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21 October, 2015

ESPN - Thanks for the memories

   When I was 12-years old and living in Greenwich, Connecticut, ESPN opened their doors. Cable television was a mystery world back then. Somehow it meant there were more channels to watch and a greater variety of content coming into my living room. When I heard there was an all-sports TV station opening just an hour north of where I lived, my mind was blown. I daydreamed about some day being able to work there.
   15 years later, ESPN opened their doors to me. I had been producing local news in Orlando and had worked with Stuart Scott. He helped get me an interview and in December of 1994 I was hired. My career began as a producer of the overnight show, which was then a half-hour show that came on at 2:30 in the morning. I worked with Craig Kilborn, Brett Haber, Gary Miller and Karl Ravech. The hours were tough but we had a lot of fun and I was learning on the fly. I provided the guys with some catch phrases that stuck and developed a good relationship with those guys. In the immediate years that followed I worked with Bob Ley, Charley Steiner, Robin Roberts, Dan Patrick, Keith Olbermann, Kenny Mayne, Steve Levy, Linda Cohn, Bill Pidto, Rich Eisen and Stuart Scott. It was virtually impossible to not improve as a producer working with people like that. Being an anchor was what I had really wanted to do with my career but when ESPN offered the producer job, I decided going to the major leagues as a producer was a better career path than trying to be an anchor in some super small market. Because of my desire to be on air, I was always drawn to those people and their craft. Over the years I dedicated a lot of my time trying to help the talent be better at their jobs. In fact, just a few months back I was given the role of talent coach and was really enjoying that exciting new opportunity. My dad was a teacher and a coach, so in some way I was kind of following in his footsteps. The last six weeks of my time at ESPN ended up being some of the most rewarding work I ever did there.
   When I look back on my 20+ years at ESPN I am grateful for the opportunities working there provided me. I was at the Daytona 500 when Dale Earnhardt finally won that race. I worked multiple Final 4s and the US Open at Pebble Beach when Tiger obliterated the field. I was at the '96 summer games and produced our live coverage of the bombing in Centennial Park from the moment the bomb went off around 1:20am until well into the following afternoon.
   My 7 years on Baseball Tonight allowed me to attend pretty much every All-Star game, Hall of Fame induction and World Series from 2000-2007. The highlight came when I was standing on the field for batting practice before game one of the Mets and Yankees World Series. I called my dad, the man responsible for teaching me to love baseball and a man who grew up a Brooklyn Dodgers fan (later to convert to the Mets when the Dodgers skipped town) and I said to him "You know where I am right now? I am standing on the field before game one of the Subway Series. Thank you for making me a baseball fan." I still get emotional thinking about what that moment meant to me.
My last year producing the inductions in Cooperstown I had my dad go up there with me and was able to take him behind the scenes and meet all of the Hall of Famers. It was my way of paying him back a little for all he did for me. It was a great weekend for both us. I could never have done that, or experienced all those other great moments, without my job at ESPN.
   Over my time in Bristol I have been blessed to work with so many talented people, both on air and behind the scenes. I thank all of them. The anchors, analysts, producers, directors, production staff, the researchers, news editors, assignment desk workers, talent bookers, TDs, ADs and all the others who contribute every day. As a producer you walk in the door every day with a vision for what your show will be, but it takes dozens and dozens of people to help you execute that vision. It's hard work, but it's incredibly rewarding when everyone gets on the same page and it goes well. In my 20+ years the successes far outweighed the non-successes (I refuse to call them failures) and that would not have been possible without the efforts of so many talented people.
   It's hard to have thick skin about the shots people take at ESPN when you live inside those walls and understand the determination and dedication we put into making a product that people could enjoy. There was never a day that I walked in the door at work and said "I need to make sure today we ignore west coast sports or don't talk about hockey." The goal of any television station is to get people to watch. If the ratings go up when we talk about the Red Sox and Yankees, then we'll probably talk more about the Red Sox and Yankees. If McDonalds doesn't sell many Filet O' Fish, they probably dial back on how hard they push that product.
   Were there people with agendas? Of course. But in the day-to-day grind of doing shows, my objective and the objective of the people I was working with was to produce the best show we possibly could. That's something of which I will always be proud. And for those of you who have grown to "hate" ESPN for various reasons, at the very least you have to recognize what a pioneer the company was. All the other sports channels you watch, all the regional sports networks and ESPN competitors exist because of ESPN. Many former ESPNers work in those places now, applying the skills they learned in Bristol to make high quality programming for other networks.
   When I started in 1994, ESPN was still a relatively small operation and over the next 20 years it grew into a world wide corporation. That process is going to come with growing pains, missteps, bad decisions, struggle and setbacks. It also allows for growth, creativity and ingenuity. It was a great time to be with the company and be part of all of that. It was basically the puberty of my professional career minus the acne and awkward conversations with teenage girls.
   I forged many great relationships over the years with my co-workers. Some of the best friends I have, I met at ESPN. That can never be taken away from me. And for all it's warts and issues, ESPN rallies around it's employees when they are in need in incredible fashion. When personal tragedy strikes you can count on the ESPN family to come out in full force offering their support. And when we suffer our own tragedy, like we did when Stuart died last January, we bonded together to help each other get through it. It's easy to forget stuff like that when a company decides they don't need you anymore, but I'll always appreciate that about ESPN.
   When I first started producing SportsCenter, a weird sensation came over me. I realized I could never watch the show the way I had over the 15 years before I got there. I had peeked behind the curtain. There was no turning back. The wonderment of being a fan was gone. Now, all these years later, I'll be watching it differently again. I'll always be proud of the mark I made. I'll always be glad for the friendships I've made. It will always be an honor to have "ESPN 1994-2015" on my resume.
 
