Years after the Monday Night Football debacle, Lisa Guerrero is grappling with trauma (2023)

Lisa Guerrero's infamous short stint as a Monday Night Football reporter in 2003 resulted from the difference between two words: old and current. The mistake of referring to a Washington athlete as a former teammate rather than a current one added fuel to the fire of her critics and played a role in changing her employment status at ABC from current to former towards the end of the season.

It was the defining moment of a season that had been a series of disappointments for Guerrero. Landing a role on what was once football's most revered weekly show is widely regarded as a career highlight. But even before the cameras started rolling, Guerrero saw signs of a toxic work environment that was rapidly eroding her confidence. The shame of facing career failure on a mass stage sent Guerrero into a tailspin. After his release, he would never return to sports journalism.

But Guerrero pressed on, reinventing herself as a determined investigative reporter responsible for uncovering scams and solving the murder of a 2-year-old boy. Nearly 20 years later, she's ready to face the turmoil of that fateful NFL season. She documented the process of accepting her tenure at MNF and her return in a paper entitled "Warrior: My way of being brave."

Guerrero spoke to theScore about dusting off the old VHS tapes of his on-air debacle and what it feels like to discover his second act.

This has been edited for length and clarity.

theScore: Your childhood played an important role in your career choice. What is your first memory of the sport?

Guerrero: When I was 8 years old and my mother was 29 years old, she died of cancer. My father raised me and was a huge sports fan. We lived in San Diego and our house overlooked Jack Murphy Stadium which became Qualcomm Stadium. I remember he would take me to Chargers games thinking that one day I would grow up to be a Chargers quarterback. He didn't tell me he couldn't do it. Instead he said, "Well, you better practice." He taught me to throw a perfect spiral. We could see the stadium lights from our house and I was convinced that this was my destiny.

I think my first real sporting moment wasn't just going to a game to see a certain player or team, it was more the potential to be the athlete I wanted to be. ... He wanted to be the next Dan Fouts. The sport filled me with that sense of opportunity and that sense of camaraderie. I bonded with my father through the language of sport, which became a platform for me for decades to come.

Years after the Monday Night Football debacle, Lisa Guerrero is grappling with trauma (1)

The 50th anniversary of your mother's death is approaching. You would have been about her age at the time of her death when you switched careers from cheerleading to sportscasting. Was there a connection between this new direction and living at an age when your mother didn't live?

The way I saw my life up to that point was that it had an expiration date that I would die when I was my mother's age. As a child, when you see a parent die like that, you think, "Well, I'll probably die then."

By the time I turned 30, I was so excited that I felt like I kind of avoided that dark cloud and then I was free to live the rest of my life. ... I always felt that she could not fulfill her destiny. I felt that I would fulfill my destiny and hers. She was an actress and acted and sang in all the church plays. She was a dancer, she was very beautiful and her life was cut short.

Part of the reason I took her last name was to honor her, to connect with her, to be part of this legacy of Chilean women that I am very proud of, to be a part of her mother and her grandparents. . So I definitely felt like I was a Guerrero at 29, which means "warrior".

Throughout the book you've said that sport is where you find your belonging. I know you felt like an outsider in high school. Being a cheerleader made you feel like an insider. As your career progresses, do you feel like you ever found acceptance?

The reason I spent a lot of time in my book writing about the cheerleading experience as a cheerleader and show manager was because I didn't have a mother. I didn't have any sisters. And to this day I have no daughter. For me, that sisterhood was critical at a time when I needed it, at a time when I didn't know how to wear makeup or how to talk to boys or any of those typical things girls learn from their mothers . In fact, when I got my period, I thought I was going to die. I thought there was something wrong with me. I shouted. My dad took me to the emergency room and they said, "Sir, your daughter is fine, she's on her first period." Nobody taught me any of that. So my female friendships are very important to me and I don't feel like an outsider because I can trust this group of women.

