Good morning. I spent most of the weekend going through the five stages of grief (or 25, or 35) about getting the heave-ho from Sports Illustrated, which I’ve found much harder to deal with than when ESPN let me go. I realize that may sound surprising, given that I’d been with ESPN for nearly 15 years and with SI for less than two months. But I had seen the ESPN situation coming and was prepared for it, while the SI development was a complete surprise that I’m still having a tough time processing. So I’m going to talk about that today.
Many of you have asked, basically, “What happened?!” Here’s the short version of how Thursday’s events unfolded:
Last Thursday morning I woke up to learn that all SI employees, myself included, had received an email summoning them to one of two “transition meetings.” (The emails had gone out late the previous night, but I didn’t realize it until I woke up in the morning.) Several media outlets were reporting that one meeting was for people who’d be laid off — about 40 employees, according to some reports — and the other was for the people who’d be retained. My meeting was at noon, but it wasn’t clear to me if that was the “Good news” meeting or the “Buh-bye” meeting. The prospect of layoffs was upsetting, but I figured my job was probably safe. After all, they had just hired me, so why would they fire me?
Since I normally work at home, I could have dialed in to the meeting by phone. But I thought I should be there in person, so I went to the office and arrived at the designated conference room just in time to learn that the meetings had been postponed. It wasn’t clear when they’d be rescheduled — maybe later that day, maybe not — so I decided to stick around at the office instead of going home. I spent the afternoon in the newsroom, where everyone was, understandably, very upset. While I was there, I learned that my meeting was for people who were being let go.
Ugh. But I was still somewhat in denial. Why would they let me go after less than two months? Maybe the meetings had been postponed because they were recalculating who would be kept and who would be let go..?
Shortly before 4pm, we all received emails telling us that the meetings had been rescheduled. My meeting was now slated for 4:15. All of the 4:15 people dutifully shuffled down to the conference room, where an executive told us that SI’s transfer to new ownership, which had been in the works for months, was now complete. He then explained that we were not in the new owners’ plans going forward, so this would be our last day. And that was that. My time at SI was over.
Here’s the part where I try to anticipate your questions:
Did you see this coming?
Not even a little bit. It was a complete surprise.
Why did they hire you in the first place if they were going to keep you for such a short period?
Good question! My first day on staff was Aug. 12, and my last day turned out to be Oct. 3, which means I was an SI employee for a total of only 53 days. When I announced that SI would be hiring me, I acknowledged that SI had been through some ownership turmoil but said, “The digital editor who brought me on board tells me that his new bosses have asked him who he wants to hire, not how he can cut costs.” That editor — a guy who’d been a fan of my work for years and said he’d been waiting for the chance to work with me — also said he’d been assured that he would have a big role in charting SI’s future, and that he wanted me to be part of that future.
That editor lost his job on Thursday, just like I did. The new owners either changed their minds or simply lied to him (and to lots of other people).
I want to make it clear that I have no gripes with anyone at SI. Everyone I worked with there was awesome, and everything that happened last week was orchestrated by the new owners, not by the people who brought me on board. It sucks that it worked out this way — not just for me, but for lots and lots of other people.
Why were the original meetings postponed?
Apparently there was some dotting and crossing that still remained to be done regarding SI’s transfer to the new ownership, and it took a few hours longer than had been anticipated. Those four hours in between the original meetings and the rescheduled meetings were pretty surreal — lots of stress, lots of people with dazed looks, lots of people demanding explanations from higher-ups who couldn’t do anything but shrug their shoulders, lots of people who basically knew they were dead men (and women) walking.
Did anyone explain to you why you weren’t retained, or who made that decision?
No, except I was assured by the guy who hired me (who, as I just mentioned, also lost his job) and by the guy who’d been my direct supervisor that the decision didn’t come from them.
Did anyone have any issues with your work?
Not that I’m aware of. Personally, I’m proud of the work I did for SI (especially the story about the Cubs’ black cat batboy), and everyone there seemed happy with it as well.
I don’t think this had anything to do with me or my writing. I think it was about bean-counting and clearing out the old regime. Whoever made the decision, I’d be willing to bet that that person had no idea who I am or what I write about. I was probably just a name and a salary on a spreadsheet.
You had done some freelance pieces for SI before they brought you on staff. Can you go back to doing freelance stuff for them?
For reasons not worth explaining here, I can’t do that right away. Maybe later on down the road — we’ll see.
So what will happen your NBA Season Preview?
