Keith Olbermann Made Suzy Kolber Cry, And Other Reasons He Probably Won’t End Up Back At ESPN

  • Dan Fogarty

Keith Olbermann abruptly ended his run on MSNBC last night, and in addition to piecing together exactly what happened that led to his departure, much of the Olbermann-related speculation has been about his next destination. One place he probably won’t end up: his former home, ESPN.

Although it was was brought up (and hoped for) by various media outlets, the possibility of Olbermann returning to the Worldwide Leader in Sports is nonexistent, according to a Jim Miller tweet from earlier today. Miller, who’s writing a book on ESPN tweeted that insiders at the network said Olbermann “will not be returning.”

Olbermann probably doesn’t want that, anyway. The various disagreements with management, the feuds with ESPN personalities, and the public burning of bridges have all been well-documented. But in case you’re unaware, I’ve compiled a quick refresher on the complicated history between Keith Olbermann and ESPN. Let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?

Olbermann was an anchor on the network from 1992-97, and along with Dan Patrick, helped usher in the era of the quippy, fast-talking “Sportscenter” highlight man. But, much like what (apparently) happened at MSNBC, Olbermann had some problems with the management at Bristol.

He was suspended from the network for two weeks in 1997 after making an unauthorized appearance on the “Daily Show,” which was then hosted by former ESPN colleague Craig Kilborn. On the show, he referred to Bristol as a “godforsaken place” (Keith never seemed to be too enamored with ESPN’s campus: “From the window of my house,” Olbermann told Newsweek, “I could look out on the whole Farmington Valley. And there on the horizon was Interstate 84, with all the taillights blending into one.”)

In 1998, during a commencement address at his alma mater Cornell, Olbermann said the ESPN job gave him “dry heaves,” and it would “make [him] ashamed, make [him] depressed, make [him] cry.” During that summer, ESPN execs complained about Olbermann’s plan to use the “The Big Show” title (a nickname Olbermann and Patrick gave to “Sportscenter”) on his new MSNBC show.

Then there was Michael Freeman’s 2000 book ESPN: The Uncensored History, which outlined a number of “gratuitous shots” of Olbermann’s stint with the network which made him “queasy.” In addition to saying none of ESPN’s executives (except for one) were “any good,” Olbermann was shocked to learn that he had made fellow anchor Suzy Kolber cry.

I now read with horror of my ESPN2 co-host, Ms. Kolber, sequestering herself in the women’s bathroom and weeping over how I treated her. She told Freeman that as things deteriorated, I wouldn’t talk to her. She’s wrong: I couldn’t talk to her. I pumped up some small-scale complaints into a scenario in which she was at fault for everything ESPN2 hadn’t become. I wasn’t completely obtuse back then, and if anything would have cut through my neuroses, it would’ve been a colleague’s tears. If I had known, I think I could’ve jumped over the fence I’d built around myself and said what the inner guy always knew: No TV show is worth crying over. Suzy: I’m sorry.

Olbermann’s troubled relationship with ESPN didn’t keep him from having a short reunion with Patrick. From 2005-2007, he co-hosted an hour-long segment on “The Dan Patrick Show” on ESPN radio. But although he was appearing on the Worldwide Leader’s airwaves, he told David Letterman in 2007 that he had been banned from ESPN’s main campus.

Then, there was the Bill Simmons fight. Olbermann took some shots at ESPN’s most popular writer after Simmons wrote that the comeback of Tiger Woods (from a sex scandal) would be more difficult than the one Muhammad Ali faced in the 1960’s (after years of exile).

“I am again left to marvel how somebody can rise to a fairly prominent media position with no discernible insight or talent,” Olbermann said. “Save for an apparent ability to mix up a vast bowl of word salad very quickly.”

An Olbermann return to ESPN, particularly after he had such harsh (and recent) words for one of the company’s biggest stars, just doesn’t seem likely. But, again, Olbermann probably doesn’t even want to come back. During his interview with Letterman in 2007, he said: “If you burn a bridge, you can possibly build a new bridge, but if there’s no river any more, that’s a lot of trouble.”