Photo credit to thescore.com.
While Jeremy Roenick had a Hall of Fame career on the ice, his career off the ice has been marred by self-inflicted controversy. Dating as far back as 2004, Roenick has exhibited a history of explicit and impulsive remarks, from telling fans to “kiss his a**” to claiming he was “blackballed” from the USA Hockey Team.
In December of 2019, Roenick’s world was “turned upside down” when he appeared on Barstool Sports’s Spittin’ Chiclets podcast, where he made numerous suggestive remarks about his wife and fellow NBC Sports hockey analyst Kathryn Tappen. When asked about his recent vacation with his wife and Tappen, Roenick said the two looked “smokin’” and that he “play[s] it off like we’re going to bed together every night.”
Tappen strongly condemned the comments, saying that “[w]hile Jeremy and I continue to be good friends, what he said was unacceptable.” Shortly after his remarks, NBC Sports confirmed that Roenick would not be returning to the network.
In his complaint against NBC Sports and Executive Producer Sam Flood filed in New York, Roenick justifies his actions by pointing to comments made by Olympic commentators Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski, whom Roenick says made “colorful commentary” about skaters’ body parts during Olympic coverage.
When he brought the comments to the attention of NBC Sports management, Roenick further states that NBC Sports executives dismissed his concerns because “[Weir] is gay and can say whatever.” In the suit, Roenick alleges multiple counts of breach of contract and, most notably, violations of New York Executive Law § 296(1)(A), which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex and sexual orientation.
Judges have historically been skeptical of heterosexual discrimination claims brought under § 296(1)(A). A New York appellate court affirmed a dismissal of an employment discrimination suit brought by a heterosexual female employee of the New York Metropolitan Opera. The employee, Martha Brennen, claimed that she was treated in a “demeaning and degrading manner” by her homosexual male supervisors.
Justice Betty Weinberg affirmed dismissal of the suit, reasoning that there was no evidence that Brennan even discussed her sexuality with anybody at the Met, let alone was fired because of it. Justice Weinberg further stated that even if Brennan could have established a claim of discrimination, she could not prove that the reasons given by her supervisors for not renewing her contract were pre-textual.
Roenick’s discrimination claims are, like Brennan’s, without merit. While New York courts have ruled that logically heterosexual people are afforded sexual orientation discrimination, Roenick’s claims are meritless and should be dismissed with prejudice. While Roenick can conceivably prove that he was a member of a protected class and that he was qualified for his position as an analyst, he fails to show that the circumstances surrounding his termination give rise to an inference of discrimination. It should be clear to everyone that Roenick was not fired because he was straight, but rather because of his history of insensitive comments that demean and degrade Ms. Tappen and other female analysts who seek to break into a male-dominated field.
Aside from one unsubstantiated claim regarding Weir’s comments, Roenick presents no evidence of discrimination directed toward him while he was on the job, nor does he present evidence of other members of his “protected class” being treated differently. NBC Sports should move to dismiss this complaint, arguing that these comments were the latest in a history of Roenick’s disrespect for female colleagues and deserved the strongest possible condemnation. Roenick should use his position of influence to showcase and highlight women in sport, not to demean and degrade them.
Jonathan is a third-year law student at Indiana University Maurer School of Law.
 JamesOwnzsam, JR Going Off on the Fans, YouTube (Oct. 22, 2006), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7jUt1qIQBZI.
 Hailey Kannath, Jeremy Roenick Says NBC Firing Was Because He's Straight, Law360 (July 17, 2020 10:45 PM), https://www.law360.com/articles/1293401/jeremy-roenick-says-nbc-firing-was-because-he-s-straight.
 Jace Mallory, Jeremy Roenick apologizes for 'insensitive comments' that led to NBC Sports suspension, SportingNews (Jan. 11, 2020), https://www.sportingnews.com/ca/nhl/news/jeremy-roenick-apologizes-for-insensitive-comments-that-led-to-nbc-sports-suspension/1txn9cfv1t9il14p0pxtt6h1dh.  Id.
 Kannath, supra note 3.
 See Brennan v. Metropolitan Opera Ass’n, 284 A.D.2d 66 (N.Y. App. Div. 2002).