Though they're still the biggest media outlet in sports, ESPN took a major hit recently after a massive wave of layoffs took down some of the network's most prominent employees. Your favorite analysts and reporters weren't safe—big names like Ed Werder, Jayson Stark, and Trent Dilfer were let go, alongside dozens of other forward-facing employees at the media giant.
The scope of the layoffs caught a lot of people by surprise, including ex-ESPN employees like Dan Patrick. Patrick, who defected to NBC a decade ago, told Awful Announcing he was stunned by the scope of the layoffs as an outside observer:
I feel bad because the people who helped build it pay a price. It’s almost like if you’re good, there’s coordinating producers and producers who were too good. They were there long, they were promoted and they made more money. Therefore, they were expendable. It wasn’t fair to them. The same with the on-air talent. It’s unfortunate. It’s a tough business.
I never thought in a million years that this would happen at ESPN. But it just goes to show there are empires, and there are empires that fall. And ESPN is bleeding now. They’re still the worldwide leader, but for this to happen, it’s a wakeup call for everybody in the business.
Patrick has had a tepid relationship with ESPN since leaving, but at the heart of his surprise is a humane response to watching his peers unexpectedly lose their jobs.
People in the business—particularly those who are still employed by ESPN—have processed this news a lot differently than someone just watching the network from home. Ryen Russillo shared a story about how losing his radio partner would change his routine, Scott Van Pelt paid tribute to former colleagues during a SportsCenter segment, and Stephen A. Smith even fired back at people who used him as a prop in the aftermath of the layoffs.
Yes, these people get to talk about sports for a living—something many Americans would love to have the opportunity to do—but that doesn't change the brutal reality of losing your job. Being blindsided by layoffs is not a fun thing to experience regardless of what profession you're in.
There have been quite a few postmortems written about the cause of ESPN's downturn and the need for layoffs, with opinions varying depending on the source. As media members try to pinpoint exactly why the network is losing subscribers and in a position where they have to tighten the budget, it's easy to forget what happened at ESPN could also happen to people you love, or even you.
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