Pete Rose's Future at Fox Sports in Doubt Amid Sexual Misconduct Allegations From 1975

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Pete Rose

21st Century Fox has taken a highly public, zero-tolerance policy toward harassment and discrimination.

Former MLB star Pete Rose, who has made a comeback as a baseball analyst on Fox Sports, could once again be headed for exile after claims surfaced recently that he allegedly had a sexual relationship with an underage girl in 1975.

The claim is part of a defamation lawsuit Rose filed last year against lawyer John Dowd, who was MLB’s outside counsel in the investigation that led to Rose’s lifetime ban from baseball in 1989 for gambling on the Cincinnati Reds when he was the team’s manager.

A sworn statement by the woman, identified as Jane Doe, in a motion filed July 31 by Dowd’s defense attorney alleges that Rose had a relationship with her for several years, beginning before she turned 16, the age of consent in Ohio, where the woman and Rose lived at the time. Rose acknowledged in court documents that he had sex with the woman, but thought she was 16 at the time. Rose would have been 34 then; he was married with two children.

The statute of limitations means that Rose will not face criminal jeopardy. But the optics of the accusations and the current climate at 21st Century Fox could mean that he may not hang onto his job at Fox Sports. The company has been rocked by systemic harassment allegations at Fox News that have resulted in millions of dollars in settlements and the ouster of founding CEO Roger Ailes in 2016 and top-rated personality Bill O’Reilly last April.

More recently, the division suspended Fox Business Network anchor Charles Payne and Fox News Channel host Eric Bolling amid separate claims of inappropriate behavior toward women. (Payne and Bolling have denied the allegations.) And Fox Sports in July fired Jamie Horowitz, its president of national networks, after a swift investigation into allegations of inappropriate behavior with female colleagues. (Horowitz, through a lawyer, denied the allegations and is fighting his termination for cause.)

Whatever the outcome of Rose's suit, the fact that 21st Century Fox — which is facing a federal probe in how settlement payments were structured at Fox News — has taken a highly public, zero-tolerance policy toward harassment and discrimination will surely factor into the company's deliberations on Rose's future. A Fox Sports spokesperson declined comment.

The revelations come as Rose — and his Fox Sports colleague Alex Rodriguez — have each managed to reinvent themselves in part through their work as baseball analysts. They have emerged as a most watchable duo, with an odd-couple chemistry that has given Fox Sports its most successful studio show in years. (A six-minute video of Rodriguez, Rose and Frank Thomas talking hitting went viral last year, racking up more than 20 million views on Facebook.) The show, which also includes Kevin Burkhardt, recently won a sports Emmy for its 2016 World Series coverage. And earlier this year, Fox Sports signed Rodriguez to a multiyear deal as a full-time analyst.

The parallels between Rose and Rodriguez’s comebacks from ignominy is part of the intrigue of the pairing. During a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter for an Aug. 2 cover profile on Rodriguez, Rose expressed pride in the success of the show and was sanguine about his own complicated baseball legacy. Asked if he still thinks about the Hall of Fame, he said: “I’ve been suspended 27 years. I made the Reds Hall of Fame, I got my number retired, I got a statue the other day in my hometown, so that’s kind of enough for me. Everybody wants to go to the Hall of Fame. I can't worry the rest of my life about going to Cooperstown. If I'm ever bestowed that honor, I’d be the happiest guy in the world. But I'm just trying to remain vertical.”

Rose's suit stems from a 2015 interview that Dowd gave during which he claimed that Rose had a penchant for underage girls when he was among MLB’s biggest stars. In the interview with a Pennsylvania radio station, Dowd asserted, according to ESPN.com, "Michael Bertolini told us, you know, he not only ran bets, but ran young girls down at spring training, ages 12 to 14. Isn't that lovely? So that's statutory rape every time you do that." Rose has denied Dowd's allegation, characterizing them as "entirely false in every respect." (Bertolini was a memorabilia dealer and a key witness in MLB’s gambling investigation; he has since denied that he made the allegations against Rose.)

In an email to ESPN’s Outside the Lines, Rose’s lawyer Ray Genco said: "John Dowd purposely made a defamatory statement that damaged Pete — serial pedophilia consisting of the statutory rape of 12- to 14-year-olds during spring training. It is also false. It's just Dowd attacking Pete instead of defending his own inexplicable accusations on the radio the day before Pete was to be honored in Cincinnati at the All-Star Game. His litigation strategy is to further drag Pete's name through the mud. It's a witch hunt — and won't be a successful litigation strategy."

Last month, Dowd, who is based in Washington, D.C., joined the legal team representing Donald Trump in the Russia investigation. When asked during an interview with THR what he thought of Trump’s hiring of Dowd, Rose demurred: “I'm going to stay away from that because, you know, I’m kind of in a disagreement with John Dowd. Donald Trump is a friend of mine, too, and he knows what he's doing. You may not like the way he's going about some things, but he knows what he's doing.” 

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