ESPN, the Worldwide Leader in Sports, announced the layoffs of roughly 100 people on Wednesday. Social media has been abuzz with who was getting let go, who was staying and seemingly everyone has their theories about why the mighty ESPN had fallen on such hard times. The answers, as they usually are in life, weren’t to be found in the hot takes coming from all corners of the internet.
Firstly, if you have never been laid off, count your blessings. Secondly, remember that real people are losing their jobs at ESPN. Whatever your thoughts on ESPN and what it has become and what it should be, the most basic human emotion you have can at this moment is empathy. Even fantastic reporters like Ed Werder and Jayson Stark were let go. And while they will definitely find other opportunities, for right now the fact is that they are without a job through no fault of their own.
About eight years ago, I was laid off/downsized from my job. I had worked for a big bank and my department was moving to a different city. Like the ESPN employees today, my boss pulled me to the side and let me know that my services would no longer be necessary. I then had to go home to my wife, who was 6 months pregnant with my youngest daughter, and tell her that I had been laid off. Eventually, things worked out for us. We didn’t have to adjust our lifestyle a lot or sacrifice too much, but that was still one of the hardest conversations I’ve ever had. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.
I found it strange that there was this sentiment, from a minority of folks to be fair, that somehow this event was necessary for some sins that ESPN had committed. That somehow people losing their jobs was a way to balance the universe for ESPN’s programming choices or that the political positions taken by some of the on-air talent justified the layoffs. I’m not sure of any religion or any notion of being a good person that would subscribe to the belief that you should celebrate the misfortune of others.
The basic reason for the “downfall” of ESPN is the fact that the world has changed. Like newspapers, the way people consume their news and sports information has changed. mid-1990sd 1990s, SportsCenter and NFL Primetime were both must see TV for me. You were guaranteed to get highlights of your team and every other game that day. ESPN covered teams and conferences that didn’t get coverage. Then the internet happened. Fans could get highlights in real time on social media, the market was saturated with competing networks/websites and when people started cutting the cord and cancelling their cable service, ESPN’s business model shifted.
I don’t watch ESPN like I used to. I never embraced debate. I usually only tune in to ESPN for live games only. Despite what some people are saying, ESPN did not turn into MTV (the running joke is MTV not showing music videos). ESPN still shows live sports, but it’s everything else it shows that has driven folks away. I can’t watch one talking head debating with another talking head about a point a different talking head made on another ESPN show. For a myriad of reasons, ESPN just wasn’t what it used to be and that’s including the fantastic 30 for 30 documentary series.
Still, I have nothing but empathy for those folks that were let go from ESPN today. And it would be a good thing if we all could remember that when we see a report of a company that is laying off 10, 100, or 1,000 people that those are real people with real lives that have been changed.