For the last twenty-plus years, I have had a microphone in front of me in some capacity. Either as a broadcaster or as a producer. I have also been responsible for countless decisions and bits of information that either I or someone else ends up saying. In those twenty-plus years I have lived by one adage, I’ll take responsibility for my mistakes (as long as they are my mistakes – more on that later).
It isn’t easy. You make a mistake broadcasting a sporting event, which usually happens so fast it can sometimes be very difficult to keep track of all the correct information (especially if you do not have a spotter to assist you; something I’ve never had), and people will notice. I’ll never forget doing my first NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Tournament Selection Show for NCAA.com and accidentally saying “NCAC” when I meant to say “OAC” when talking about a particular school’s conference. I realized the mistake shortly after I said it, but I couldn’t fix it. We were taping the show “live to tape” for it to be broadcast in less than an hour. There wasn’t time to “bust” the taping and start over (we were also nearly three-quarters of the way through the bracket – no way anyone wanted to start it all over). I just hoped no one noticed. I was wrong. Got nailed on Twitter. Many came to my defense. The critic never responded to my own response owning up to the mistake. I’ll never forget it.
We can also talk about the times any broadcaster, including myself, stubbles during a broadcast, but usually nothing major or a significant issue. I usually own up to the mistake on air. I once said, “I’m sorry, I am looking at the wrong spot sheet. I apologize to…” and named the players and their families possibly listening. I have heard some pros never even admit the mistake, but that doesn’t mean they don’t know. So today, when I saw a story about a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s broadcaster making probably the biggest blunder of anyone’s career and not only admit to the mistake, but own the mistake, I was blown away.
The story is actually pretty simple. Elliotte Friedman was calling the Men’s 200 IM featuring Michael Phelps and Ryan Lochte (before he and three other swimmers got robbed by what appears to be a fictional group of fake police officers) and at one point midway through the race swapped the lanes the two swimmers were in. He ended up calling the upset victory for Lochte.
Friedman has been a last minute replacement. The guy more known for his hockey work on Hockey Night in Canada for the CBC was literally thrown in the pool (or the deep end) to replace a colleague who no longer was available to broadcast the swimming events. He had two weeks to prep and had never called a swimming event in his life. All of it valid reasons, even excuses, for any mistake. But he won’t allow for it. He owns the mistake. That’s the amazing part. He refuses to allow for excuses or allow even the slightest iota of the mistake to be placed on others. He even spoke to SI’s Michael Rosenburg the very next day about the mistake and stated it wasn’t the Phelps mistake he is most embarrassed by.
I have for a very long time felt maybe I should stop owning up to my mistakes – or at least some of them. That maybe it wasn’t making me a better broadcaster or even producer/director because it gave people reason to find fault in my work. Freedman’s mea culpa only reassures me that I am fine for doing it.
I do wish more people would own their mistakes. I can’t tell you how many times in my career as a broadcaster, producer, director, etc. that other individuals either take no responsibility for their mistakes or find someone (or something) to blame. In my former career, it drove me crazy. I owned up to mistakes of mine when they happened. I even fell on the sword when necessary. It was the right thing to do for countless reasons. However, it was amazing how many others never admitted to their mistake unless they were pushed and certainly were not willing to accept responsibility. If it was my mistake, it was my mistake.
Only once do I remember being blamed for a mistake that was not entirely mine. In that case, not one single person also involved appeared to take any responsibility. I didn’t fall on the sword, it was thrust into me and no one stepped up to own it (and they wouldn’t even look at me following). Did I have some responsibility? Sure. It was a road already paved that I ended up inadvertently heading down. I was also not about to throw someone else on the sword. I got back up. I licked my wounds and raised my chin. But I didn’t forget. I also kept admitting to my mistakes.
More people should be like Elliotte Friedman. The biggest blunder of his career immediately followed by what he considers an even bigger mistake nearly derailed him. He nearly quit. But he is back on his feet. You know he will be an even better broadcaster for it despite his naysayers including some who probably never owned up to a mistake in their lives.
Next time you heard a broadcaster, or anyone, own up to their mistake applaud them. Also ask yourself what you would do in that situation. There are many in this world who rather criticize and never admit when they screw up and they don’t have millions of people watching and listening when they do it.