What happens next? One year ago, while I was sitting on the set hosting ESPN’s NFL Live, it became the immediate question. A text illuminated the immediate future: I’d be without my job at ESPN. I was one of about 100 employees told my “services were no longer needed”.
What happened next? Let’s be honest. My first thought, was, “how in the world am I going to get thru the rest of this show?” Autopilot. Shock. Numbness. I don’t know how. I just know I did. One commercial break later, there I was again on live TV, talking about the NFL draft getting underway the next day. And when the show ended and the official news came in the face of a senior coordinating producer standing nearby, what came next was a mess of emotion. And, let me tell you, there is nothing pretty or understated about raw emotion - particularly at 7 months pregnant. Perhaps the only time I’ve been more overwhelmed by emotion is in the weeks following having a baby. But I digress.
What happened next was a scripted HR conversation to which anyone who’s ever been laid off can relate. And what happened after that was a shell shocked walk to my car on the other side of the ESPN campus. Yes, I called my husband. Yes, my phone started blowing up. And, yes, I just kept thinking, “what happens next?”
When such a large part of your life is ripped out from underneath you - with no regard to performance - it’s easy to feel like something has happened TO you. It’s so out of control. And, as most anyone in the sports broadcasting world will tell you - it’s a way of life. I love sports. The games. The stories that play out between the lines. The stories that capture us off the field, the diamond, the court of play. I’ve spent more than a decade of my life sharing those stories. To not know how that fits into my future, well yes, what happens next?
A baby. That was the obvious answer. But that was still about 2 months away. The next day, instead of doing my final preps for NFL Draft coverage, my toddler and I took my preschooler to class. His teacher, whom I am close with, asked how I was. I started to cry. Hearing my news, she encouraged me to turn to my faith.
Sunday, four days after losing my job, my family and I went to church. It wasn’t a new church; we had been to Valley Community Baptist before, but as I stood there that day I felt like the pastor was speaking to me. Have you been that person with tears in your eyes, overflowing down your face? It’s all you can do to avoid one of those ugly cries in the middle of a sea of people? That was me. It has been said when a door closes another door opens - and that Sunday nudged the door ajar.
My husband and I have always spoken about raising our children in a church as we both grew up that way. For me, it was a Catholic Church and I knew that wasn’t our future. And, what had been our present, had made regular attendance a challenge. I worked most weekends and for a couple years hosted SportsCenter every Saturday and Sunday morning. Could we have found a way to go other times? Yes. But we didn’t until that Sunday. What happens next? Church. The next Sunday, and the following and almost every Sunday since.
Our third baby announced its impending arrival in the early hours of a Sunday. My husband and I actually discussed going to church that morning despite the fact that my water had broken. Clearly, it was not like the movies where the baby arrives moments later. And, if you’re wondering, he did look at me like I had six heads when I suggested church. And, in the end, we missed that Sunday sermon. We welcomed a baby girl not long after Sunday turned into Monday.
Summer slipped into fall and Sundays were a welcome day in our house - not only for football, as in years past, but also for the sermon that preceded the games. When our pastor brought up Blair Walsh and his kick that failed to seal a Vikings win in the 2016 playoffs, it was like worlds colliding. I pitched a story about that very missed kick while at ESPN and the school children who wrote Walsh to encourage him after when so many others were clamoring for his head. Our pastor shared that very story.
When Carson Wentz’s season ended late last fall, we shared his tweet and video message with our kindergartener.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6)
In the months that had passed since April, I had leaned into that very verse.
The Super Bowl proved particularly big in my house. Boston born and bred, my allegiance is obvious. And yet. I spent five years working in Philly covering the Eagles and met my husband there. A house divided we joked, sorta. Our kindergartener cracked us up throughout the game. Edge of his seat, watching me, watching my husband, repeating both of us as we cheered for our respective teams. He’s a HUGE sports fan and his sheer exuberance is what l’ll remember most about the night. But there were tears in our house. Hey, most of Philly cried too; I can’t blame my hubby for it.
The following Sunday’s sermon began with a reference to Abraham Lincoln but wove its way to Nick Foles. This time is was my husband who glowed with the mention of his team - I’ll say it - the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. Our pastor spoke of the players Saturday night Bible study and particularly Nick Foles football journey -how his faith kept him in the game where he ultimately shined on its biggest stage.
I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD! (Psalm 27:13-14)
Foles waited. As the backup quarterback. He listened, years earlier, as he thought about leaving football altogether. His faith, his patience for God’s will, lead him to what happened next.
ESPN brought my family to Connecticut. But a funny thing has happened in the year that I haven’t stepped foot on the campus. Sports has intersected with my life in a profound way. God was always there - in conversations, some long and some just moments, on the sidelines and in the studios. I even recall one plane ride to Alabama, a place I once called home, where I shared in such a conversation that I wound up with a new bible waiting for me back in the ESPN mailroom. God was always there. Only now, I’m listening differently.
It has been said the greatest gift we can give someone is focused attention. In my newfound world, God deserves that attention. What comes next? I’m listening as I try to figure that out. I’m waiting. I’m praying. And on this day, 365 days since my day-to-day changed, here’s the verse that came to me: We can make our plans but the Lord determines our steps. (Proverbs 16:9) Those steps will come. And I’ll be ready.