never happened, and you're the first people I've spoken to publicly about this. It hurt me. It caused me some problems with other people employment-wise when I was looking for something. It's caused me some heartache because people look at me and say "Hey, did that really happen?" And the sad thing about it is, we all do fraternity pranks from the time when we're 10-year-olds until when we're adults because we're all kids. But that never happened. The way it was described was complete lie and I have proof. And I have verbal proof from ESPN but they didn't want to open up a Pandora's Box for legal issues. All I wanted was to clear my name. And I have proof and it's written proof from them and I can tell you now that it never happened. I wish …for my family's sake… I'm a pretty boring guy. I get way too much credit. Single, yes. Hey, who doesn't go on a date? But I'm a pretty boring guy. I raise three kids and I sit at home and I get teared up when I watch Michael Phelps win at the Olympics…and I know that sounds corny but it's true… Yeah, that really sounds corny… SS: There's not enough time in the day.... It's not true. It never was true. It wasn't an issue then. It's not an issue now. It will never be an issue. Unfortunately, people jump onto something that is so blatantly wrong, that you suffer the punishment for it…You know, I sit here and I kid about it, but you know what? It's actually changed my life and has hurt me — the things that have been said about me the last couple years. That's not me.. But do you have any clue as to where something like that would originate from? Obviously, you know, we have heard things. We've gotten clarifications on it. When it happened. Why it happened. Do you know what story it originated from to get to that point? SS: I can tell you this. I know for a fact the situation that was going on before me with my friend Harold Reynolds and, you know....I'm not going to get into here or there what happened with that. I'm not privy to "he said/she said." What I am privy to is that I know for a fact that in 12 years I was never in a human resources meeting until then. And I never, ever, ever, EVER, would have been in that meeting room, as was told to me, for the unfortunate circumstances around the legal part with what was going on with Harold. Had that not occurred, I would not have been in that office, as told to me by the person that was in that office. But because of … And , you know why, A.J.? And let me ask you this. You know, people say "sources." There's never been a an executive at ESPN or inside ESPN human resources that has ever come out – and I'm DEFENDING ESPN on this part, I'm not throwing them under the bus – nobody has come out from ESPN and said, "Yep, this happened, that happened. He did this…" Nobody's ever done that. And I love the way John Skipper and George Bodenheimer run that company. I love Mark Shapiro. But nobody's ever come out and said , this, this and this …so it's all be speculation. And "sources" that said this, to this, to this, to this, to this. And if that's the case, then we get a source that says everybody's gay in Hollywood and that Britney Spears has a three-headed baby…come on! We've all done silly things, but I guarantee you I never did anything that silly nor would I. And you can get all the "sources" you want and they'll speculate and they'll come out of the woodwork. And, yeah, that's right, I was the King of England and won the Heisman trophy. Well, you were the king in Canada at one point, let's not forget that… That was a very, very quick point. Same as my career in the NFL. 10 years but easily forgotten. I have nothing but great things to say about ESPN because of the opportunity they gave me. It's not them, it's people out there that I think at times are irresponsible. That's why there's no pictures out there, there's no nothing. That's why in 12 years if people want to speculate about it and say that's the worst thing that I've done….well. I don't beat people, I raise my kids, I raise money for charities, I try to do the right thing with a lot of good help. I'm a normal guy that's trying to carve out a living that got actually hoodwinked on something that he shouldn't have because I wouldn't throw other people under the bus. So you feel like you were the fall guy? That you're paying for other people's sins? Hey, I'm not perfect. As far as that one situation? Do I think that the suspension should have happened? Absolutely not. Was I suspended for "other stuff" than what other people speculate about? In my mind, yes. I can guarantee you, I know for a fact, had other situations surrounding that not had happened – I don't know if I'd still be at ESPN because that was two years ago and I should have been long gone and somebody put legs on it. That had nothing to do with according to them and me with me leaving ESPN…they wanted something else and they could get somebody cheaper and maybe they thought they could get somebody better. That's okay too. There are people who may think they're better. That's their right. They do the hiring. But never once was that a problem for why I left or anything else. The last two years have been very, very…you know we try to be tough guys and stuff. But the last two years have been very gut-wrenching for me because I don't lead that life, and like I said – I'm not perfect. But when you say "fall guy" for somebody else? I wouldn't say I was a "fall guy" for somebody else. But I definitely protected other people. And I know darn well that I wouldn't have been in that situation had it not been for a couple of other situations surrounding that company. I was a good person to use. Isn't that a popular party line — that there's so much hypocrisy at ESPN, not with your situation