Unfortunately, we hear too much about the painful number of deaths caused by Covid-19.
But we hear less about mental health challenges that the pandemic has caused around the nation. Psychiatrists have never been busier and sports media hasn’t been spared.
Those employed in sports media often say, “I can’t believe I’m paid to do this.” Yes, media members might rub shoulders with the rich and famous but the time commitment and travel can lead to long stretches of isolation.
The business comes with its set of hardships and challenges, particularly now. In addition to putting many out of work, the pandemic continues to cause an increase in depression and anxiety. It can result in harmful temptations that are difficult to resist, like drug and alcohol abuse.
Enter Geoff Mason, a legend in sports television behind the cameras. Mason is who anyone would call a vet. He’s been in sports television production for fifty years. His impressive resume includes seven Olympic Games, six World Cups and multiple America’s Cup races. A 25-time Emmy winner, Mason excelled working for ESPN, NBC and ABC Sports.
An illustrious career in sports production, no doubt, but along the way, he ran into issues with alcohol. It’s something he doesn’t hide. Geoff will tell you that he’s a “helplessly addicted alcoholic.” Years ago, Mason needed to get his life back on track and checked himself into the Betty Ford Center, a world-renowned treatment facility that specializes in alcohol and drug rehabilitation.
Founded in 1982, the organization is named for the wife of the late president, Gerald Ford, who herself was alcohol dependent. The Ford Center merged with the Hazelden Foundation in 2014 and was renamed the Hazelden Betty Ford Center.
Mason began therapy in 1983 and the Foundation helped steer his life back on course.
“I suffered from nights of waking up inside hotel rooms, not knowing where I was, but still being able to perform,” Mason said. “But in the end, I was just fooling myself. My performance had diminished and my entire life was dark and empty. Once I went to Betty Ford and learned the basics, I immediately started to recover those lost abilities of my career.”
When Mason checked out of rehab, he took his career to another level, returning to ABC Sports as an Executive Producer, following the 1988 Calgary Olympics. Thanks to the Hazelden Ford Center, Mason regained his prominence and cultivated a deep relationship with the ex-First Lady. For that matter, Mason eulogized her at a memorial when she passed in 2011
Mrs. Ford traveled in the loftiest of circles with her husband, the country’s chief executive, yet she guided so many like Mason who fought the grueling battle against addiction. Broadcaster Pat Summerall similarly entered rehab at the Ford Center in 1992.
“To be with her and to always be inspired by her talking the talk, and walking the walk had a great effect on me. It made me understand the possibilities for recovery,” Mason said. “To be able to be in the same room with a global icon was a singular and a unique pleasure, and I learned from her every day,” he added.
Today, the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation is the nation’s leading treatment provider and conducts both inpatient and outpatient programs across the country. Mason served on the board for 17 years and now uses his connections there to assist others struggling in the sports media industry.
Mason is on the advisory board of Sports Video Group, an industry organization formed in 2006 that represents and supports broadcast professionals. The Group’s home page lists several of its mandates. Central to the mission is “to provide a knowledge resource for the growing community of sports video professionals working for broadcast/broadband organizations, professional teams and leagues, collegiate and secondary schools, and facilities.”
SVG’s latest outreach program, launched in December, is a collaborative effort with the Hazelden-Betty Ford Foundation. Spearheaded by Mason, the program aids those going through any sort of mental health issue, including chemical dependency.
“We need to offer our people some support and some resources to help them meet the challenges during these very difficult times that they’re going through with their families,” Mason said. “So I called my connections at Hazelden Betty Ford to provide solutions for the challenges of addiction, depression and isolation.”
“When a member of the Sports Video Group calls Hazelden-Betty Ford they will begin a discussion with a team that will work with the SVG member to determine the best course of action,” said SVG Editorial Director, Ken Kerschbaumer said in an article he authored.
The service allows for an SVG member to seek help confidentially, so as not to struggle through addiction alone.
“Our goal is to be a resource for the Sports Video Group members where they could call safely and confidentially,” said Bob Poznanovich, Hazelden’s Vice President of Business Development. “Help might be just as simple as talking to somebody over the phone, about what’s going on to give some feedback and direction. Help could be directing somebody to help a loved one to get help. Help could be educating about options available to them, and help could be starting somebody’s pathway to recovery by starting an admission process.”
Like Mason, Poznanovich had his struggles with addiction. At age 30, he was on a fast track but became addicted to cocaine. His addiction took everything from him —his job, fiancé and finances. Poznanovich checked into Hazelden 26 years ago, has been sober ever since and has risen through the ranks.
Calling the partnership a “perfect marriage,” Poznanovich hopes that the synergies will reduce the stigma of making these issues public.
“I know a lot of employees who need help, but they’re afraid to get help in the workplace,” Poznanovich said. “So by coming out with these types of partnerships, we can get to take away the stigma. We’re able to open up more doors, and hopefully get more people to walk through those doors and get help earlier than later.”
For Mason, the partnership is to help anyone who is suffering from these hardships, especially now during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s not necessarily the numbers we’re in pursuit of. If we help ten people in the next year, we’ll be way ahead of the game,” Mason said. “I suspect we’ll be helping a lot more than that. But this is not a game of numbers. This is a game of making sure that we’re doing right by our people, as we have since COVID-19.”