I’d love to partner with a platform that wants to publish it. (If you’re an editor and would like to discuss, contact me.) If I can’t find one within the next week or so, I’ll publish it here on the blog.
What about the College Hoops Preview?
Honestly, I’m not sure about that one. That project is a huge undertaking, because there are over 300 schools to contact and keep track of. If I can find a media outlet that will publish it for a fair rate, I’ll do it. If not, I may skip it this year. Sorry.
What about the annual Gift Guide?
Again, I’d love to find a high-profile outlet for it. If I can’t find one, I’ll do it here on the blog.
When you announced the SI deal, you said you had an offer from another media outlet on the table when the SI offer came through. Will you get back in touch with that other outlet?
Yes, of course. But they weren’t happy when I took the SI offer, so I’m not sure they’ll want to deal with me again. We’ll see.
Wow, that sure makes it sound like you made a big mistake by taking the SI offer.
I’ve engaged in a bit of second-guessing. But I know the decision I made was the right decision based on the information I had at the time. The SI offer was made and accepted in good faith. Nobody expected things to play out the way they did. It sucks that I may have burned a bridge to another media outlet in the process, but I didn’t double-cross them or anything like that, and I can’t do anything about how they reacted.
Have you considered partnering with The Athletic, or SB Nation, or The Ringer, or [insert media outlet here]? They seem like a perfect fit for you!
I can assure you that I was in touch with all of the obvious places (along with some non-obvious ones) after ESPN let me go. I’ll be revisiting some of those contacts now. I also have a sportswriting project I want to pursue that’s not quite uni-related but sort of uni-adjacent. If any sports editors are reading this and would like to discuss working with me, I’m all ears.
In the last edition of Question Time, you said you’d never work for Barstool Sports under any circumstances. Are you rethinking that position?
Not even a little bit.
In between your ESPN and SI periods, you were doing lots of freelance articles about non-sports topics (cupped pepperoni, collectors and their collections, the history of mailbox design, etc.), and then you stopped doing those after SI hired you. Will you go back to doing those kinds of articles now?
Probably, yeah. Or at least I’ll go back to pitching those kinds of stories. We’ll see if anyone wants to publish them. If you’re a non-sports editor and would like to discuss working with me, please get in touch.
There’s also a filmmaking project I’ve been thinking about, so this may be the time to start exploring that. One small problem is that I know nothing about filmmaking. If you work in that world and would like to offer some guidance or even possibly collaborate with me, you know what to do.
What will happen to your health insurance?
Like any terminated employee, I’m eligible for COBRA benefits. Not sure what it’ll cost me — I’m supposed to receive a packet about that soon. It sure was nice to have a two-month taste of employer-provided insurance (something I hadn’t experienced since 1996), and it sucks to have to go back to paying for it on my own again.
But even if I had stayed on, my SI health insurance wasn’t such a bargain, because changing to a new plan meant I was suddenly responsible for a new deductible, even though I had already met my deductible on the plan I’d been using for the first eight months of the year (which means my recent bike accident may end up being very expensive, because the ER room charges from that accident are my first charges under the new plan — I’m waiting to see how that gets processed). What a mess.
I’ll keep saying it: It is completely insane that health insurance in this country is treated as a perk of one’s employment status, rather than as a basic human necessity. As an American, I find it embarrassing that the rest of the developed world has figured that out while we lag behind with such an unfair system; as a freelancer (once again), I find it infuriating that I am (once again) bearing the brunt of that unfairness. (Side note: If we decoupled health insurance from employment, maybe certain people wouldn’t make fools of themselves quite so often.)
What will happen to this website?
Uni Watch is still fun, plus I’m now back in the position of the site being my primary source of income, so for now I plan to keep publishing every day.
How are you? Are you okay?
I’m not gonna lie: Losing two anchor gigs in less than a year has been rough. As I mentioned at the top of today’s entry, at least I saw the ESPN situation coming and was prepared for it, but the SI layoff blindsided me and has been pretty tough to swallow. On a rational/logical level, I know I’ll probably be okay (plus it’s fun to be the answer to a trivia question). But on an emotional level, this turn of events has been exhausting. I feel really worn out.
In addition, I’ve been facing some problems in some other areas of my life lately, so it was nice to at least have the work/career stuff squared away. And while my previous free agency (i.e., the period in between ESPN and SI) wasn’t awful, it did involve a lot of hustling, meeting, negotiating, pitching, selling, dealing with various forms of rejection, etc., etc., and it was a relief to be past that period. The thought of switching my brain back to that mode is a bit soul-crushing.
