Quarantine Reads: Jason Romano Provides Life Lessons From ESPN In "The Uniform Of Leadership"
ESPN is a dream job for anyone interested in sports. Jason Romano is someone who was lucky enough to have worked there for 17 years. He would probably say he wasn't lucky, but blessed and in his most recent book, "The Uniform of Leadership," he details the life lessons that working at the sports Disneyland gave him.
The premise of the book is that we all wear a uniform. Whether we literally play sports or hold an office job, we have a decision of where the names on our jersey are located. In an ideal world, the league badge and team name are located on the front and our own name is located on the back, meaning we are working for a greater good. But of course the powers that be are always fighting for us to put our own name on the front, working for me, myself and I.
"[T]he inherent design of the game is for the player to be third in the structure of things, as indicated in the systematic makeup of the league and communicated aesthetically through the player's uniform," Romano writes. "... And yet we live in a culture where people are metaphorically wearing their jerseys backward[!]"
Romano, who climbed the ESPN ladder as a producer, is honest about his own shortcomings wearing his jersey the right way and reveals how he bounced back after swallowing his pride. He a Christian and makes his faith-based lens for the book clear at the start. He sprinkles Bible verses throughout and uses Biblical figures and the example of Jesus to make his points. However, "The Uniform of Leadership" is not just for Christians. He acknowledges that his readers are at different points in their faith journey and might have even been hurt by the church in the past. So he encourages everyone to read "The Uniform of Leadership" with a perspective of love. And love is truly what drives this book's core principles.
While the world has conditioned each of us to compete for money, status and Instagram likes, Romano calls us to live with servant hearts, being thermostats instead of thermometers — as is exemplified by USC Trojans and Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll — and using words of encouragement, like the thank you notes Carol Voronyak, the best boss he ever had, gave to each of her employees.
There are plenty of stories about famous athletes in "The Uniform of Leadership," including the time Trey Wingo coordinated for Romano to meet his childhood hero Emmitt Smith. The popular talk show host's thoughtfulness is an example of true leadership beyond being a big wig on campus. Olympian Jennie Finch touched Romano with her kindness to a group of young softball players who helped film a segment and then again when she sent Romano's daughter a package of encouragement. Super Bowl-winning quarterback Drew Brees is chosen as the example of how to stay committed to one's craft, asking for a football so that he could do passing drills during his lunch break. Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy is someone who had the biggest impact on Romano early in his career at ESPN. When Romano was wrestling with his growing faith, Dungy and his assistant Jessica gave him the priceless advice to "bloom where you are planted."
Perhaps the most powerful example of leadership isn't from a championship winning athlete or even one of the heralded award-winning "SportsCenter" anchors, but it's from the cafeteria lady Tami. Romano was struck by her ability to remember each and every employee's name at ESPN and how she genuinely cared for them. She'd ask questions about their families and always have a smile on her face. Her joy was infectious and it was a sad day when she retired.
"In my humble opinion, Tami was one of the best leaders ESPN has ever had," he writes. "She exemplified what ESPN is all about and what real leadership looks like. She gave me — all of us — an example to follow, every single day, for nearly two decades. By being present with others, by consistently investing in people's lives, by sharing her joy with those who came through her line, she left a mark — an imprint — on the hearts and minds of those she served and loved each day. She did it in a small way, but it ended up being a big way."
Romano left ESPN on a wintry day in February 2017 with a shoutout from "Mike & Mike" and a quiet peace. He now works as the Director of Media at Sports Spectrum, a faith-based publication where he hosts the Sports Spectrum Podcast and continues to share stories of hope from athletes ranging from NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson to minor league baseball player Ethan Chapman. It's clear to him that every person is valued and worthy of their jersey. What matters is how each of us, whether the lunch lady or the superstar, leads with our jersey on the way it's supposed to be.