The ESPN “PRod Pod”: Gus Coletti

September 24, 2021 ESPN PR Season 2 Episode 1
The ESPN “PRod Pod”: Gus Coletti
Show Notes Transcript

As the saying goes: "Good leaders make others better." That is what I think about whenever I have the opportunity to work with Gustavo Coletti, senior managing producer. In his 13-year journey at ESPN, "Gus," as he's known to his colleagues, has played an integral role in helping ESPN tell authentic stories about the Latino community.A storyteller by trade, Gus has a unique ability to find human-interest stories – some of which might perhaps have gone untold - about the Latino community. Throughout his time at ESPN, Gus has contributed on multiple Sports Emmy-nominated features, including "El Paso Strong", which reports on the recovery of youth soccer team, EP Fusion, following the trauma of a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas; "Prichard Colon", which tells the story of an up and coming boxing prospect Prichard Colon, who after a bout in 2015 was left with severe brain damage; "Roberto Clemente 21", which focuses on the push to retire Roberto Clemente's No. 21 in MLB; that's just to name a few.

Gus has spearheaded the Hispanic Heritage Month Committee for multiple years. As usual, he was able to bring together colleagues from across the company to put forward one of ESPN's most robust content strategies to commemorate Hispanic Heritage Month.

In this episode of the PRod Pod, Jon McLeod, Associate Producer, Communications, caught up with Gus for his thoughts on his journey as a storyteller and much more.

- [Narrator] This is the ESPN PRod Pod.

- What's going on everybody? You are listening to the ESPN PRod Pod. I'm your host, Jon McLeod, shout out to my producer, Kiki, who is amazing and always, always gotta show her love every time I get a chance. This is the podcast that goes behind the scenes on the content you love, the people that create it and everything in between. Today, we have the man himself, my man, Gus Coletti. What's going on Gus? How are you?

- Oh man, that's quite an introduction. That's like Bruce Buffer level type of introduction, man. I should have you like recorded and every time I wake up in the morning, just start my day like that. I feel like I can tackle the world, man. I'm doing good, thanks for having me. It's pretty cool to be here, I appreciate it.

- Well Gus, you are our guest of honor today because you are one of the most amazing people here at the company. And we're gonna get into why, we're gonna get into why. I know it may be uncomfortable. We love to show people love here on the PRod Pod. I know it's a little weird but, that's how we wanna big you up because you're doing amazing things. Gus, we are in Hispanic heritage month and we're diving straight in and you are one of the producers and one of the leaders of this initiative. Talk to me about why this is so important to you.

- Yeah, well, for the second year in a row, I've been asked to sort of lead the initiative and there's two reasons why I jumped on the first time and said, you know, I actually raised my hand and said, I can do it a second time. One, I truly believe in servicing Hispanic fans, right? Like, I think we're still quite misunderstood. I still believe we're underserved. So you know, for all the things that I would sometimes complain about, this is my chance to like walk the walk, right? So that's probably the main reason why I did it the first time. The second time, because honestly, like I got to meet and work with some of the most amazing people I've ever met, you know, not just in the line of broadcast or television production. So why wouldn't, I wanna, you know, have weekly calls with some of the coolest, most amazing people that I can reach out and connect with? So that's how I get myself into this mess.

- No, I love that because, it just shows the level of comradery, your willingness to step up. What's your role at the company and how long you've been at ESPN?

- Yeah, so I just turned 13 years at the company.

- Congratulations.

- Thank you. I am now a Senior Manager and Producer in the features unit. I've been overseeing content for about the last five years or four in change. What I do is I run point on features that relate to three different areas, the or bilingual, boxing, top rank and UFC. So I wear those three hats in working with producers. What I used to do before is going out into the field and creating this content. Now I get to work with them, sitting down with them, ideation, working in logistics, when they come back from the shoot, talking about structure, a script, sending notes, a lot of notes, a lot of notes, which if you ask anyone from my team, they'll tell you that I'm known for sending a lot of notes and just sort of see that great story come to life and then just put it out into the world. That's sort of my day-to-day job. I help tell stories, like my job, I get paid, I know I get paid for helping tell stories. I mean, I pinch myself every day like, you know, I never thought, well, I knew this was a gig, but I never knew it was like such a fun gig. So I think I have the best job in the world.

- See I love, you know, why I love that, Gus, and I love that you went there is because I know our viewers can see it and our listeners can hear it. You have a joy for what you do and that shines through in your work. Speaking of your work and speaking of your ability to tell stories, when you think about telling stories, where did that come from? Where did this passion for telling stories come from?

