SBJ/May 8-14, 2017/Media

Former executive offers advice as more ESPN marriages end

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Gerry Matalon’s phone started ringing in the weeks before ESPN laid off around 100 anchors, reporters and analysts late last month.

Matalon’s phone continued ringing April 26, as ESPNers started to learn their fate. Now, a full week after the layoffs became public, Matalon’s phone continues to ring with people seeking advice on how to move forward with careers that seemed to be forever linked to ESPN.

All told, Matalon, who used to be ESPN’s senior coordinating producer of talent planning and development before he was laid off 18 months earlier, says he has talked or texted with around 100 people, both current and recently laid-off ESPNers.

MATALON
Many of the affected talent view Matalon as a good person to give advice. Many of them have deep relationships with Matalon, who spent 27 years in Bristol. Plus, Matalon already experienced what they were going through. In October 2015, he was one of more than 300 ESPN colleagues who were let go as part of another cost-cutting purge. He’s now an independent talent consultant.

Matalon described the phone calls of the past week as more sad than angry, an emotion that mimicked how he felt in 2015.

“People are heartbroken,” Matalon said. “Before I was laid off, I thought that I was going to get to retire from ESPN. It’s such a great opportunity. But it’s different. When you work in the big city, there’s so much else going on that it kind of takes you away. When you’re in Bristol, it’s all right there. You’re it. You don’t date ESPN. You marry ESPN when you live in Bristol. Divorces don’t necessarily go that well.”

I heard that many ESPNers were calling Matalon, so I reached out to him last week to hear his advice. It was easy to see why so many people reached out to him — he has a relentlessly upbeat message.

He said he used a lot of the advice that was given to him by others in 2015. It breaks down into six areas.

DON’T GET DOWN ON YOURSELF

Days before Matalon was laid off, he was walking with ESPN NFL analyst Herman Edwards on the Bristol campus. Rumors of pending job cuts had been swirling, and Matalon confided in Edwards that he was concerned that he was going to be let go. Standing right outside of ESPN’s gleaming digital center, Edwards looked at Matalon and said, “No matter what happens, don’t get down on you.”

“There are many times that I’ve gotten down, and I hear Herm’s voice,” Matalon said. “When I would get down, I wouldn’t get down on me as a person. Those circumstances didn’t define me.

“I revisit that day often. What I thought was an incredibly simplistic line, I had no idea how powerfully that was going to speak to me.”

Gerry Matalon’s career at ESPN ended in October 2015. Many of those laid off last month have reached out to him for advice.
Photo by: AP IMAGES


‘MAKE THEM PAY’

When NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” executive producer Fred Gaudelli left ESPN in 2005, he had a line that he used with Matalon several times: “Make them pay.” Matalon reflected on that line after he was laid off and said that kind of emotion can be helpful at future jobs.

“I took that in a positive and inspirational way,” Matalon said. “It wasn’t said with resentment and malice. The best way I can move forward is just being me.

“Everyone wants to say to ESPN: ‘I’ll show you’ and ‘You should have found a reason to keep me around.’ That’s what Freddy was saying. Life is filled with these kinds of moments. It’s about getting out of your own way and leaning on others.”

USE YOUR CONTACTS

A few weeks after he was fired, Matalon met with former ESPN President George Bodenheimer, who offered simple advice that sometimes is difficult to follow. People spend their career developing contacts. They should be prepared to use them when they need them. Matalon’s experience has showed that people want to help.

“To be able to lean on other people for guidance and insight, you find out that most things are not as hard outside the ears,” Matalon said. “It’s just overcoming what’s between the ears and that narrative that we tend to let control us.”

HAVE PATIENCE

This is another pearl from Bodenheimer, and it’s one that Matalon initially misunderstood.

“I thought George was talking about having patience until the next job came,” he said. “It took several months before I realized that he was talking about having patience with yourself. When you have those tough moments, treat yourself with the understanding and kindness you would treat someone else going through the same circumstance. We all, just by human nature, treat ourselves more harshly for the same circumstances where we’re supportive of others.”

LOOK FOR SILVER LININGS

One of the first things Matalon tells people is to use the time you have during unemployment to focus on other areas of your life. As an example, he spoke of playing golf with his 15-year-old son last Monday.

“It was just me and my boy — my boy who is taller than me but 40 pounds lighter,” Matalon said. “I thought, this is so medicinal. And I am so grateful. And I know that if I was at ESPN, I would not have done that. You get so caught up in the competition of being a player at ESPN, which is both invigorating and all-encompassing. I tell folks to use this as an opportunity somewhere in your life to get better — get better at your marriage, get better as a father, get better as a son. That’s something I didn’t see when I was working at ESPN.”

TAKE THE HIGH ROAD

Matalon said he was not surprised by all the positive messages that the laid-off ESPNers posted on social media. Most offered thanks to ESPN for the opportunities they had. Almost none bashed the company for laying them off.

“One of the things I tell folks, and this is a general approach to life, is just take the high road,” Matalon said. “You have to think about what you’re putting out there in the world. Everybody’s going through stuff. A lot of us are privileged, and there’s not a lot of tolerance for our stuff when you’ve been privileged. It’s disappointing, but there’s a way to express that.

“You know the saying, you only get one shot at a first impression. I’ve been telling people that the last impression can be just as important — if not more — than a first impression. A last impression can be your lasting impression. What do you want people to think when they think about you. When you enter a room, are you injecting it with air? Or is it when you leave the room that you’re injecting it with air?”

Matalon said many of the reporters, anchors and analysts show a different, more negative mood privately.

“But that’s OK, too. When you’re hurt, that’s OK.”

John Ourand can be reached at jourand@sportsbusinessjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @Ourand_SBJ.

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