Many of you know that I have worked on and off with ESPN for almost - good lord - 25 years. I have loved and loathed the place, from within and without. But ESPN - especially the friends I made in the D'Angelo's-sub-fueled analog edit rooms of a pre-Disney Bristol, circa 1993-95 - remains a family to me, a family I am more and more grateful for as the years go by.
Last week, 100 ESPN staffers lost their jobs, in the company’s second major round of layoffs in the past few years. The sports and media buffs among you may have read the panicky think pieces that have been making the rounds: chilling talk of a bygone business model, evolutionary rumblings about the cable bubble bursting, an equals sign drawn between the rising cost of live sports rights and the stability of subprime mortgages.
I, personally, am in the camp that news of ESPN’s death has been greatly exaggerated. The people running ESPN are quite literally some of the smartest, most gifted minds I have ever met. (These people are beside themselves with sadness about the layoffs, I should add.) But if you’re looking to this blog for a trenchant analysis of ESPN’s long-term business prospects, look elsewhere. Plenty of those floating around.
What I can provide, for the benefit of my friends and family laid off from ESPN - as well as everyone touched by this disturbing turn of events - is my own experience.
I lost my job a few years ago. Not from ESPN, but from another shop in our business. Here's what matters. In the days and weeks that followed, I felt like I was being boiled in oil: drowning in a vat of shame and fear. I have three children and a rock-solid, unflaggingly supportive wife. I was petrified about how I was going to support them. Had I been alone in my struggle, I would have failed. Period.
But I was not alone in my struggle. The people who picked me up, dazed and dirt-smeared, who dusted me off and dunked my head in the sink and put me back to work again, were my colleagues at ESPN.
You know exactly who you are. You made the calls behind the scenes, you hot-glued together some freelance work, you slapped the fear off my face and marched me back out into the world. You turned me into a provider again. There isn’t enough gratitude in the world for me to properly express my thanks for how you butt-kicked me through the summer of 2014, and out the other side, where I am oh so very grateful to be today.
This blog would not be here had I not lost my job, had I not staggered through that scalding summer of shame. Wherever this blog grows from here, its real roots are right there, in the depths of that July, when I bottomed out and stared in the face of having no alternative but to start all over again.
For those of you still reeling from your layoff, please know this. Your ESPN family is already working behind the scenes to get you working again. Many of them knew you were getting bounced before you did. They started piling pillows behind your back before you even realized you were falling.
You know who your most important relationships are. They were the people who called and texted you right away when the axe came down. Those are your brothers and sisters. Use them. Use us. Reach out. Don't hide. Meet us for coffee. Be shitty and scared and unshowered for awhile. That's totally normal and how it should be. But keep moving. Keep texting. Keep keeping in touch. Splutter through the stupid, nightmarish job interviews you’re going to have to suffer through for a little while. They’re going to suck. The job opportunities will suck. And not getting them will be even worse. Push through them: the work and the dry spells, both. Fail fast. Fail better. Every time. You are healing.
Find a way for this to be the best thing that’s ever happened to you.
I know that that thought has crossed your mind. There’s no way it hasn’t. It crossed mine, even when I was at my lowest, and the shame-clouds had only parted a sliver. That ray of hope will widen. It will become your new normal, and then your new day. And then your new life.
You can make this the best thing that’s ever happened to you.
You already know it is, in a way.
So, find that way.
And then be there for the next guy, when he comes tumbling out of Bristol.
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