- Yeah, well, you know, ever since I was a kid, you know, I've been meaning to tell stories. I fell in love with film and I wanted to be a filmmaker. I loved science fiction films. You know, my dad always showed me movies, would take me to the movies. When I was a little kid, he would show me adult movies, like, you know, grown up movies, not adult movies, grown up movies when I was a very young kid, a good friend of his, who was a filmmaker himself once brought in some books that he bought and he was taken to Brazil about the making of Star Wars and the making of Indiana Jones and I saw that and I was seeing, you know, back in the days they would create, you know, actual cities out of cardboard and whatnot. And I saw it and I'm like, this is amazing. Like, this is what I wanna do for the rest of my life. You know, I wanted, you know, go to the fine of the galaxy, right? So I've always wanted to do, be a filmmaker. When I was in college, I took a class on documentary filmmaking and it blew my mind, you know, because I realized that the most fascinating stories weren't necessarily on the margins of the galaxy, but they were on the margins of society. And wherever you turn, you would just, I started to see people and I started to see stories and I'm like, someone needs to tell this story. You know, someone is to bring this to life. I wanna be that person to do it. So it was a 180 man, like that really had a profound impact on me and you know, when I started, you know, learning the craft, I was, you know, I was still in college but I was editing and that started to pay my bills and I loved sports. So you know, it was almost like a no brainer that I took an internship and a sports, it was a Spanish language network, but I asked to be in the sports team and then slowly that passion of telling, you know, stories around us sort of found its way in telling stories in the world of sports and I never looked back, you know, I've always been involved in some capacity. I worked on and off with sports. You know, I did music and entertainment, some social issues, which is something that it's very dear to me. But you know, it was really always within the lens of sports that, you know, I was able to, you know, live my life and develop my career. So that's what led me to ESPN and that's why I'm here. And so for me, to be doing the job that I dreamed I would do when I was, what, 21, 22 in college. I mean, like, it's just, I wouldn't believe you if you telling me back then, like, "Yeah, man, one day I need you to be working at ESPN and be helping tell these stories." I'm like, "Nah, you're kidding. Like, this is just, no, it doesn't happen to someone like me, you know."

- No, that's an incredible story for several reasons. The first is, you are dedicated to this from the beginning and you fell in love. It goes without saying, when you fall in love, with something, it changes how you look at it, how you address it, how much energy you pour into it. You fell in love with this craft years ago and it transitions all the way through your life. The second thing is, I love how you went through the process and you went through everything. So you learned everything and then it kind of helped build and hone what you wanted to do from the beginning, which tell the story, the correct way. Gus, I wanna know, where are you from and how did where you're from help you craft the stories that you craft today?

- Yeah, well, I was born in Argentina. I was raised in Miami. I lived most of my young life in Miami until I moved to the Northeast 13 years ago. You know, living in Miami, you're kind of like in a cultural bubble, right? So you know, you rub elbows with your DNA. You know, you rub elbows with your Latin American neighbors, but you also get, and you get to see an experienced perspectives that are, were foreign to me. As I grew older and I started leaving that bubble and getting myself into other bubbles, right? Like from Argentina, so we grew up in a neighborhood, not even a neighborhood, but in the community full of Argentinians, like my first girlfriend was from Argentina. My best friends were from Argentina. I would still read, you know, I would get magazines from Argentina and that's how I read about soccer and sports. And then as I started to like, you know, sort of grow up and started to leave those bubbles and go into like, you know, the Colombian bubble, Venezuelan bubble, Brazilian bubble, the American bubble, Cuban bubble, like all of the sudden, like the world just opened up to me. And I started to see a lot of the injustices that happen to people like me, right? So again, through the lens of sports which, you know, I always say that, whenever we're able to do a human interest piece, that touches on a social issue and put it on sports center. Like you know, I would tell myself when I was the one producing it, but I would tell the producers that I work with. Like, I high-five them, I'm like, you just realize that you're able to sneak in a story on the slavery of, on the history of the slavery in Latin America on sports center. Like do you realize what you were just able to do? So seeing that sort of helped me understand that I also need to, there's a power with telling stories. How do you use that power, you know? How do you use your platform? So then made me, I don't wanna say advocate because that's too big of a word. It's too mindful. I don't think I thought about it that way, but I wanted to tell the stories of the people that were, you know, struggling in different ways whether it was, you know, immigration or political refugees, whether from one side or the other, people who were struggling to get healthcare, education, things had happened to my family, right? So those are the things that sort of shaped me in how I saw the world and things that drew my attention. And I think to today still resonates and I still, I'm always drawn to those stories. I like those are the things that I pick up when I read an article or see something and I just see something and like, what's this all about, you know? What's this all about? And that's how I find, you know, that's how I find some focus on the stories that we do and that's how I, you know, sort of try to tell my team to like, be on the lookout for, as they're researching stories.

