Pierre Ménès, a great bear of a man whose lively TV soccer commentaries have made him a household name in France, was always known for ribald remarks that verged on the unacceptable.
But times have changed and he is now being hauled over the coals for a series of incidents and lewd comments that date back several years.
After the #metoo movement kicked off in the United States in 2017 and brought down powerful men in Hollywood and elsewhere, French women also began publicly accusing famous men of sexual misconduct.
Few of their targets however lost their jobs or faced ostracism. But over the past year accusations and lawsuits against well-known figures such as the writer Gabriel Matzneff, the political commentator Olivier Duhamel, and TV news anchor Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, have sparked nationwide outrage.
The most serious accusation against 57-year-old Menes dates from August 2016, when at the end of a programme, when cameras were no longer rolling but the studio audience still present, he allegedly pulled up a female journalist’s skirt and grabbed her buttocks.
Menes insists he merely lifted her skirt but did not touch her.
In two other separate incidents he forcibly kisses female colleagues on the mouth during programmes, to applause and laughter from the studio audience.
Menes on Monday tweeted to his 2.5 million followers that he wanted to offer his “sincerest apologies” to all the “victims” who had spoken out about him.
“I have caused pain and trouble to friends without ever intending to do so directly or indirectly,” he wrote.
Pressureis growing on Menes’ employer, the country’s most popular pay TV channel Canal+, to sack him, with the hashtag #PierreMenesOut trending on FrenchTwitter last week.
By Friday he had been let go by Electronic Arts, the company that makes the popular FIFA video game franchise where he was one of the two commentator voices in the French edition.
Canal+ on Friday said it would conduct an “in-depth analysis of the situation”, but showed no sign it was planning to get rid of its star football commentator.
The problem, said Damian McCall, a Paris-based British journalist who has been covering French sport for two decades, is that “Pierre Ménès is ratings gold for Canal+”.
“He is a reflection of the belligerent guy at the bar making scathing comments on the match on TV. France might not like him but they love to watch and many tune into Canal+ just to see him,” he said.
Menes did not appear on his main Sunday evening programme, Canal Football Club, last weekend.
Since the controversy broke, more and more reports of his alleged misdeeds have emerged.
The investigative news site Mediapart was told by several sources that Menes allegedly liked to expound his theory that black footballers couldn’t score penalties “because they don’t have the mental strength” required.
It also reported on his alleged fondness for using racist words for black people and his alleged frequent use of derogatory terms for gay people.
Marlene Schiappa, the junior interior minister, warned that Menes’ behaviour might be only the tip of the iceberg.
“There are other Pierre Menes in the television world and I want them to know that their fame does not protect them,” she told RMC television.
The caseis all the more embarrassing for Canal+ because it was accused of cutting sequences from a documentary – in a bid to protect Menes – that it broadcastabout decades of sexism in sports journalism.
Two sequences accusing him of sexual harassment were removed from the final version of the programme titled “I’m not a Slut, I’m a Journalist” by journalist Marie Portolano.
Portolano, 35, is the journalist who accused him of lifting her skirt and groping her.
In one of the passages cut from the documentary, she confronts him about the incident, which he says he doesn’t recall.
He also says at one point that he sees no harm in complementing a woman about her low-cut dress. He then looks down at Portolano’s breasts and comments that the journalist, who is wearing a round neck jumper, has not treated him to much of a view that day.
In another moment that was cut, she asks him if he would grope a woman again.
“Oh, oui,” Menes replies calmly.