You may have read that ESPN laid off a bunch of people earlier this week. While many were not household names, some had high profiles, including NFL reporter Ed Werder, NFL analyst Trent Dilfer, radio host Danny Kanell, college basketball analyst Andy Katz, and baseball analyst Jayson Stark. (And college football reporter Jesse Temple, a name familiar to Wisconsin fans.) I don’t know any of these people personally, although I’m familiar with their work. But anybody in media should be able to feel a great deal of empathy for all of them, because many of us have experienced precisely the same thing.
In my broadcasting career—in a field where everybody gets fired sooner or later—I have been fired four times.
—The first was when I declined taking over the morning show at KDTH because A) I didn’t feel ready to take it on, and B) they weren’t willing to pay me any more for the increased responsibility, hours, and pressure.
—The second was the famous “industrial espionage” firing in Macomb, in which my employers outsmarted themselves right into the very situation they thought they were preventing.
—The third time in the Quad Cities, when I was turfed by the worst person I met in all my years of broadcasting.
—The fourth was in Clinton, Iowa, when the owner decided to get rid of the burnout case, and he ended up doing me an enormous favor.
If you’ve ever gotten a sizable electric shock, getting fired is just like that. A jolt—physical, not metaphorical—goes through your entire body and you become disoriented. Then, still feeling the effects of the jolt, you walk to what used to be your desk, pick up a few personal things, and stumble to the parking lot, where you get into your car and sit there in silence before you start it up, trying to get your brain around what the fk just happened. Then you have to go home and tell your spouse what happened. She puts on a brave face, and so you try to put one on too—after all, she says, you’re talented, and somebody else will want you, somewhere, eventually.
You know she’s right, and so you go on.
The “somewhere, eventually” is the most difficult part, of course. Can I get a job in the same town so we don’t have to move? Or not? Do we have enough money in the bank to get by for a while? How much? And for how long? Or not?
The Mrs. and I were generally pretty lucky. KDTH let me work for six weeks after they told me I was out, so I had time to find another job, and I missed only one paycheck while segueing from one to the other. In Macomb, I picked up part-time radio work across the street within a couple of weeks of getting fired, and full-time work a few weeks after that, but staying afloat was a near thing. (I could reach over into the file cabinet next to my desk right now and pull out the box from the free government cheese we got during those weeks.) It was maybe six weeks between leaving the station in the Quad Cities and starting in Clinton, but we had a little money in the bank by then. After Clinton, I wanted out of radio altogether, and thanks to Ann’s job, I had the luxury of taking nearly a year to find my “somewhere, eventually.”
The ESPNers who lost their jobs will find their next “somewhere, eventually,” although for many, it will mean less prestige and fewer dollars. But before that happy day, there’s still the jolt, the stunned silent moments, the brave face, the financial arithmetic. There’s the leaving-behind of a comfortable perch, a familiar routine, and friendly colleagues. It doesn’t matter who you are, or where, or what you do, whether it’s covering the Dallas Cowboys, cracking wise on the radio, or working the night shift at the sub shop. If you like your job and you wish you could keep it, the feeling of having it suddenly taken away is pretty much the same.