Andy Katz. Doug Glanville. Dr. Jerry Punch.
The names started to pour in. We knew the layoffs were coming, but I think we were all a little shocked at the amount of household names that were being let go by ESPN. They were kicking some quality people to the curb.
Some of us kept hoping for the best for our favorite employees that had yet to be named. We’d grown to love their work and have appreciated their rational views on the sports that we love.
There was one name, though, that couldn’t escape my mind. I knew his name would not be among those laid off, but I also knew we’d never get to witness his magic on SportsCenter again.
I’m talking about the man who brought us catch phrases such as “Boo yah!” and “As cool as the other side of the pillow!” Stuart Scott is no longer with us, but would his name have appeared on this recent list of cast-offs if he was still alive? Scott and many other SportsCenter anchors were instrumental in developing a childhood obsession with sports for many of us.
Over the years many anchors left on their own terms, and some not by choice. I can assure you I wasn’t the only sports fan hoping to one day become the next Stuart Scott or Kenny Mayne.
Most of my summer mornings as an adolescent were spent sprawled out on the couch watching ESPN’s SportsCenter. Partially out of boredom, but mostly due to a lack of online content at the time, I would watch the same show religiously every morning over and over and over. To me, those were the good ol’ days.
Without social media and shows such as First Take, we were allowed to observe the events in the sports world and form our own opinions. With the catch phrases, the humor and a feeling of suspense (when they didn’t give away who won the game halfway through the highlight), SportsCenter had a great thing going.
Most kids watched SportsCenter and wanted to become a professional athlete. The rest watched and wanted to become a SportsCenter anchor. My guess is many of you out there can relate. How awesome would it be to talk about sports for a living, right?!
When ESPN first aired their original program Dream Job, my own dream started to materialize.
Dream Job hit the air before reality television became the norm. Contestants came on the show to compete for a chance at earning a one year contract with ESPN as a SportsCenter anchor. Big Ten Network’s Mike Hall eventually won the show and earned a starting salary of $95,000.
I watched the show not only to be entertained, but also to learn. It was no coincidence that one of my first college visits was the University of MIssouri, the same school at which Mike Hall majored in broadcast journalism during the airing of Dream Job.
Over the past couple days, I’ve watched the list of ESPN layoffs grow and I can’t help but think many of those individuals had the same dream I once had. Those of us who’ve had this dream could easily empathize with these individuals who’d been layed off. In a way, it was almost as though our dreams were crushed a bit as well.
If it wasn’t enough to see the likes of Ed Werder, Brett McMurphy and Jay Crawford lose their jobs, Iowa native Chris Hassel announced his layoff on Twitter late Wednesday afternoon. The St. Ambrose graduate had landed his dream job so early in his career, and all of a sudden it was gone.
How many of us thought “Iowa Native Lands Dream Job With ESPN” would be a headline written about us? I sure did.
Grateful for all the opportunities I had in my 4+ years at ESPN. Many great people lost their jobs today. But many other greats remain.— Chris Hassel (@Hassel_Chris) April 26, 2017
To no one’s surprise, there were some really bad takes out there as news started to roll in that people were losing their jobs. In a jealous rage, some people on Twitter seemed to feel little remorse for individuals that “were fortunate enough to talk about sports for a living,” as if sports journalism was a walk in the park.
Sorry, but it’s not.
My interest in becoming the next great SportsCenter anchor led me to a high school internship in the sports department at KGAN with Andy Garman. It wasn’t exactly my greatest decision in high school (I could have met the graduation requirements by doing a one day job shadow instead), but I opted for the eight week internship.
As I grew older and had to decide whether this dream would become a reality, I knew I had to get a feel for the gig. There had to be a catch, right? Surely people wouldn’t just pay you to talk sports.
My first day, just minutes after rolling into the office in my red polo and finest pair of cargo shorts, I was re-directed to Iowa City (by myself) with a company vehicle and a camera. It turns out there was a college softball game and my first task was to collect a few highlights.
After dozens of phone calls to Andy, and a few troubleshooting tactics of my own, I returned to the office with some film. An hour later it was condensed to a few highlights, and when I got home it appeared it on the 10 o’clock news. I was so freaking jacked.
