As most people know by now, earlier this week NBCUniversal launched a massive round of layoffs that are expected to affect 10% of the company’s 35,000 full-time staffers. The cuts are coming from across the board and include the broadcast networks it operates, Universal Studios and the Universal Studios theme parks, and its digital properties. NBCSports.com is one of those digital properties and I’m part of that downsizing. They’ve shuttered my baseball blog, HardballTalk, and are bidding me farewell. Normally it’s cool to be in exclusive club, but this is one instance in which I’d rather be lumped in with the other 90%. Oh well.
I’ll say, though, that if you have to be laid off from your dream job as a result of a pandemic that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and has thrust the country into the worst economic situation since the Great Depression, I highly recommend that it be NBC laying you off.
This kind of stuff is always stressful, but NBC did a good job delivering the bad news. The messengers were professional and compassionate about it. They are being communicative, reasonable and, in some ways, generous, as the departure process unfolds. The year 2020 has been a giant shit sandwich for almost everyone and it’s my turn to take a bite, but my former employers are at least giving me some hot sauce to make it more palatable. Sorry if you opened this post hoping to hear me rip anyone to shreds or spill tea, but I’m not going to do that. I really can’t complain. Have you looked at the world lately?
Personally speaking, I’m doing OK so far. I haven’t gone on any benders, I haven’t cursed the gods, and I haven’t flung myself into the metaphorical abyss. There are a great many reasons for this. Let’s catalog them, shall we?
My support system
I’ve traditionally provided the larger share of our two-income household’s joint income, we’re not exactly living high on the hog as it is, and I have two kids who will be starting college within the next couple of years, so the first impulse one, or one’s spouse, may have upon receiving this kind of news might be to freak out a little bit. And, to be sure, there is an element of that bouncing around in our heads this week. But the first thing my wife did when I broke the news to her was to hug me, ask me if I was OK, and tell me she was sorry, and I can’t tell you how important that kind of thing is for a person who just got some bad news.
After that I told my kids. While they usually spend most of their time roasting me and generally rolling their eyes at everything in my life, they were both pretty understanding and cool about it. Indeed, it was at least two hours before Anna told me that, in light of the fact that Stanford gives free rides to students whose parents have annual incomes below a certain level, I should probably do whatever I can to remain unemployed for the next several years so I don’t blow it for her. Thanks, dear.
This has happened before
Back in 2008 I was laid off from my law firm just as the Great Recession was really starting to freak everyone out. Tens of thousands of people were losing their jobs every day, venerable institutions were going belly-up or were threatening to, and people talked openly about a new depression looming. I had preschoolers at home back then and, for a little while anyway, honestly felt that I would never find work again.
It was pretty damn dire, but I made it through, found a job, and in less than a year completely transformed my life and career into something much better. That’s not to say that good outcomes are guaranteed — I have no idea what my future holds — but knowing that you’ve survived a thing in the past helps you when you’re presented with that thing again later.
Also, during the couple of months I was unemployed, I read a ton of comic books and got a dry run for what would, within a year, become a permanent work-from-home/house spouse situation, and that experience was invaluable when I later needed to figure out exactly how much one can get done during a wash cycle, which pitch of “DADDY!” was one signifying an actual, as opposed to an imaginary, emergency, and how unshaven and underdressed one can be when walking out to get the mail before the neighbors begin to make up names for you. Time for a reset of all of that, I reckon.
Sports media is a horrible bitch goddess
Another reason why I’m doing OK is the nature of the job I lost. Media, particularly sports media, is a tough business. Way tougher now than it has ever been, I suspect. A lot of people who are more talented, more famous, more accomplished, and better connected than me have lost jobs in recent years. Some of them have lost multiple jobs or have left the business entirely. I’ve always felt like something of an outsider in the sports media business for a lot of reasons, and one of them was that I didn’t have any war stories about how I got fired. On some level, if you haven’t been fired before, are you really a sports reporter?
In light of that I’m having a hard time pitying myself at the moment, even if I kinda want to. I had the same gig — a great gig, with more autonomy and freedom and fun than almost anyone in this business is allowed to have — for 11 years. That’s kind of crazy in the current sports media environment and, even as I’m being kicked to the curb, I am well aware of how fortunate I was for so long. Maybe my mind will change about this after the shock wears off, but for now it’s one of those “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened” kind of deals.
Y’all are great
Maybe the biggest thing buoying me this week is that you folks are great.
Starting on Monday, when I announced that NBC had laid me off, and continuing on until the moment I started writing this post, I have received a constant stream of well-wishes, thanks, praise, and support from readers, followers, and friends. It’s been overwhelming in all the best ways.
I know that I’ve been doing this for a long time and that I have a lot of loyal readers and followers, but I’ll admit that, over time, reading the daily pageview stat reports starts to dehumanize them a little bit. As does the fact that, given the nature of the internet, the people who hate you and criticize you are far, far more vocal and visible than the people who like what you do and happily and quietly read your stuff every day. This week has provided an astounding reminder of just how many of the latter group there really are. How they are real people, not numbers, and that they care about me and my work.
I was contacted by two people who met in my comments section and later got married. I heard from people who began reading my work in 2007, when I was nothing but an anonymous BlogSpot writer, surreptitiously posting in between depositions and hearings back at the law firm. I heard from a number of bloggers and writers who told me that they were inspired to write after reading the stuff I wrote (I’m going to pretend that that was true inspiration and not some “well, if that hack can do it, so can I” sentiment, but I’m assuming it’s a mix of the two). I got more “I’ll follow your work wherever you wind up next” comments than I can count.
I’ve never been someone who handles praise particularly well. I tend to get embarrassed or self-conscious and I tend to deflect and self-deprecate. It’s a bad habit. In some cases it can be downright rude. But it’s felt really damn good this week and all I can say is thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
I got some ideas
Another reason why I’m doing OK: I have some ideas about what I might do next.
No, I don’t have any job offers on the table or definitive action plans in place just yet, but for some time I’ve asked myself, hypothetically, what I might do if the dream job suddenly went away. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the very process of thinking about that helped prepare me mentally for this and has offered me at least something of a course forward.
Maybe the things I’m thinking about — to be announced at some point soon — won’t pan out, but at the risk of being immodest, I think I’m a pretty fucking talented guy who has built something pretty fucking cool. It was something that I began before I worked for NBC and something that I think can, should, and will continue after my departure from NBC. I don’t think this is the end of the road for me as a writer. Not by damn sight.
So that’s my week. Next week will be a new one. And they’ll keep coming after that. And, like the millions of others who are in this situation — most of them nowhere near as fortunate as I have been in my life and most of them who will walk a tougher road ahead than I will in the future — I will simply walk forward, on to the next thing.
As for the next thing: watch this space. You’ll be the first to know.