Years after the Monday Night Football debacle, Lisa Guerrero is grappling with trauma (2)

I think of Monday Night Football because it was clear that you really felt like an outsider there. Has your feeling of being an outsider been increased because you went through those periods of exclusion?

Yes, and I write in the book that I couldn't tell my friends what was happening to me. I was so embarrassed and so humbled by the criticism and the humiliation and the verbal abuse and everything I've endured this season. It made it impossible for me to share this pain with other people. I didn't want to burden anyone with it, and I didn't want to tell my father about it because I didn't want him to worry about me. So they thought I'd live this perfect life in my dream job, marry this handsome athlete, live in Malibu, live the dream, when in fact I was in pain every day and feeling very alone.

I feel sorry for the young lady because she did not approach. That's one of the reasons I felt writing this book was so important. It's a love letter and a warning to other young women, but also a love letter to my younger self: You didn't have to be alone, you didn't have to endure this alone. It was devastating.

And at the same time, I look back on it now and know that what I went through made me a stronger and more empathetic person, which propelled me in terms of my research and what I'm doing now... You can hurt in transform power. . . But before you do that, you have to face what you've been through. I write about it honestly and emotionally because I'm still emotionally connected to it.

What's the point of writing a book if you don't tell the truth and really get to the emotional core of the story? I don't want anyone spending $28 on my book thinking it's just behind-the-scenes bullshit when it comes to being a part-time reporter, actress, or investigative reporter. I want people to really think about what I've been through and hopefully find that they can somehow relate to it and learn something from what I've been through.

As you saw all the pictures from this season, what was the one thing you wanted to say to this version of you?

You have done good work. I could see everything. For nearly two decades, I couldn't physically or emotionally watch any of these tapes. When I was writing the book, I had to go back and look at old journals, and finally I said, "I need to look at the tape." A lot of it was on VHS and beta, so I streamed it and then watched my performances. Because my performances were tailored just for my performances and not the entire three-hour stream, I was able to flip through chronologically and see something others couldn't: the improvement and progression of each game. I realized, "Okay, I made that mistake in game two, but look, I didn't make that mistake in game three." My timing was better, my pitching was cleaner, my ability to catch the guy at the right moment when Al (Michaels) was throwing at me, everything got better every week until the last game.

This game was Brett Favre's famous game where he threw four touchdowns in the first half. It was a flawless game. I looked at every hit, I think it was nine or ten and it was perfect. If you just saw that person, you'd be like, "Oh, she must have been on the show for 20 years. She looks so solid.”

But my younger self couldn't take in the fact that I was getting better. That's one of the reasons I mourn this girl, this young woman. got better and better

Years after the Monday Night Football debacle, Lisa Guerrero is grappling with trauma (3)

I'm sure it's similar when you look at old photos of yourself and I think we all have this experience and you say something like, 'It was beautiful. Why am I worried about my weight? I look so good.” But you don't really feel that way right now.

We are all very hard on ourselves. In my case, the worst part was that other people were also very hard on me. I like to call it the culture of cruelty that permeates sport, whether it's the sports radio guys or sports columnists, co-workers, sports fans, radio shows, it's all very cruel and so of course it's on social media now.

It is accepted in the world of sport to be vicious, misogynist, racist, hurtful or just plain mean. That goes through sport and was always accepted, now I reject it. Part of the reason I'm writing this is to say, "No, that's not acceptable." I spoke to Bob Costas when I was writing the book to get his advice on a couple of things, and he said, "You know you, I had some really good producers who yelled at me too." I thought to myself, "This is not acceptable for anyone in any work environment, I don't care what you do for a living."

It should not be shouted at or humiliated. You shouldn't be ashamed. But at the time it was acceptable and it hurt deeply. It almost cost me my life. It cost me my life because I miscarried. Then the following year it nearly cost me my life.

I don't know if you've seen Michele Tafoya's tirade on YouTube. He seemed to take the approach that this is just some kind of standard and people have to deal with it. It sounds like you're taking the completely opposite approach.

