ESPN Firings

Rich Podolsky speaks out about the rotten firings of decent human beings and good ESPN voices





Last February Disney CEO Bob Iger said the company would soon be cutting 7,000 jobs in an effort to save $5.5 billion. Last Friday, ESPN, which is owned by Disney, felt the pain. Twenty or more of its better-known broadcasters were let go.

ESPN college football guru Paul Finebaum, who survived the cut, called it, “the worst day in my 10 years at ESPN.” Stephen A. Smith went even further on his radio show.

“This ain’t the end,” said Smith, who makes upwards of $12 million a year hosting ESPN’s top-rated ‘First Take’ among a long list of other assignments. “I could be next.”

While most of the cuts were of white broadcasters, Smith said, “Don’t ever, ever, ever as a black person take anything for granted. I told you before that when white folks catch a cold, black folks catch pneumonia.”

He went on to discuss the merits of many of those who were cut including his good friend Keyshawn Johnson and Jalen Rose. He praised Jeff Van Gundy and David Pollack, and even said he’d do all he could to help if Max Kellerman (who Smith had removed from First Take) reached out to him.

It’s doubtful in today’s economy that Smith would ever be next on ESPN’s list, if in fact this was just the first shoe to drop. Smith’s highly entertaining “First Take” covers four hours of daytime programming for ESPN (two which is a repeat). Daytime programming for a sports network is dead air for the most part, and nearly impossible to attract an audience. For this reason alone, Smith has proved to be invaluable.

But it makes you wonder how ESPN management made the individual decisions on who to let go. When it came to SportsCenter’s late-night host Neil Everett, did they think, “Well he’s fine, but does he bring anything special to the show?” Or for college football analyst David Pollack, did they surmise, “Well, he’s good and he’s smart, and the women love him, but we have to pay all that money to the rest of ‘GameDay’ cast, and somebody has to go.

For Jalen Rose’s decision did they say, “He’s been here a long time and he’s making top dollar, and after all, how many NBA analysts do we need?” Or for Steve Young did they think, “Well, he’s solid and he’s a name, but no one under 30 knows who he is?”

These were brutal decisions. Disney had a rough couple of years with parks closed during the Pandemic. Streaming didn’t turn out to be the panacea for all their ills and their new animated film “Elemental” was a bust. Something had to give. What’s difficult to take for many is that the company just signed a five-year $85 million deal with podcaster Pat McAfee. Where did that money come from?

Many of the people who were told to leave, loved their jobs. But just because you love something, doesn’t mean it has to love you back.


Rich Podolsky

Rich Podolsky, an established writer and reporter since the 70s, has been a staff writer for CBS and has written for ESPN, the Philadelphia Daily News, the Palm Beach Post, the Wilmington News Journal, College & Pro Football Newsweekly and TV Guide. He is also the recipient of the prestigious Pennsylvania Newspaper Publishers' Keystone Award for writing excellence. A fan of music from the 60s and 70s, he is the author of "Don Kirshner: The Man with the Golden Ear," which relates how Kirshner discovered Bobby Darin, Carole King and Neil Sedaka among others, and "Neil Sedaka, Rock ‘n’ Roll Survivor,” which tells the inside story of Sedaka’s comeback. His new book, “You Are Looking Live!” is about CBS’ revolutionary pregame show in 1975 which introduced Brent, Phyllis, Irv and The Greek to America.

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Michael Green
7 months ago

If ESPN could afford $10 million for whoever Pat McAfee is and $30 million for Joe Buck and Troy Aikman, they could afford to keep these people.