And here’s the thing: I thought I handled all of that hustling, negotiating, and so on the right way. I turned down the bad offers, held out for good ones, blah-blah-blah. When the SI offer finally came, it felt like a validation — like, I’d made good decisions and was reaping good results. But now it turns out that the results weren’t so good after all. Which means maybe I didn’t actually make such good decisions (an upsetting thought), or maybe the universe doesn’t actually reward good decision-making with positive outcomes (an even more upsetting thought).
Can we do anything to help?
Many of you have already helped a lot, as I’ve received hundreds of supportive comments, emails, and tweets from the Uni Watch comm-uni-ty. Thanks so much, people — means a lot, really.
But again, not gonna lie: Uni Watch could really use your financial support. That was true even before the SI news — this site takes a huge amount of time, energy, and money to produce every day — but it’s particularly true now. If you have the means, please consider making a donation, enrolling for a membership, or ordering some merchandise.
Weren’t you going to redesign the site with a voluntary-payment system like Patreon?
Yes, I’ve been talking about doing that for a while now, but I’ve been lazy about actually making it happen. The time may finally have come to do it.
Given what the new owners reportedly have planned for SI, do you think maybe you dodged a bullet?
If the reports are true, SI’s future does indeed sound pretty awful, and the early returns are not good. But I have friends still working there, so I hope they succeed and that everything works out for them.
Here’s a little bonus story: After the meeting at which we were laid off, people gathered in the newsroom to commiserate, hug, vent, and so on. This was only my third time in the office since being hired, and I still hadn’t met most of my colleagues. Many of them had worked together for years, even decades, so I felt a little bit like an intruder at an intimate moment. I was one of them, but not really one of them, you know? It was a weird feeling.
Anyway, I decided I should introduce myself to these people on our last day working together — sort of a “Hi … and bye” thing. So I went around the room saying, “Hi, I’m Paul.” People told me their names, sometimes told me what their jobs had been, mostly talked about how much they’d miss being at SI. And then I had this exchange:
“Hi, I’m Paul.”
“Hey, I’m Daniel [Rapaport, a golf/tennis writer who was also sacked]. I don’t really recognize you — are you new here?”
“Yeah, I just started about six or seven weeks ago, but I mostly work at home, so I never got to meet most of you.”
“Six weeks? They’re letting you go after six weeks? That’s just nuts. Like, did they lay off that Uni Watch guy too?”
Yes, that really happened. Someone standing nearby explained to Daniel why this was hilarious, we all laughed, and then we all went out to the closest bar.
It was helpful for me to be able to write all of this. Thanks for listening.
For all pics in this section, click to enlarge
Monday Morning Uni Watch: The Jets and Eagles staged the Battle of the Green Helmets yesterday. I’m not 100% positive, but I think this was the first time two green-helmeted NFL teams played each other since Dec. 14, 1996, when these same two teams faced off. As a lifelong green fan, I hope we don’t have to wait another 23 years for it to happen.
In other news from around the league yesterday:
• The Panthers wore their blue alternates:
• The Bengals wore their orange alternates:
• The Saints went mono-black:
• There is no NFL uni decision more tragic than when the Chiefs inexplicably opt to go mono-red, as they did last night:
• The Cardinals added a memorial decal for owner Bill Bidwill, who died last week:
— Larry Fitzgerald (@LarryFitzgerald) October 7, 2019
• Lots of people noticed that the Packers had a training bag on the sideline featuring the team’s old “GB” monogram (which dates back to the Lombardi era):
• Yesterday marked the start of the league’s annual Rainbowtober cancer-awareness initiative. Each team gets to designate one home game for this program, so some of yesterday’s games featured rainbow-patterned captaincy patches, “A Crucial Catch” helmet decals, and assorted other cancer messaging:
— FedExField (@FedExField) October 4, 2019
• Here’s something you don’t often see: After Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph was knocked out cold by a big hit (a seriously scary moment), trainers removed the facemask from his helmet but left the helmet on. So when he got to his feet and was helped off the field a few minutes later, he looked like an old-school maskless player:
— Hadyn's Haunted House of Horrors (@hadyngreen) October 6, 2019
This would normally be the place where I point you toward SI so you could see my picks for the best- and worst-looking games of the week. Obviously, I won’t be sending you SI-ward anymore, and I didn’t have the energy to do a full best/worst write-up today. For now, let’s just say I thought best the week’s best-looking game was Packers/Cowboys (although it would have looked even better at Lambeau) and the worst was Cardinals/Bengals and leave it at that.