specifically, but when Harold's situation came up – that the talent is getting reprimanded and suspended for things even though that plenty of the executive level people are engaging in similar behavior — fostering the same type of "relationships". Oh, there's no question. I think that happens at any company or at any walk of life, I think there's hypocrisy everywhere. Again —- I'm not he said/she said. I love Harold Reynolds and I know Baseball Tonight isn't the same without him and there's some good people out there. I'm not going on anything other people said – I never saw anything like that happen. You try to walk down the hallway with blinders on, you've got to protect the other people. Do I think there's hypocrisy and you could look at it and say Harold Reynolds shouldn't have been fired? Absolutely. Now, I'm not saying anything as far as the people who had the complaints about him – I don't know. I'd be a liar if I said I was privy to inside human resources information because anytime human resources releases something on somebody and gives a source out they're liable to have themselves sued. I don't have any inside information, I didn't talk to Harold about it because you know what, he's moving forward and he's going to carve out a good career. It's unfortunate that stuff like that happens. Do I think there's a hypocrisy? Yeah. Because you crawl up the ladder and down the ladder at ESPN and there's plenty of stuff going on that nobody hears about. It's unfortunate for Harold. And I like the fact that he's just done his business. [He's] minded his own business, and he could put it behind him. The Harold Reynolds I know was a man who did his job and was friendly. At times if you smiled at somebody they'd take it wrong, but I don't know the inside stuff. But do I think there's hypocrisy out there? No question. But do you think the reputation that ESPN talent have for promoting a frat-house type atmosphere had something to do with the way the company just started singling people out? Do you think they were trying to change the morale ? If you look at some of the coverage right now, it's a lot more vanilla than I'm used to watching. As far as a fraternity atmosphere, that's complete B.S. You're sitting in a news room. What's a fraternity atmosphere? John Kruk and I sitting and talking about baseball? You know what? You're in the TV business. You're in the production business. Those production people are working 12,14, 16, 18 hours a day and don't get paid that much to put something unbelievable on TV. People are going to cuss. People are going to say something in the heat of the battle. People are going to get into an argument with a producer like I have. Somebody's going to tell a dirty joke and somebody's going to laugh at it. And then there's another party that's going to get offended. Are you KIDDING me? I hope that someday you get a chance to walk into the newsroom at ESPN and see. Our Christmas Party – for the most part – was never a fraternity-like atmosphere. You know when you go into a locker room, A.J.? You have to be respectful of people. You're not going to touch people inappropriately, you're not going to say something inappropriately or at least try not to. You're going to do everything possible to provide a safe, comfortable environment for everybody. But you know you'll walk into a locker room sometimes and you'll have a really religious guy sitting next to a guy who was single sitting next to a married guy …and you know what somebody may want to tell a dirty joke? You don't want to hear it? Get up and move! Things are going to happen, but I've always believed that if somebody is saying something to you…go to the source. You know if you have a problem with some guy saying something to you in the news room? There's no reason to run upstairs. Why? Now, if they're offending you inappropriately I can understand that. That's called business and respect. The same way I raise my daughter and my children. Or my mother was being talked to. Or my sister. You know what? People all going to laugh at dirty jokes and we all have. ESPN runs a tight ship. Before me and they always have. There's always going to be people who've done something wrong, who have to go to a meeting with their boss and then there's going to always be people who do the perfect stuff. And there's nobody in between. I think the way ESPN handles the atmosphere, the newsroom-some people mess up, some don't, some are bigger than others , some aren't– but I can tell you this it's nothing like a fraternity atmosphere. I'd almost go to the other side and say because it's become so…"Oh My Gosh!" that I don't think there is as much morale there as should be. And that's not saying anything against the people that are there. They're so afraid to even smile at somebody or tell somebody they have a nice tie on or your hair looks pretty, you have to think "Oh my gosh, what if that person takes it wrong?" Whether it's male or female. Fraternity-like? No. I was blessed for 12 years to work with guys like John Skipper and George Bodenheimer of creating unbelievable business. But also, you know when you've crossed the line. We've all done it at some point in our life. You know, when you tell a dirty joke and you're like "Oh my gosh why did I do that?" So my impressions of you in Miami as being this big ladies man were a little off. Let's back up. I'm single. In that picture you don't see me drunk. I won't ever let anyone take a picture of me with alcohol I won't let that happen because it's a bad example for the kids. I won't even get a glass of water in my hands in some photos. The other side of it is, I'm honored that you thought I was that much of a ladies man because at that party people were coming up to and talking