- Incredibly powerful. That right there, you're helping me transition to my next question because I wanna pick your brain as to how you tell those tough stories because Gus, let's be honest. That history is uncomfortable to watch, to listen to and to relive. Even if you weren't around, to hear that that's how life was and then compare it to what's happening today, that's tough to deliver. As a storyteller, how do you deliver those tough stories?

- You know, every story has its own challenge. You know, I wish I could tell you that there was like a one sort of a one-liner that's like, just think about this. This is your Northern star and they will guide you through this process. Every story has its own challenges. I, you know, I say that I learned, but I still learn. I work with people from who I learned a lot, you know, and one of the things Chris Conley said that resonated it's like, at ESPN, we always look for clarity. So when we tell stories, we wanna make sure that we're clear and that translates in how we approach the subject and how we then represent that on the TV screen. You know, I've, even as a producer, I would have to sit in front of people who've lost sons, young children, brothers, fathers, colleagues and need to sit down and they're pouring their hearts to you. So I can try to empathize, I empathize with them, but I will never understand what they've gone through, right? So by me going in there and saying, I wanna hear your story and I want to be able to tell your story, whatever that is, whether you lost, you know, three out of four children, whether you just lost your son to, you know, a concussion or whether you're dealing with a team that, you know, has just gone through one of the worst mass shootings in US history, you know. And I wasn't necessarily a part of, you know, the production. I wasn't on the field with them, but our team, when we talk about that, how do we approach this? We try to come in with an open heart, an open mind and say, we wanna learn. We wanna hear your story, you know. And it takes a while to build that trust. It's not easy, especially when someone has gone through trauma. A lot of them still going through trauma. So we just try to be honest and clear, learn from them, you know, learn from them. And how do we then, how can we then convey what we've learned from them and how can we tell their story in a way that's clear and honest?

- Those stories are not easy to tell. They're not easy to relive and most importantly, they're not easy to recreate because that's the responsibility that you've taken on and you've recreated so that we can all understand what happened, what is somewhat still happening and how we could get through it together as a society. Gus, you have led the Hispanic heritage initiative for ESPN, you know, several times. When you think about this journey, what are some of the things that come to mind that, you know, from when it started to where it is now?

- You know, first of all, like I'm still in the process of this the second year. So I think once I go through it on October 16, you and I can have a beer and I can tell you how I feel then, you know, but, you know, the one thing that I can tell you from working with HHM last year and an extension of some of the projects we have, with HHM that evolved in, you know, that sort of finished in February and then we picked it right up is understanding that I am not alone, that I'm not alone in my own emotions. I'm not alone in my own feelings. I'm not alone in how I see the world. I'm not alone how I see myself. I'm not alone in how upset I am at injustices, that I'm not alone in trying to make a difference. And before, you know, it's crazy 'cause the pandemic, like we're all working from home now, right? But I think since the pandemic, I've gotten so much closer to colleagues because, you can leave all the BS aside, right? Like you're just having a conversation and the fact that I'm in the intimacy of my house, where I feel safe and maybe the other person feels safe and we can have an honest conversation. And those honest conversations help us shape what we're trying to do. So what I gather most of it is like, we have some of the most empathetic, talented storytellers, even though if they're not directly involved in storytelling, but we as a company, we wanna tell stories that I've ever met, you know, period, not just, again, not just in my line of work, but just period, you know. And I've gotten to realize that about the people. So you know, now I know that when I have some crazy idea, you know, that I can go to my colleagues and say, hey, what do you think about this? And this is what I'm thinking. And you know, I go there with a confidence that they will understand where I'm coming from and they will be honest. If they feel like, it's not gonna work this way or that way, but engage with me in a conversation about maybe we could do this other way around. So understanding that I'm not alone, that I have allies that I have colleagues who care about the same things that I care, which I didn't realize I had those because we're, you know, we're always working on the surface level of things, right? That to me has been just the most profound experience I've had at ESPN. And yeah, I mean, I wish I could tell you something much more about like, oh the content that we do, we realize that we can do. No, it's just sort of like what, you know, what it does for me, right? At least today, I can tell you that.

- No, but Gus isn't that what's important? Isn't that why we do it? That's why we tell the stories.

- Yeah.

- Tell those stories, because you know, it is a form of unity and it's a form of coming together, regardless of the story makes you laugh, cry or concerned or focused, it's our stories that we've lived collectively. We may not have went through the exact, you know, identical things, but we can align.