   I've never been let go before. I'm still processing it. A lot of good people were let go today, many of them had been there longer than me. Many of them I had worked closely with on projects I am quite proud of. It sucks. I know everyone goes through it, some multiple times. But it's new to me. I'm not bitter, not yet anyway. I hope I never am, but I can't blame any of the others for feeling that way. At first blush, I am grateful for my experiences over the last 20+ years. I can't imagine what my life would have become if I opted for the other path.
   It's hard to mentally put myself in a place like I was in 1979, dreaming of what might lay ahead some day, but I'll get there. Who knows what's next? Not me. All I know is getting off exit 31 on I-84 in Bristol isn't part of the journey anymore.

36 comments:

  1. wow. thank you for all of the great work Gus! hoping the Mets help ease this pain for a few weeks. Good luck on everything in the future. @peoplesjackson

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  2. I am so, so sorry, Gus. You loved working there more than anyone I know. I wish they "powers that be" could have made their decisions based on passion rather than money.

    It's tough to pull out of that parking lot for the last time - I remember when I did it and my stomach was in knots. So many memories and so many people to miss. It's hard. There is no denying that. But those people still love you and the friendships remain and the memories are yours forever.

    I'm thinking of you, Goose. We'll meet up in Greenwich and remember the good times over a drink. On me. xo Claudia

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  3. Awesome perspective Gus, always enjoyed working with you. I appreciate so much what you have to say about the people who have "grown to hate ESPN" ... agree it's tough to have thick skin! Hope you find another great opportunity soon.

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  4. Gus. Incredibly well written and I just want you to know that you'll be missed. I always knew I was in good hands when I worked with you -- and in for a tough game when we crossed paths on the softball field. Best of luck to you in your next challenge. I know it'll be a successful one.

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  5. Gus, I always admired you, but more so now than ever. You will be missed around this place.

    Patrick C.

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  6. Hey Gus - friend of Steve Bunin and met you once during a visit to Bristol (you signed my Book of Basketball alongside The Sports-ish Guy). Been following your blog/tweets ever since and just wanted to wish you well on what is sure to be a successful next adventure. Let's Go Mets! All the best - Isaac

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  7. Excellent post. Good luck Gus!

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  8. It's a shame people are getting let go...Thanks for your efforts behind the scenes! Good luck!

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  9. I Think Bill Simmons could help a brother out.

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  10. As somebody who worked at ESPN from 1996-2006, I can relate to so much of what you've written. While I can assure you that there is indeed a life outside the walls of Bristol and you may find yourself competing with your old network, it does not mean you ever lose the knowledge and friendships you gained there.

    I'm so impressed with your attitude about the layoffs. I don't know that we ever met when we were there together, but you sure sound like the kind of person who would be a great addition to any sports network anywhere. Hopefully you are a high demand free agent and you just need to find a good team.

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  11. Hey Gus, I'm sorry. You are a first class professional. You should be proud. It was a pleasure to work alongside you a number of nights in ESPNews and on the other end of the McCurdy on many of those Baseball Tonight shows. All my best.

    Mark Rogers

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  12. Gus... That's as classy a statement as I can imagine under the circumstances. I applaud you. Previous layoffs at ESPN largely cut a layer of fat, with some notable exceptions. From what I can gather, this round cut deep to the bone. It was my pleasure to work with you and I wish you all possible success in your next chapter.

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  13. Thank you for your service to fans everywhere. Cheers to the next adventure!

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  14. Gus, I heard from one of the Graphics Supervisors that you were let go, it was an emotional conversation. We are devastated that you and so many others are no longer our colleagues. You have beautifully articulated what we all feel each day at work--ESPN is light years from perfection, but we love what we do and consider it an honor to serve sports fans. I suspect that you will be trying to bash our brains out for a competitor very soon. Godspeed, I hope our paths cross again.

