Moments before the start of a March 11, 2020, basketball game between the Utah Jazz and the Oklahoma City Thunder, team officials hurried to the court with an urgent message. The players returned to the locker rooms, and confused fans were informed that the game would be postponed due to "unforeseen circumstances." Later that night, we learned that a player had tested positive for COVID-19, and the NBA season would be suspended.
This series of events marked the first time fans began to see and feel the impact of COVID-19 on sports. With the postponement of professional sports and almost all other organized sporting events, scores of people making a living in sports broadcasting suddenly found themselves without jobs.
Bloomfield Hills native and Cranbrook Schools alum Lauren Withrow was working at a Chicago Blackhawks game when she got word of what just happened in the NBA. She told her co-workers, 'this is going to be us tomorrow.'
Withrow managed to keep busy, even though all her in-person sports reporting work was canceled. To fill her time and the void fans felt without sports, she created Going Pro, a podcast featuring interviews with former and current professional athletes, broadcasters, and sports executives.
"It was difficult to come to terms with working so hard to finds jobs after graduation and then watch the world of sports essentially shut down," said the 2019 University of Michigan graduate. "It ended up being great for me because I had an opportunity to step back and work on myself by working with a talent coach. Now, things are falling into place and working out in a better way than I thought."
Withrow, 23, shifted her job search to digital and remote reporting jobs, and in June, Sports Illustrated Fan Nation Network hired her as a host and feature writer. She currently covers the University of Michigan, University of Illinois, West Virginia University, and the Carolina Panthers for SI.
Withrow got a big break in February with an offer from ESPN to work as an analyst for ESPN3/+, the network's digitally streaming platform. Her first gig had her covering Eastern Michigan University women's basketball. It was an exciting career jump to put on a headset and call a live basketball game for two hours.
When the season ended, she switched to volleyball. It was a sport she knew little about, but listening to her call an EMU volleyball match, a viewer would never know because of Withrow's extensive research before her first game.
In addition to calling the EMU games, ESPN3/+ had her working as an analyst for the Loyola Chicago men's volleyball team.
In mid-April, Withrow switched sports again, this time working as an analyst for the mid-American Conference swimming and diving championship at Eastern Michigan. As a former swimmer with diving experience, she knew enough about the sport to focus her research on the athletes and not learning the ins and outs of diving. However, the broadcast was canceled due to COVID restrictions for the media.
There's a lot of pre-game work that goes into being an analyst, from watching game film to collecting and analyzing team and player statistics, as well as pre-game interviews with the coaches. It's about 20 hours of work for a two-hour game.
"It's like rehearsing for a play. Once the game starts and the cameras are rolling, if you've prepared well, you can just sit back and call the game. That's the easy part," she said.
Story: Jennifer Lovy