- Yes.

- Whether you're black, white, Hispanic, you know, AAPI community, it doesn't matter where you are. In some way, shape or form, we are connected and telling stories pulls us together. So that's why, you know, I love that that's what your answer was. So in talking about, you had mentioned, you know, the injustices. So almost Afro Latinos is one of the projects that, you know, you went, you were heavy and hard on and it's an incredibly powerful one. What are some of the biggest takeaways?

- You know, from a personal level, it's what I've learned, right? When we were having conversations about how we felt as minorities after the George Floyd murder, you know and how do we react to that? What is our obligation as storytellers, right? And what is our obligation as communicators, etc? You know, one of the things that I started to look around and I'm like, what is the role of ESPN, the port doesn't this, right? Like how, how are we injecting ourselves in the conversation, right? And I was seeing in other Hispanic media, that their approach early on at least was, this is their problem, right? This is a problem of this community. This is not our problem. Look at the riots, right? That's how we were reporting it. And I remember having, you know, one or two conversations before I said, let me call, you know, Santarito. And I'm like Santa and I think I had a cathartic moment. And I'm like, what are we doing from to show just how much racism is a part of our community, of the Hispanic community. Communities, because we're many communities.

- That's right.

- We're not just, our communities are not just victims of racism, but were perpetrators of racism. You know, you can go into any Latin American home and you will hear some of the most racist things you could ever imagine, right? And I thought, we need to have a conversation about this because we see Afro-Latino athletes every single day on sports center, on our ESPN Network. We celebrate them. We put them on our fantasy teams. We wear their shoes. We consume, we celebrate their accomplishments, but do we ever stop and listen to what they feel, what they've gone through because they're Latinos and Black? And that was the Genesis of, we need to bring this together because, I wanna learn, I wanna know. As a Latino, I see things. I can empathize, but I have no idea, what's it like to be a black Latino, whether it's in the US or Latin America. I have no idea. So I wanna know, 'cause I wanna know how I can do better, how I can become a better ally, how I can tell their stories in a way that is impactful, that resonates. So what did I get out of that? Very selflessly, I'll say I learned, man. I learned. Like when I sat down and we got conversations with Rodriguez, you know, from and she was talking about her term that she would be mentioned over and over again as a kid, things that I would hear in soccer fields and in homes and barbecues and I never said anything, you're sitting there and you're like, you know, it's a joke, you know, you giggle and you laugh and you're like, what kind of crappy person am I that I've sit here and I've enabled this because every time you're silent you enable it, right? And I've heard that and she's done talking and I'm like, I'm in tears, you know, 'cause I'm embarrassed, dude. I'm embarrassed. You know, here's someone who's very vulnerable in telling me some of her biggest pains and it's the pain that were caused by people that I enabled, right? So I can't be silent anymore, right? And what I got out of that is I learned and I realized that I have an obligation, you know, to tell great stories, period but to bring those stories into the conversation of what we wanna do because I have the privilege of sitting in those decision-making conversations. I have male privilege. I have a lot of privileges. So what can I do with that privilege to help advance conversations, to help bring different perspectives. And to be honest, I think when you bring those stories into a network like ESPN, you make the network better.

- That's right.

- You make it better. You're bringing in all these perspectives. And always from the perspective of , you tell me how you feel. And Afro-Latinos, so was Afro-Latinos was just a dialogue, right? It wasn't us editing. I mean, yeah, there was some edit, 'cause it was a long conversation about to bring it down but it wasn't us putting tracks and editorializing and like putting music like violins and pianos and none of that, it's like no, let's just hear what they have to say. It's what we needed, right? I think as a network, we need it just be quiet, listen to what these people need to say. Hear what they've gone through.

- Yeah.

- And then hopefully you've learned from it. I know that I did and I think everyone who took part of that sort of felt the same way. You know, I pretty sure that I can say that everyone grew because of that and a lot of them feel the same way that I felt.

- The level of authenticity that says, let's not input ourselves in this, let's let them tell the story.

- Yeah.

- Let's listen. And I wish and hope that our listeners, that everybody at ESPN outside of ESPN can understand the importance of what you did. Because you did it that way, we now understand on a higher level. But so much in a mainstream media is configured so that people can accept it a certain way. You let the story speak for itself. I want you to dig deep for me on this one. When you think about your legacy as a storyteller and in the Hispanic community, what is one thing you want to leave behind and you want everyone to remember you for?

