Sports betting analyst Kelly Stewart's firing by ESPN sparks controversy
K-State graduate's dismissal sparks controversy
MANHATTAN — When ESPN announced plans to hire Kelly Stewart as a sports gambling analyst last month, the network did so with excitement and enthusiasm. It promoted her as an up-and-coming talent in a news release, saying she would be "an important asset to all that we are doing in the space," as well as someone who would help position ESPN to "expand our sports betting content going forward."
It sounded like a perfect partnership.
But it dissolved in a less than a month. Stewart's career at ESPN ended before it even began.
Who is Kelly Stewart?
Stewart, known by many simply as @kellyinvegas on social media, broke into the sports betting scene over the last decade while living in Las Vegas. She has most recently been an analyst for Bleacher Report and for WagerTalk.com. She has also appeared across multiple other platforms over the years including ESPN Radio in Las Vegas and the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
At ESPN, she was expected to appear on TV programs, podcasts and radio shows.
Before all that, she grew up in Manhattan and attended K-State, where she earned a degree in business administration and a minor in leadership studies. Her passion for her alma mater has shined through in much of her work.
You could say watching K-State football games got her started on her professional path.
"As a kid from small town Kansas," she said last month, "I grew up watching Kansas State teams during the Bill Snyder era and was immediately hooked on sports."
What went wrong?
ESPN confirmed on Friday that it had parted ways with Stewart, but a company spokesperson declined to provide further details. Stewart issued a statement on social media explaining that she was let go because of tweets she wrote and later deleted nine years ago, which contained anti-gay slurs.
She apologized for using homophobic language in those tweets, writing that "I know the words I used are unacceptable and hurtful" but explained they were in response to hurtful attacks she received on social media.
As a woman working in a male-dominated industry, she did not apologize for standing up for herself against "vile, threatening and misogynistic attacks from men." She said she wished ESPN had opted to stand by her, particularly because she had previously been suspended at a previous job because of those tweets.
"I can only say I'm sorry," she wrote," for the person I was and some of the mistakes I made in my youth."
When ESPN parted ways with Stewart last week, her dismissal quickly became national news.
It sparked conversations on social media about how long someone should be punished for old, inappropriate tweets, how difficult it can be for a woman to work in a male-dominated industry and whether ESPN made the correct move by ending her contract.
The sports website Outkick called ESPN a group of cowards for firing Stewart over tweets she sent nearly a decade ago. Its founder Clay Travis, who also appears on the gambling show "Fox Bet Live," sent Stewart a reply on Twitter suggesting she should be working for his media company.
Others who know Stewart and have enjoyed her work at previous jobs also lobbed criticism at ESPN for not supporting her under the circumstances.
Though her tweets did contain anti-gay slurs, they were only shared as replies on Twitter that the majority of her followers would not have seen without going out of their way to search her posts. Female journalists and analysts typically face more online harassment than their male counterparts, and newsrooms have not really figured out a good way to support them.
There have been other high-profile instances recently of young women reporters losing their jobs over social media posts. The Associated Press fired Emily Wilder because of pro-Palestinian tweets that violated its social media policy.
ESPN also recently fired former KU men's basketball player Paul Pierce as a NBA analyst two months ago when he shared a video on social media that showed him at a party that appeared to include marijuana and strippers.
In 2017, ESPN unveiled a new social media policy for its employees that read: "our engagement on social platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram should be civil, responsible and without overt political or other biases that would threaten our or your credibility with the public. Do nothing that would undercut your colleagues' work or embroil the company in unwanted controversy. Apply to social platforms the same high standards, sound logic and common sense you employ on ESPN's platforms. We reserve the right to take action for violations of these principles."