J.A. Adande Leaving ESPN After 10 Years


J.A. Adande has confirmed to The Big Lead that he and ESPN are mutually parting ways. Adande, who last year became Director of Sports Journalism and an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Medill school, will be focusing on his academia roles.

Adande first appeared on Around the Horn as an analyst in 2002 (it is not out of the realm of possibility that he could follow in Kevin Blackistone’s footsteps and maintain a presence on the show down the road in conjunction with academic work), and in 2007 began working full-time at ESPN.com. In recent years, he has been an NBA sideline reporter and contributed to The Undefeated.

“Mainly, I couldn’t do two jobs at once,” Adande said. “Last year, when I started the Northwestern job, I really wasn’t ready to say I used to work for ESPN. I wasn’t quite ready to give that up. But now, I’m at a place where I just want to focus on Northwestern. I really want to wake up in the morning and obsess over one thing.”

Adande explained that he had two full-time jobs, and each one had different aspects to it. Northwestern responsibilities include administrative work, fundraising, recruiting, and publicity in addition to teaching, grading papers, and scheduling. ESPN had 3-4 things going on for television and the web site at any given time. “It affects your ability to do each when you have so many responsibilities,” he said. “It affects your sanity too.”

Adande recalled one particularly bonkers stretch in October and November where he hosted a conversation with Doug Collins in Evanston on Monday night, flew to Los Angeles Tuesday, reported sidelines for Rockets-Lakers on Wednesday, and took the red eye to Washington D.C. where he hosted an Undefeated discussion with Oscar Robertson at the Smithsonian African-American Museum.

On Friday, he flew back to Chicago, caught a Cubs playoff game at Wrigley that night, and then appeared on a panel for Northwestern’s business school the next day. Later, he flew back out to California for the Jim Murray Awards, where one of his students received a scholarship and Shelley Smith was honored with the Sports Journalist of the Year award.

Adande, who taught classes in sports commentary last year, recognizes that the job market for entry level sports journalists is particularly fraught, and wants to help guide his students through the process. “It’s still a great profession at the top,” he said. “It’s never been more lucrative. I think we’re starting to see more opportunities shake out in the middle, particularly as you see The Athletic making this round of hirings.”

Nevertheless, Adande recognized that he will always be associated with ESPN. He recalled the late great Ralph Wiley, who knew from experience from being identified with Sports Illustrated for years after leaving the magazine, telling Adande that working for a place like the Los Angeles Times “never leaves you.” This happened to Adande for years and years after joining ESPN full-time, and due to the television visibility aspect of ESPN, will no doubt endure longer this time around.

“Emotionally, I’m ready to move on and dedicate myself to something else,” Adande said. “I’m much more prepared than I was a year ago. Last year I wasn’t ready. Now that I’ve seen the real impossibility of trying to do both simultaneously, and also have a better sense for what I want and need to do at Northwestern, I want to see what happens when I dedicate myself completely to this.”