What I have to say isn’t going to sit well with a few folks in our business. And that’s OK. Because sometimes tough words and honesty need to be heard and processed, even if we don’t want to hear them.
Let me state this clearly so there’s no confusion – I never root for any broadcaster to fail. Seeing them collapse during a big moment is tough to stomach, and it’s usually followed by the individual’s self-doubt growing, viewers or listeners piling on, and managers questioning their abilities.
But when you step in front of the camera or get behind a microphone and the red light goes on, it’s up to you to perform. People are listening or watching and they expect a professional performance. The audience doesn’t care if the producer gave you bad information, or if the temperature in the room was cold or if you’ve been sick with the flu. Excuses go out the window. You’re either ready to execute or you’re not.
On Monday night during the Broncos-Chargers game, the nation became aware of Sergio Dipp – for all the wrong reasons. Dipp was tasked with providing sideline reports as ESPN tried to install a cross promotional strategy between the main game on ESPN and the Spanish offering on ESPN2. The idea may have seemed like a good one at the time, and and given Dipp’s previous media experiences there was no reason to think he couldn’t pull it off, but for whatever reason, when the moment called for him to perform, he bombed.
According to Sergio’s Wikipedia page, he’s been working in the media since 2009, and has been a part of ESPN Deportes since 2013. He’s covered the Packers-Steelers Super Bowl in 2011, the London Olympics in 2012, and played football in Mexico. That suggests he’s been tested and should be familiar with the subject he’s reporting on.
So when he became the talk of the nation late Monday night for his sideline meltdown, the rush to judgment on a few fronts bothered me.
First, ESPN was put on blast for putting him in the situation. Well, the guy spent the past 4 years working for the company, covering a Super Bowl, playing the game of football in his native country, and if he hadn’t demonstrated that he was ready for the assignment, they wouldn’t have placed him there. Just because the network was running a Spanish telecast on ESPN2 and chose to use him for it doesn’t mean he wasn’t qualified to be there. Had Jorge Sedano been on the sidelines few in the industry would have questioned the strategy. An unfamiliarity with Dipp made ESPN’s thinking an easier target.
Secondly, this everybody gets a trophy mentality is getting out of hand. Most people naturally asked “what the hell was that” or they had fun with the situation, “Oh no Sergio”, but that didn’t stop the Twitter defenders from coming out in full force. Rather than acknowledging “poor guy, that was a rough moment”, there were a flood of tweets defending the difficulty of delivering a sideline report and asking people to stop criticizing Sergio because he’s trying his best out there.
I’m sorry, maybe I’m being too harsh but spare me the excuses. Sports is all about passion and excellence. When people perform they earn our respect and admiration. When they fail we let them know about it and seek other solutions.
Think of it this way. When a surgeon enters the operating room, we expect them to operate. When a lawyer enters a courtroom, we expect them to present a compelling case and win. When a firefighter enters a burning building, we expect them to extinguish the flames. In this case, we expected a sideline report to be executed by Sergio but he missed his opportunity.
Screwing up happens sometimes. It’s part of life. But this immediate call for people to ‘lighten up’ or ‘leave him alone’ when things go poorly is ridiculous. Many jobs get scrutinized on a daily basis because they’re high profile and pressure packed. We verbally destroy athletes for not delivering in the clutch, comedians for telling a bad joke and politicians for butchering a speech and in each situation those people are human beings too. If you can’t handle the heat, don’t step foot in the kitchen.
Having thick skin especially in the media business is important. When I see media people react that way to someone else’s fifteen seconds of pain, I wonder how they’ll handle things if the situation ever arrived on their own doorstep. And guess what, others executives and programmers are thinking the exact same thing.
To Sergio’s credit, he handled the follow up perfectly. I’m sure he felt awful about blowing a massive assignment, and while everyone turned his misfortune into a trending topic on Twitter, he could have shielded himself from it or let it crush him emotionally. Instead, he owned it, and interjected self-deprecation. In the process he presented himself as someone worth rooting for.
He may have been shaken for a few hours but he’ll get back on the horse and ride again. At the age of 29 he’s got a future to look forward to and one bad moment won’t kill his career if he stays strong and does quality work. But this idea that we’ve got to make excuses for someone whenever they fail is disappointing.
It’s pretty simple. If you want to work in the media, you’ve got to be able to handle the attention that comes with the position. A talk show host prepares to do a show, and when given the chance to perform, is expected to excel at it. A sideline reporter, prepares for the game, and when they’re given the chance to perform, they’re expected to excel at it. A play by play announcer studies two teams and the terminology involved in a sport, and when given the chance to perform, is expected to excel at it.
Entering the second Monday Night game, the focus was on Beth Mowins becoming the first female to call a regular season NFL game on the national stage. By the end of the night, we learned that Mowins was ready for the moment. Her supporting cast was not. And nobody needs to protect them from those criticisms. They know they can be better.
Sometimes we’ve got to fail before we can succeed. It may not be enjoyable dealing with criticism but hearing the truth and being challenged to do better often brings out the best in performers. For those who it breaks, they’re not mentally strong enough to handle the pressure anyway.