Olbermann’s Past
Before MSNBC, he was enraging colleagues and getting pushed out at ESPN.


Ultimately, Olbermann’s attitude and behavior toward his colleagues — a topic which hardly anyone shies away from in Those Guys Have All the Fun — meant that his contract could not be renewed in 1997. Here’s Herb Granath, now chairman emeritus of ESPN:

I was enraged by Olbermann. Guys like that just p*ss me off, you know, because there’s no loyalty. It’s just me, me, me, me. Of course you have to take care of yourself, but at the same time, there’s a way to do it and a way not to do it. . . . Eventually, the guy dug himself a deep hole. There was no choice but to get rid of him.

And Bob Ley wasn’t exactly in tears when Olbermann left, either:

I saw [John] Walsh in the hallway and I said, “Our long national nightmare is over, huh?” Apparently Dan [Patrick] said the same thing to him independently. We felt not so much relief when Keith left as unrestrained f–ing joy. People were thrilled. And it may not be fair to him, because I don’t know what his issues are. Whatever they are, they are. There was a fair amount of “Why did it take so long?” Some of what happened with him back then is romanticized, but there are still people there who remember how people were treated, spoken to, referred to, and no amount of subsequent gentle behavior is going to erase that. I honestly hope he’s happy. He wasn’t happy here.

ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd was always perplexed at how, for someone so quick to criticize others, Olbermann had remarkably little tolerance for criticism directed his way:

Keith Olbermann’s brilliant but he’s so thin-skinned, and yet he criticized for a living, sharply and often with daggers. You can’t do that for a living and then not take a punch. I’m always shocked at the talented people who criticize and then are seemingly outraged at any salvo directed at them.

Olbermann himself even assesses his combative personality and how deeply ingrained it is:

My mother had gotten used to this attention-garnering thing of mine fairly early on. I was never in a group. I’ve never been a wallflower. And so there was a lot of this for her beginning in the third grade. . . . The teachers would call come over to her and go, “Sooo, you’re Keith’s mother,” with a combination of awe and pity.

This is not to say that Olbermann was without a heart. Kenny Mayne, a sports journalist for ESPN, remembered how kind Olbermann once was to him when Mayne was going through a terrible time:

I think Keith has a warm side; it’s sometimes hidden under a vest. You just can’t see it. Keith is something of a tortured genius. He was rough on the help at ESPN, but he was always good to me. We lost twin sons — Crayton and Conor — back in 1996. . . . [I]n their memory, Keith made a real nice donation to the Ronald McDonald House up there. He also worked for me both Christmas and New Year’s that year while it was all going on. My wife and I will never forget those things.

Ultimately, most at ESPN were able to differentiate the man from his work, and Olbermann is still widely respected as having been one of the best SportsCenter anchors of all time. His colleague Karl Ravech sums up the feeling of many when he says, “I’ve never seen anybody do SportsCenter as well as Olbermann. Nobody. It hasn’t even been close.”

— Nat Brown is a comments editor at National Review Online


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