- I never thought I would ever leave a legacy. I would like, you know, I've often thought like what, how would I want my daughter to see her dad's body of work, right? Like how do I want her to? 'Cause whenever she comes in and she's like, "Daddy, let's play." And I'm like, oh, I'm looking at a screen. Or I'm sending some notes or I'm doing this, I'm doing that. I feel bad, I'm like, well, one day, hopefully she'll be able to see that I did things that, you know, were important and this is why. And I hope one day she can see those stories and she can learn as much as I did from telling those stories, right? Like if her and I guess, I don't know, if anyone that could see the body of work that I leave behind and they can learn from it, like there isn't a better legacy like I'm not a writer, I'm not an author. That's just, not me. I'm not an architect, I don't build things. You know, I'm not a landscaper, I'm not a lawmaker, you know, I tell stories. How can I make the smallest of impact in anyone that can see the work that I was able to be a part of and just learn, get something out of that, you know. Hopefully, that information that they can assimilate, my daughter, whoever can make them a better person, you know and I can't control them, but at least I can put out information that I think they will, they will be able to internalize and it would stick with them, hopefully, right? Hopefully, they can look at the work and be like, "Man, that piece stuck with me." You know, that moment stuck with me. If I can do that, man, like I think my career is a success but, I don't know.

- Well, Gus, let me tell you firsthand, you are on your way to a phenomenal legacy. You have already added your name in history with the work that you've been able to do with telling stories from all over the globe. From your work in port days, to boxing, to combat sports, we wanna say that we appreciate you and we thank you.

- [Narrator] Now it's time for, The Fab Five.

- All right, so this part is just full of fun questions. You can answer them however you like.

- Those make me nervous.

- Why?

- I don't know.

- If you could pick a TV show to be your life, what show would you choose?

- Ooh. All right, here's a problem because I like another world films, apocalyptic films and I like mafia films. So in any direction that I go, it would be a pretty bad representation of my life. All right, okay, so...

- You have to lean into it, whatever you like.

- Okay, so. Look in a fantasy world, right? I am Tommy Shelby from Peaky Blinders.

- Okay.

- All right, I am the coolest dude who is able to lead a family through the darkness of businesses and is able to come out with just the most amazing suits, perfectly shaved and the most stunning green eyes. That is not how my story will ever be told, but we're having fun so, you know, give me the Shelby's in Peaky blinders, I'll run with that.

- So what's something that has surprised you about your career path?

- 13 Years at ESPN. You know, when I started working at ESPN, I remember thinking, well, this should be maybe one, two, three years. The fact that it's been 13, I would have never thought look, I'm 13 years in the company. The fact that for a quarter of the life of ESPN, more than a quarter of a life of ESPN, I've been a part of it, I would have never thought when I was a kid recording with VHS tapes that, you know, 6:00 PM and 11:00 PM sports center so I could watch it, I'd never think in a lifetime that I would be a part of that world for a quarter of that network's life never in their lifetime, nope.

- How do you unpack and unwind afterward? Like what is your routine? When you get out of work and you turn off that laptop, what do you need?

- Well, it changes. Right now, I'm done and I promised my wife that at 6:00 PM every day, I'm gonna go for a walk with her and my kid around my neighborhood, go to the backyard. That is my go-to way of just disconnecting from everything. If I can add another layer to it, if I can just put on some jazz, I mean, jazz is my lifeline. So if I could just listen to some jazz, ooh, like I'm, you know, that is my way of just recharging, disconnecting, recharging, rebooting and just feeling connected with my soul again, you know, after watching screens. So you know, in 12 hours a day, just to sort of like have something go directly here, you know, through here just directly here.

- If you could tell the story of any historical figure, who would you choose?

- Ooh, I'm big on music. I'm a huge Nina Simone fan. Huge, I don't think her life was told in a fiction way as it should have, no disrespect, but you could tell me Gus, before you die, you got to do one, you know, biopic on some historical figure and like, sign me up for Nina and then I could die in peace.

- So last question. If you had lots of money, what unnecessary thing would you just splurge on?

- Buy the Miami heat, of course. Of course, no brainer. Hey Gus, he's a couple of billions, you know, splurge, buy me my Miami heat, hell's yes.

- You survive The Fab Five, see.

- All right,. You had me there on a couple of them. You threw me some curve balls, good for you.

- You can't see them coming, but you did great.

- Okay, I'm glad, thank you. It was fun, you got me thinking. It was fun.

- Well, Gus, man, we wanna thank you so much for being a part of the ESPN PRod Pod. For myself and my producer, the awesome Kiki, you are phenomenal and we appreciate you. Thanks for tuning in and make sure you like, comment, share and subscribe to ESPN PR on YouTube. And you can find the ESPN PRod Pod, wherever you find your podcasts.