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  15. Gus,
    This is a beautiful letter to the people you worked with at ESPN. You were so fortunate to work with them and, from reading your blog, ESPN was hugely fortunate to have you with them.
    Life goes on. You'll be more than fine. It's as clear as a bell from reading this.
    Ted S.

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  16. Gus,
    This is a beautiful letter to the people you worked with at ESPN. You were fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with them and believe me they were fortunate to work with you. You will be more than fine. It is clear as a bell from reading your words here. Life goes on. Head's up!

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  17. I have been let go in a downsizing before and hopefully you are in a place where you can take your time and find something you really want to do. A lot of people grab the first job because for most people, not working gets boring real quick. You will run the gamut of emotions. Believe in yourself and your talent and good luck in whatever you pursue.

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  18. I was laid off in the May 2013 layoffs. I did not see it coming. I worked so hard, traveling, answering 1:00am emails. I was devastated. While your job is no longer, the experiences you have are yours forever. Take those experiences onto the next great opportunity.

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  19. Gus, so well written! I had worked with you on several of the remotes you highlight, and it was always a pleasure. On my FB tonight, I posted the following: "Throughout my career I have had several instances when a door has closed, only to find a good opportunity behind another door that opened. ... The best advice: keep your spirits up and your eyes open for the opportunity that lies ahead." Good luck to you as you find that next open door. I hope we get to work together again in the future. Seth Madway

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  20. Gus: I never met you but I know how you feel. I was laid off from Bloomberg on Sept. 1 after nearly 19 years with the company. Hang in there. I am sure your talents will lead you to another opportunity.

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  21. I was also let go recently not totally unexpected but still it's tough....I will think of the show differently when I watch now...onward and upward as they say....better things are in store...as they say....hang tough I am...

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  22. Jeff from Portland, CTOctober 21, 2015 at 11:07 PM

    Wow. The ending of your letter caught me off guard. As I was reading this, I assumed you left on your own accord. You have a lot of fans. I live in CT song hear about the layoffs. I have friends, graphic designers, who have also been let go. I know you'll land on your feet, but the mid-level/entry-level will have a tough time.

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  23. Well written Gus. You were in charge of my first ever remote ... The MLB draft at Disney's Wide World of Sports. You taught me a lot and I'll forever be grateful. You'll be missed.

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  24. Wonderfully written Gus. It was a pleasure to work with you when I came to the assignment desk in 96. Your high personal character has always been an inspiration. I feel ESPN is less without you and I wish you well in your new journey

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  25. I wish you well Gus. I really enjoyed working with you so long ago.

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  26. Gus, Social media brought me to your blog last night.Though I didn't know you very well during the years we worked for the same company, your story still struck me deeply. I admire the way you're handling this difficult event. For many, working at ESPN was not just a job. ESPN was our family - we grew up together, celebrated the good times together, and we attended funerals together. When something like this happens, people get hurt. Maybe this is what a divorce feels like? Anyway, based on what I read from you blog, you'll be fine ... actually more than fine. Because you'll learn from this and become even stronger, better. I pray and wish the same for all of the rest of the good people who are going through what you are going through. All the best, Kevin Mihaly
    PS Everyone need to have Gus Stuff

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  27. I was part of the first layoff there in 2009. Never bitter. Great experience and some great people. There is life after ESPN. Take some time off...you've earned it.

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  28. Bless you Gus. You are a class act and always will be. You could have taken this opportunity to be evil and negative, but you didn't. You held your head up high and showed yourself to be the true professional you are. You are headed for grand things and a new chapter is to be written.

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  29. Gus, I've been in the business for 30 years working for the same company so I can totally relate to how you must feel. I so appreciate you sharing with us your experiences the past two decades. Thanks

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  30. We will always have the Town Giant.

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  31. Words cannot express how sad this makes me. Dammit. Too many memories to list here but know this: I am better for having worked with you and I will miss hearing your friendly, reassuring voice in my ear. THANK YOU, GUS!
    Ps ... I promise to keep my necklace game going strong, just for you!! XO

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  32. I have spent the last few days experiencing so many emotions. I have been disgusted by the comments I've seen on social media. Outsiders have no idea what happened on campus. Your story is amazing. This blog post is amazing. THIS is the story that needs to go viral over all of the negative press.
    While we work in different departments and our paths have never crossed, you are the kind of person that I am proud to work with.
    Be well! This place won't be the same without you.

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  33. Classy Mr. Ramsey. Just like your dad.

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  34. What a run. Proud of you. Now onto the next chapter, or perhaps the metaphor is onto the next game.

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  35. Gus,
    Wow. Sports is in your DNA. ESPN's sucess is partly due to what you brought to the table over the years. Congrats. Their loss. I loved watching the programs you were involved with because I knew you were the "man behind the curtain". I am certain your DNA will lead you into another great situation - I'll be watching.
    Stay strong brother!
    Stephan

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