to me, it is the Super Bowl. Just like the World Series, just like the Olympics, people know who you are…I'm not even a star, A.J. I'm surprised you even wanted a picture. I devalued you. But if an attractive lady comes up to me and I'm single, shoot, why wouldn't … But I think I described you as having that ex-athlete air about you-that swagger – that draws people in… The swagger, I take that as a compliment. But it doesn't matter what religion, race, tall, short, if a kid wants an autograph or somebody wants a picture…I treat everyone the same. Now. Am I honored that you think women like me? Am I single am I allowed to go on a date? Yeah. I'm all of those things. To say I'm a ladies man? I don't know about that. I think there's a perception about any athlete. If you smile and laugh and joke with people then they're like "he can get any lady he wants." If that were the case, then I'd be seeing if you could set me up with Eva Mendes. I see you in a room with Irvin, Stuart Scott, Alex Brown from the Chicago Bears who's playing in the Super Bowl that year and I don't see as many people talking to them. Irvin is a star, Stu Scott's a star, yet I don't see as many ladies around them... Maybe they felt sorry for me, A.J. I don't think that was the case. I think you pull it. I think you're sandbagging me here. I don't have that much game. Irvin, superstar, great guy. Stu Scott, talented guy, he's won many Emmys and then….It's like Sesame Street. "One of These Things is Not Like the Other"? Then there's Sean. I'd like to say it was my ruggedly handsome good looks and my charming personality. I just think we were at a small place and there were people around, it was after Sports Center, and we go over there and are trying to help a guy out. Put it this way: I had a good time and had a lot of laughs. Nobody hates eye candy and I just wish I was a little more of it. The next day.... I think both of our lives changed in some aspect. Did you know what was happening? Did you have conversations with Stu Scott the next day? Because even I didn't know how viral it had become because I was running around like an idiot most of the time. That's okay you had a lot of parties and a lot of people to take pictures with, buddy. Let me be totally honest with you: yeah, my life changed. My dad died. I lost my hero, my best friend, so you go through difficult times. Then in March I changed jobs and looking for another part of my career. But going back to that, A.j., I don't care if people write that they disagree with my opinions and they hate you, I actually love that — because they're still watching and they're listening because they love to hate you. And there's some people that like you or there's some people that are on the fence. I'm not usually a guy who's on the fence. That's okay. That's how I carved a niche. I work hard and I prepare and I will not miss one game of the entire season and I'll have 9-10 TVs and DVR and watch every single game until the season's over. I'm just doing my job. It's just when it crosses over... Like, I said I don't get arrested, I try to be a good dad…we all have our weaknesses. And yeah, we're supposed to be macho and hard-asses about it…but you know what? It CRUSHED me to read some of the things that were said about it. And it hurts me. And Stuart Scott? The text message and stuff? It hurts him. He's got a family and stuff. And the truth of the matter was it wasn't true. The person he was talking to [Michelle Beisner] was actually a great friend of both of ours who actually comes to my golf tournament and volunteers her time to raise money for kids to go to college. And it's those times where people speculate on things, which is unfortunate, and yeah we'll say it doesn't matter, but it's like going into a stadium and being booed. Nobody likes to be booed. So the tough guy image…[trails off, catches breath.] So yeah, my life has changed. I don't socialize like I used to. When I go to colleges and stuff I'm very cognizant of the fact that there are people out there to hurt you. But I've been very blessed man. I really have. And this isn't a woe-is-me. I've screwed up plenty of times. I was married 17 years and when you fail at marriage you sometimes feel that you failed at life. And I know that. And I'm trying to be better. But one thing I do know is that even if there is a small portion of people that believe stuff that's on a website or the cellphone thing which I told you DID NOT happen…you can create anything. Heck, I've even had people say I was a good quarterback so you KNOW people lie. But this is not woe-is-me. If I never worked again, well, I played 10 years of professional football, I was raised by an awesome family and I've been working in the broadcast business for 12 years which quite frankly if anybody tells you different — we work hard, but my dad was a blue collar guy — we're stealing money. We're talking about sports which you and I could do on a Saturday sitting around. I go to college games not because I'm covering them but because I like it. I'm blessed. 99% of the people that come up to me – even though they may rip you while you're on air – they treat me great. Then there's that one percent that says, "Hey, I heard you did this…" Of course it's hurtful. But I've been very blessed and I can overlook the negative and – I'm being honest now-I don't have a whole lot of complaints about the way I've been treated. The thing is people are entitled to their opinion and most of ‘em are classy and handle themselves well and the ones that don't? I don't have any answers for them anyway. Tomorrow...part II: On John Clayton, his role as a broadcaster, and more and more of what it was like to be the" ESPN guy that sent his junk around on a cellphone" for so long.