NEW: ESPN says it will be more diligent in choosing fan photos to share on social media
"Ole Miss Girls Are Easier Than Their Out-Of-Conference Schedule" read controversial fan sign
Photo generated comments on ESPN College GameDay's social media accounts
The next time ESPN brings its “College GameDay” to a stadium near you, it will be more “diligent” in its selection of smack-talking signs from the fan zone to showcase on its social media channels.
That’s what the network is saying after drawing criticism for a picture that appeared on its social media accounts on Saturday that some said was sexist.
The picture, taken outside the University of Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium, shows a Crimson Tide fan holding a sign directed at opponents University of Mississippi.
“Ole Miss Girls Are Easier Than Their Out-Of-Conference Schedule,” reads the sign, a reference to the first two games on the Rebels’ schedule. They scored 76 and 73 points in those games.
The image, posted on the official College GameDay social media accounts, included the caption “Just no chill,” or not cool. The sign was one of several handed out by sports blog Saturday Down South.
ESPN initially defended its use of the photo. In a statement Saturday, spokeswoman Keri Potts said the Twitter account “looks to bring the sights and sounds of the College GameDay experience” to viewers at home by showing how fans at the games “express themselves.”
On Monday, following intense backlash, the network revised its statement.
“While signs are part of the fabric of the show, we will be more diligent in determining what signs we showcase and how we showcase them.”
Anchor Rece Davis and analyst Kirk Herbstreit rebuked the image when it flashed on the screen during the broadcast.
“I can’t condone that type of behavior,” Davis said.
“That is unacceptable,” Herbstreit said.
The picture may have earned hundreds of likes and retweets on College GameDay’s social media accounts, but it also generated long comment exchanges.
As one person said on Twitter, “You guys really shouldn’t perpetuate this garbage. Sets a bad example. I get it, it’s a rivalry. Little inappropriate though.”
“Utterly classless and embarrassing to feature this sign. What does this say about your brand? Integrity?” tweeted Emily Wright, a writer from Washington.
Elaborating on her comments, Wright said she took issue with ESPN for amplifying the message, not the person in the picture.
“The idea was never to stifle free speech or deny a young guy his right to make a bad joke, but to hold the world’s largest purveyor of sports entertainment and journalism to some kind of standard,” she told CNN.
“Women already have a hard time in sports – we are bombarded with messages that unless we are sexualized, we are not relevant and could not possibly be knowledgeable in this realm. So when ESPN shares something degrading to women with several million of its social media followers, it’s an implicit endorsement,” she said.
After speaking out, Wright became a target of criticism, name-calling and worse from fans who said the sign was a harmless joke.
Despite the harassment, she stuck to her message.
“We should expect more from a company with so much sway in the market, (one) that sets so much of the tone for the way we talk about sports in this country.”
CNN’s Vivian Kuo contributed to this report.