For as long as I can remember, sports were the only thing I truly liked. I wasn’t even 7 years old when I watched, wide-eyed, as Vince Carter won the slam dunk contest in 2000. As a 12-year-old, I accidentally broke a lamp in my house celebrating as the White Sox won the World Series in 2005 (you’re not still mad about that right, Mom?).
It’s kind of crazy that it took working at ESPN, the proclaimed 'Worldwide Leader in Sports', for me to come to the realization that it wasn’t actually the ‘sports’ part of sports that had moved me all of these years. Sure, I still have a deep affinity for baseball and basketball (and UFC, I’ve discovered), but my passion lies with storytelling.
Poignant narratives reveal themselves in arenas other than just sports. That’s ultimately what led me to Mainland. More on this later, but first, I’ve got a story to tell.
Have you ever wondered who was responsible for the ticker that scrolls at the bottom of the screen? I didn’t. I never once gave a thought to the humans behind the crawling text. And then I was one.
I was working a postgraduate internship for a United States Hockey League team in Chicago when I got the call saying I’d been invited to interview in person for a job at ESPN. They were flying me out to their Connecticut headquarters the day after I turned 22.
The interview experience was a whirlwind. I left ESPN’s campus experience completely enamored by the idea of existing in a place with a hallway that played the fight song of every Division I college football team in the U.S, and also getting paid for it. I was offered the job, took it, and promptly moved to Connecticut, where I didn’t know a single soul.
Our unique little BottomLine department within the Statistics and Information Group was made up of approximately 10 people and was staffed 20 hours a day, 7 days a week. Every day was different, from the news we reported to the sports we covered to the people we covered them with.
The first year was a blur. I was always learning something new. Holly Holm knocked out Ronda Rousey. My weekends were Tuesdays and Wednesdays. LeBron James blocked Andre Iguodala’s shot in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. I discovered that there is a real person in this world who can name the player who made the final out of every World Series in baseball history (here’s to you, Mark Simon). The Cubs broke some pathetic century-long curse associated with a goat that, unbeknownst to me at the time, made my current CEO very, very happy.
All of this was enthralling. I was collaborating with incredibly knowledgeable people to educate and entertain the masses. Playing a small role in putting words to such indescribable moments was a faraway dream come true. Yet as sports seasons came and went, the stories that mattered to me were becoming less and less visible on our platform. Social media fodder outweighed hard sports journalism. Gambling lines took precedence over stat lines.
While I loved the subject matter of my work, I wasn’t telling stories the way I wanted to be, or even the way I thought I could be despite the time and space constraints of that scrolling ticker of which I'd grown so fond. I looked elsewhere within the mothership for something that felt like it aligned with the sense of fulfillment I was seeking in my work, even though I couldn’t yet articulate what I wanted that to look like. All I knew, and all I know, was that I’m at my best when I’m learning and being challenged. And I wasn’t getting that from what I was doing anymore.
So, I stood in defiance to my own sense of obligation and made a change. I packed everything that could fit into my Jeep Patriot with the crank windows and drove back to Chicago terrified, yet hopeful.
It took some time for that hopefulness to manifest itself in the form of Mainland. For a while, I thought working in sports media was my only path to remaining engaged in my everyday duties, but exploring what it meant to hunt for stories on behalf of different clients quickly convinced me to open my mind to the idea of something beyond the conventional path indicated by my résumé. Once I met the team and heard Mainland’s approach to storytelling, I was captivated. The viewing of a story from 30,000 feet up in order to better connect its many parts gave words to everything I’d been seeking and hadn’t found in my previous role.
Since joining the Mainland’s content team, I’ve had the opportunity to tell some stories that I’m incredibly proud of. I’ve interviewed inspiring entrepreneurs and savvy marketers. I spend my days collaborating with a team of brilliant writers who are always willing and able to help me find the exact word or phrase that’s escaping me any given moment.
Taking the time to venture beyond the surface-level connections that afflict my generation at every turn – through long-form writing, in different voices, on different platforms – brings a sense of purpose to my work. And as much as I’m driven by the responsibility and care each story I tell requires, the talented people I’m surrounded by at Mainland are my main motivation to grow here. The office beer tap doesn’t hurt, either.