I have, I've never met her and I'm very grateful she didn't have the experience I did. What I endured was traumatic, real and painful. I don't want anyone to experience that.

Even though we've evolved in terms of women in sport, I think as long as we keep judging other women and saying, 'You didn't do it like me, or you should have, or your experience isn't validated , because it wasn't my experience "This hurts us all. It hurts us all. We all have unique experiences and backgrounds, we all bring different assets and different abilities. In some way, another person's experience is very damaging to describe as inferior or invalid because it is not what you experienced it is very sad.

The big mistake that seems to haunt you was just one word: ex-partner vs. current. Did it seem like a big mistake when you saw the tapes?

It doesn't seem like much now, but back then it couldn't have been more overwhelming. It was basically everyone's excuse to say I was awful and just an idiot and just a model and just a cheerleader. It was an opportunity for everyone to say I was as bad as they wrote. It was so damaging and thank goodness I have the tapes and was able to see the progress. Ultimately, this job wasn't the right job for me. I like to say that football wasn't the last line of my curriculum. Thank god I did another job that I'm super proud of.

But back then it was devastating. Those lessons I learned about enduring and enjoying that criticism have helped me become more empathetic to the people I interview today.

Years after the Monday Night Football debacle, Lisa Guerrero is grappling with trauma (4)

Let's talk reinvention because that's something not many people can do. And it's something a lot of people are having to figure out how to do, especially in today's era of rejection, shame and bullying culture on social media.

What my father shared with me was a very important thought. He said: "You consider yourself a sports personality and yes you have done that since you were 8 years old. We came together through sport. But at the end of the day, there are people in this world who don't know who's playing in the Super Bowl, they don't care about sports. You're a good reporter, and perhaps your efforts should be directed towards something other than hurting someone's groin. This perspective began to change my attitude. I'm not saying it happened overnight as it took me a full two years of which I was still depressed. I had a hard time getting out of bed. I couldn't watch sports for two years in a row.

I got therapy, very important. Interestingly, this therapist that I had seen on some of these pivotal incidents just approached me. She just called me and told me that she had heard about my book and that she was so happy that I was healthy.

What I did was shift that energy and focus to another group of people who needed me more. Honestly these are survivors and victims of fraud, crime and abuse. Now I can tell their stories. I'm the same reporter with the same skills. I didn't take a class to improve myself between Monday Night Football and Inside Edition, I just saw myself differently and became a better storyteller. Now, 600 investigations later, I can proudly say I did the hard work of changing my brand.

You had so many hits on "Inside Edition" and you've done a lot of work that you're really proud of. But in your book you said that meeting Erin Andrews at a restaurant was a remarkable moment because you felt you would only be remembered as a Monday Night Football low and Andrews gave you high praise. Has your self-image changed?

So I wrote my book to really examine what happened, what led to this season, what I learned from it for the future, and how other people can learn from what I've been through.

I can forgive myself for the mistake I made or the misjudgment. The fact that young women say: "I can understand that" or "It still happens to me" touched me emotionally.

Do you already watch sports? Is that still part of your connection to your father?

Yes, now I'm a big sports fan again. Yes, it took a minute. I don't want to lie, but yes, I enjoy sports now. I love going to a Dodgers game, having a beer and a hot dog, and cheering on my teams.

My dad and I recently watched NFL games together. We call each other after games and say, 'Can you believe that call? What about this injury?”

What would your mother say about the book?

I think she would be incredibly proud. I know it, I don't think it's really gone. I believe his spirit still lives in me and around me.

I think she would be proud of the book's name. Guerrero means "warrior". The book bears his name. I especially think she would be proud of me for writing it, because I would have the strength to go back and think about these things. I feel like I've reclaimed his legacy. I feel like I've claimed my name. I say at the end of the book that I am a warrior, that's how I feel now.

Jolene Latimer is a writer and video presenter at theScore.

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