Click to enlarge
ITEM! Another Vintage Brand raffle: The folks at our longtime advertiser Vintage Brand are generously running another raffle. The lucky winner will get to choose any product from the VB website (including stainless steel tumblers like the ones shown above, which VB has just started offering).
To enter this raffle, send an email to the raffle address by 7pm Eastern this Thursday, Oct. 10. One entry per person. I’ll announce the winner on Friday.
Click to enlarge
Spooooky: I like a good jack o’-lantern (and Brinke will have some of those for you tomorrow), but most other Halloween decorations usually don’t do all that much for me. Still, I really like what this one guy in my neighborhood did with his house. Kinda like that scene from Jason and the Argonauts, right? Nicely done.
By Jamie Rathjen
Baseball News: Yesterday’s Braves/Cards NLDS game had a big ad projected onto the batter’s eye. This isn’t the first time this has been done, but it’s still pretty gross. … In more news from that series, the Braves say they “take seriously” the concerns expressed by Cards P Ryan Helsley regarding Atlanta fans’ use of the tomahawk chop. Helsley, a member of the Cherokee Nation who can trace his ancestry back to the Trail of Tears, is not happy abou the chop. … Yankees P Masahiro Tanaka missed a belt loop the other day (from @brianspeaksnow).
Football News: More NFL watch shenanigans: Injured Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger was fined for wearing an Apple Watch on the sidelines last Monday, even though he wasn’t in uniform. … The school of the day yesterday from Blaise D’Sylva‘s helmet collection was Kansas State. … Purdue is apparently teasing a new helmet (from Jason Miller). … Two Calgary Stampeders DBs were wearing red socks on Saturday instead of the team’s black road socks (from Wade Heidt). … Also from Wade: the Toronto Argonauts wore white socks instead of light blue away from home, and Pinktober is here in the CFL. … You can see Canadian college uni tracking from Wade in yesterday’s comments. … Uni Watch membership card designer Scott M. X. Turner tells us that two New Orleans high schools, Holy Cross (blue/gold) and Jesuit (white), wore a reproduction of one of the college football 100th-anniversary helmet decals to commemorate their 100th meeting. … The police officer escorting Pitt coach Pat Narduzzi off the field on Saturday wore a pink badge.
Hockey News: The Flames’ trainers have jackets that match the team’s throwbacks (from Wade Heidt). … Also from Wade: The WHL’s Kelowna Rockets (white) wore black helmets for two away games this weekend, instead of the usual white. … The NOB font on the Avalanche’s third jerseys now matches the font on the primary jerseys (from Brad Harding). … A Penguins fan site keeps track of the design of the team’s pucks each season and added this season’s. … The AHL’s Hartford Wolf Pack now have their logo on the front of all their jerseys, instead of a “Wolf Pack” script (from Christian Gardecki).
Basketball News: The New York Daily News did an interview with Eric Haze, the designer of the Nets’ new alternate (from John F.). … You can see new and changed NBA numbers on Etienne Catalan‘s Twitter feed. … New uniforms for Rhode Island (from @ANewEnglandGuy).
Soccer News: Teams and officials in Scotland — only men’s teams this week, but probably women’s teams next week — wore warm-up shirts and the annual
patch decal for the charity Show Racism the Red Card. The decal is basically a sticker and perpetually has trouble staying on; I don’t have a picture, but I happened to see it peeling off one Hibernian player. … Some players on the NWSL’s Orlando Pride dyed some or all of their hair pink in support of Pride center-back Toni Pressley, who began treatment for breast cancer in August. … Miami (Fla.)’s women’s team wore pink shirts on Friday. … Departing USWNT coach Jill Ellis got a No. 132 shirt, in reference to the number of games she was in charge of the team (also from Jakob Fox). … The USWNT Players’ Association asked fans to wear white yesterday to support equal pay for the team. … The Portland Timbers changed to white at home and wore city flag-themed numbers and pink warm-up shirts yesterday (from Josh Hinton). … You can see more on Josh’s Twitter feed. … Retiring Houston Dynamo full-back DaMarcus Beasley received a commemorative captain’s armband listing all the teams he’s played for.
Grab Bag: Teams in women’s college sports outside of soccer that wore pink this weekend included Cal, Central Michigan, and UC Davis field hockey; fewer than I expected, but October is young. … A few days ago, Jeremy Brahm told us that Polish volleyball teams would add their city names to their nets. Now we know what they look like. … Jeremy also tells us that officials in the Polish volleyball leagues also have a new look, and the Russian men’s volleyball team Nova Novokuybyishevsk has a new logo.