ESPN Returns Emmys Amid Scandal Over Fraudulent Names

Shortly after being exposed by The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (NATAS), ESPN recently returned a set of Emmys that the famed sports network won by using fraudulent names of individuals resembling on-air personalities, which are ineligible to receive awards given to a program.

The Athletic said the ESPN show “College GameDay” won two awards for the same work. Specifically, the network would submit bogus names of “associate producers,” bearing close names to on-air personalities. For example, an anchor can win an award for performing well as an analyst, but cannot win an award intended for a program.

“Since at least 2010, ESPN inserted fake names in Emmy entries, then took the awards won by some of those imaginary individuals, had them re-engraved, and gave them to on-air personalities,” the outlet reported.

ESPN producers reportedly accepted Emmys using fake names, giving them to on-air personalities such as Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso, along with reporters Gene Wojciechowski and Shelley Smith, who were ineligible to receive such awards under NATAS’ guidelines. Such individuals could not win awards for being a part of a show.

ESPN released a statement shortly after the revelation, confirming that the network brought outside counsel in for an investigation into the matter, adding that “the individuals found to be responsible were disciplined by ESPN.”

“Some members of our team were clearly wrong in submitting certain names that may go back to 1997 in Emmy categories where they were not eligible for recognition or statuettes,” the statement read. “This was a misguided attempt to recognize on-air individuals who were important members of our production team.”

“Once current leadership was made aware, we apologized to NATAS for violating guidelines and worked closely with them to completely overhaul our submission process to safeguard against anything like this happening again,” it continued.

ESPN pointed out that the vice president and executive producer of original content and features of “College GameDay,” Craig Lazarus, as well as the senior vice president of production who oversaw the development of the show, Lee Fitting, were among those ruled ineligible from participating in future Emmy Awards.

Since 1988, ESPN has won 246 Emmys. In 2023, the network broke its record and won 13 Emmy Awards. Following NATAS’ investigation, ESPN was forced to return 37 Emmys it had won for the “College GameDay” program since 2010. When Emmys were awarded to the show, on-air personalities were prohibited from accepting awards dealing with programs.