Over the next few weeks, I cut highlights (with actual VHS tapes), covered the media day for the newly formed Cedar Rapids River Raiders, and generated scripts to be used on-air for the sports portion of the telecast. It was awesome — until I realized I forgot to turn the microphone on during my interview with Dean Oliver.
To this day, I’m convinced Andy just wanted to get the annoying intern out of the office, but I’ll forever be thankful for the learning opportunities he gave me as a high school junior.
When I read the horrible takes on Twitter about the journalists who were let go, it made me think of those experiences as a high school junior. Covering sports is a constant hustle. We see the ESPN personalities covering the biggest national stories and think, “damn, that’d be great”.
We don’t see the countless hours they spent driving on gravel roads in the hope of getting a highlight or two from a junior varsity tennis meet. We don’t understand that, for awhile, every Friday night was spent traveling the state covering high school football only to get up the next morning and get a few clips of a high school volleyball tournament.
For some, local sports journalism was their end goal. They had no interest in calling Bristol home. They came to appreciate and love the local sports scene. But once again, being a local television personality is no walk in the park. Not many people want to sign up for a 2 p.m. to midnight grind that includes additional weekend work.
Andy told me something about covering sports that I’ll never forget. He told me you’re no longer a fan when you cover sports for a living. For me, this was a deal-breaker.
There are certain jobs in sports that allow you to conduct your business as a fan, but there’s still no cheering in the press box. There’s no tailgating for an 11 a.m. kick-off and there’s no celebrating a big win on Welch Avenue.
Many of the employees that were laid off at ESPN this week sacrificed their own fandom, their weekends, and their nights to tell us the stories surrounding the game. Are there jobs out there that are of more importance to society? Sure, but that doesn’t make it right that these people lost their jobs.
As many have mentioned, these journalists will most likely land on their feet. For guys like Chris Hassel though, that landing will occur somewhere other than their dream job. That shouldn’t make any sports fan feel good.
These layoffs are concerning for so many reasons. I’m not even going to attempt to explain why they occurred. I have no doubt ESPN had some valid reasons to trim staff, but as a fan I feel for the individuals involved.
Just as I don’t condone celebrating the layoffs of hard-working individuals, I don’t advise calling for ESPN to cut the likes of Stephen A. Smith loose. In fact, he’s probably just doing what the network executives have told him to do.
But that’s the disturbing part.
There’s still a place for quality journalism. To me, it doesn’t appear ESPN wants to be that place. For the “Worldwide Leader in Sports,” it simply appears the louder the message, the better.
In my career as an educator, I’m fortunate to work with some amazing kids. They all have dreams like I once did. Many of them want to pursue careers in the medical field or design buildings. I have yet to hear any of them say they want to be the next Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith.
Does any kid these days hold the same dreams we once had as children? Do the kids that realize they aren’t athletic enough to make a living playing the game understand there’s a spot for them to tell stories about the game they’ve loved all their life?
I’m holding out hope that some good can come from this. With so much talent available, could we see teams place more of an emphasis on producing content themselves? If journalistic integrity is de-valued, will athletes continue the shift toward telling stories on their own terms? We’ve seen The Players Tribune take off after giving athletes an outlet to express their thoughts. (If you haven’t read the story of Dion Waiters, you should do that next.)
Making it in the world of journalism is tough. It takes a serious leap of faith to try to earn an income covering sports. There are more outlets than ever and numerous chumps like myself that are willing to pen the occasional editorial for free.
Through my experiences exploring the field, I’ve come to respect the work it takes to be successful at the gig. I try not to scoff when journalists put their work behind a pay wall. If we want all sports content to be free, are we ready for the lack of quality?
Plumbers, bankers, janitors and even professional athletes lose their jobs every day. For some, it may have been a blessing in disguise, but for others they are crushed because they lost their dream job.
I hope ESPN doesn’t continue to go down the path they appear to be navigating. We could use more people like Stuart Scott narrating the world of sports without beating us over the head with another hot take.
Somewhere, a teenager is contemplating whether they can really pursue a job in sports. They wonder if they can land a gig without being a former player. They wonder if they’ll have to sell out and spew things from their mouth that they don’t believe.
In a perfect world, someone or some company will bring the good ol’ days back to life. When they do, we can all let out a collective “boo yah!”
For now, I will continue to hope for the best for those laid off from ESPN.
They just lost our dream job.