ADNAN VIRK: UNJUSTIFIED FIRING OR DESERVED TERMINATION?

On February 3, 2019, just over one hour (5:28 pm ET) before kickoff of the centerpiece of America’s most popular annual social occasion – the Super Bowl – the NEW YORK POST published a story from sports media columnist Andrew Marchand that had nothing to do with what most Americans were glued to that day.

Before Joining The New York Post Last Year, Marchand Spent 11 Years As ESPN Reporter

Excerpt:

ESPN rising star Adnan Virk has been fired by the network, sources told The Post.

Virk is accused of leaking confidential company information to the media on multiple occasions, according to sources.

When ESPN investigated the allegations, it felt that Virk failed to fully cooperate.

He recently signed a new multi-year contract.

“Adnan Virk no longer works at ESPN,” ESPN vice president Josh Krulewitz told The Post.

Virk could not immediately be reached for comment. CAA, Virk’s agency, declined comment.

On Friday, Virk was escorted off the Bristol campus. The specific nature of the information Virk chose to share is unknown at this time.

When Marchand, who joined the Post in 2018 after 11 years as an ESPN reporter, sent out a link to the same report from his personal Twitter account 12 minutes later, it was his 17th Tweet so far that day. (After all, it was Super Bowl Sunday.)

Following that initial tout to his social media followers, many of whom are prominent media members, Marchand would Tweet 24 more times before the day was out – with 21 of those messages to his nearly 55,000 followers dedicated to Super Bowl media coverage.

The other three? Virk story Retweets.

Less than a day later, Marchand quickly moved to update his Super Bowl Sunday scoop about Virk’s termination with a followup headlined, “Adnan Virk Plots ESPN Lawsuit After Firing Over MLB Leak.

Excerpt:

Fired ESPN anchor Adnan Virk is pursuing legal action against his ex-employer, sources have told The Post.

Virk was let go Friday after being accused of leaking confidential information on multiple occasions.

At present, he is receiving no severance after just signing a four-year contract worth seven figures. 

Despite the headline, which was the pretense presented by Post editors as the reason to read Marchand’s piece, the only mention of Virk taking legal action against ESPN came in the report’s first paragraph.

Having taken the bait, the reader was then unwittingly switched by Marchand to what the ex-longtime ESPN reporter presented as an account of, “the instance that led to the final decision to relieve Virk.

Excerpt:

Sources say that Virk’s side contends he received no warning and the punishment does not fit the crime.

They were shocked by the outcome, thinking that, at most, Virk might be suspended for two weeks for what they considered a lapse in judgment.

Sources on ESPN’s side point out that everyone in the company is required to take compliance training that includes not leaking confidential information, and termination could be a result.

Companies institute these practices to educate employees, but also to be able to say they warned them if accused of wrongdoing.

That Marchand did not include any detail of Virk’s alleged pending legal action against ESPN is as clear a sign as any that his sourcing for both stories was, to put it kindly, one-sided in favor of his former employer.

And before February 4 – the date of Marchand’s followup – was out, similarly ESPN-slanted, anonymously-sourced accounts of Virk’s ouster had been recorded by three other outlets.

Though two days later, that trend changed.

On February 6, James Andrew Miller, best-selling, co-author of the definitive history of ESPN, 2011’s Those Guys Have All The Fun, appeared on Richard Deitsch‘s Sports Media Podcast specifically to reveal the circumstances of Virk’s departure from the network – while venting his displeasure over those same proceedings.

Thanks to the years of research that went into his 832-page book about the pre-eminent sports network – which included innumerable interviews – Miller has known more past and present ESPN employees than any non-ESPNer alive and based on the specifics-riddled account he gave of Virk’s ouster on Deitsch’s podcast, he hasn’t failed to maintain a well-placed portion of that rolodex.

The following is an excerpted account of the circumstances surrounding ESPN’s termination of Adnan Virk by James Andrew Miller –  transcribed from Richard Deitsch’s February 6, 2019, Sports Media Podcast. (Full audio of the entire podcast can be found here.):

“… So let’s just say that you’re an ESPN employee for nine years (Adnan Virk) and on a Monday a reporter calls you to ask a question about something and you say,

“‘Well I think it’s (“Baseball Tonight”) going to stay the same. I think the show’s going to be on once a week from what I heard.’

“And the reporter says, ‘really? I thought there might be more.’ 

“(And you say) ‘I think it’s going to be once a week.’

“… On Tuesday, Major League Baseball and people at ESPN are pissed that there’s an article (on awfulannouncing.com) that says that the show (“Baseball Tonight) is only going to be once a week, confirming the status quo …

“… On Wednesday, you’re called in and they ask you for your phone.

“Now this is the phone that you do all your business on and yes it’s a company phone but it’s also the phone that is the only phone you have. It’s the phone (on which) you have pictures of your family, pictures of your children, and most importantly – like ninety percent of the people at ESPN – the phone is the vehicle for making decisions and getting back to people. 

“… So you say ‘you know what, I can’t do it, this is my phone and I’ve got some personal stuff on there and plus I can’t be without my phone’ and then the next day they call you and they say, ‘good news, we’ve got your replacement phone so we need your other phone.’

On Friday, at 11:30 in the morning, via speakerphone. you’re fired.

“You’re fired and escorted out of the building.

“So there’s no warning.

“There’s no opportunity to say, ‘look this is what we (ESPN) found in the investigation, why did you do this and do you understand why this is a violation of company policy and as a result you know what, we’re gonna have to suspend you for two weeks or four weeks’ or whatever.

“You’re escorted out of the building.

“Nine years (at ESPN), four young boys.

“Then to really add insult, it’s leaked (to the New York Post).

“So you’re sitting there and your professional life has come to this ridiculous, grinding halt and all of a sudden now it’s like the whole world knows you’ve been fired.

“If that isn’t a ruthless culture, I don’t know what is.”

Six days later, on February 12, 2019, Adnan Virk released the following statement to Andrew Marchand of the New York Post and Richard Deitsch:

First off, I’d like to thank my fans and colleagues for their outpouring of support, which has been so meaningful.

Much of what has been reported about my termination from ESPN is false and, I think, defamatory.

We – meaning me and my lawyers, Wajahat Laiq and Neal Brickman, and lawyers for ESPN – are currently attempting to amicably resolve my leaving ESPN.

I think that, while we are attempting to settle our differences, it is not productive for me to advocate my positions or to assert any affirmative claims in the press.

Suffice it to say, that I believe that I did nothing wrong that would justify my termination and I categorically deny that I leaked any confidential or proprietary information.

There is considerably more that I would like to say regarding my tenure with ESPN and the circumstances surrounding my termination.

However, I believe that, for now, it is in my and the Company’s best interest to concentrate on attempting to resolve our differences, rather than engaging in a very public war of words.

With the latter in mind and in consideration of the timing and nature of the premeditated, anonymous, pro-ESPN leaks to the media deliberately exposing what should have been a confidential employment matter (Virk’s termination), one cannot imagine that a “very public war of words” between the parties in the future will include an ESPN employee not granted complete anonymonity.