During Kenny Mayne’s final “SportsCenter,” he was asked to do something that he wasn’t known for: have a serious conversation.
“I used to joke, I’m a journal-tainer. I guess the best way to put it is, I always said, ‘I take serious things seriously and less serious things less seriously,’” Mayne told the Los Angeles Times after he closed out his run anchoring ESPN’s signature show Monday night.
“Sometimes you just have to call a highlight. Sometimes you’re reading about a guy charged with a crime. It’s not impossible to be able to wear both hats.”
And on Monday, it called for pressing Aaron Rodgers for details about his desire to be traded.
The full-circle moment for Mayne was recognizing the opportunities he received along the way while acknowledging there were times that he lacked leeway to bring ideas to life.
“It was kinda funny because, in my final show, like I got to kind of throw the kitchen sink, and having all those personalities on the show … was great,” Mayne said after his finale lineup featured Jamal Crawford, Sue Bird, Marshawn Lynch and Rodgers.
Viewers couldn’t tell there were technical difficulties behind the scenes. Mayne said he was surprised the show went smoothly, giving props to the producers and technical directors for working with him to create a finale that depicted his career at ESPN.
“It was almost like a practical joke, like it wasn’t going to work — my final show and it all falls apart,” Mayne said.
The person that everyone had been dying to hear from was Rodgers, who declined to report to the Packers’ optional team activities Monday.
The interview with Rodgers may have seemed as though Mayne was fighting tooth and nail to draw any answer out of Rodgers about the reigning NFL MVP’s future, but Mayne assures Rodgers knew the conversation was coming and they still had fun during Mayne’s final show.
“It’s funny because it’s a huge football story, but I was, maybe it was unnoticed … I was just being silly instead of really jamming him up. And he knew that,” Mayne said.
He surrounds himself with genuine people, and Rodgers was trying to play his part in helping celebrate the finale.
“I’m just here because it’s your last show, that’s the only reason that I’m here,” Rodgers said.
As Mayne and Rodgers said on air, their friendship was never in jeopardy, no matter what Rodgers may have said. Mayne noted ESPN urged him to get real news, but he would’ve been happy with just chatting with his buddy about UFOs or Rodgers’ wedding.
Having his friends on his final show was all that mattered.
Perhaps the most notable friendship, especially when it comes to being true to themselves, was his relationship with Lynch.
Lynch and Mayne have collaborated on multiple entertaining commercials and segments. And they maintain that connection when the cameras turn off.
They get a bad rap for their personalities and their similarities have only tightened their bond.
The chain restaurant-loving pair prides itself on not holding prejudice against anyone. Mayne is such a fan of Lynch, he said he would nominate Lynch to talk to the aliens if they ever were to show up.
What would Lynch say?
“I’d tell ’em, ‘What’s happening?’ We’d politic for a minute, if they were some cool aliens then maybe we’d put it together a little later on. But if not, ‘Y’all be easy to wherever y’all going,’” Lynch said during “SportsCenter.”
Lynch said Mayne’s words meant a lot when he went through a rough patch with the media and fans who saw him as a negative figure.
“You actually helped me help people understand that I was an alright individual,” Lynch told Mayne during his last “SportsCenter.”
Forging meaningful friendships and developing mentors helped Mayne create his ideal “SportsCenter” finale.
Mayne’s mentor list started before he was born. His mother was a writer. When he was a kid, his family would watch the evening news.
The writing basics were ingrained in Mayne from junior high. Whether it was English class with Mr. Mars, high school journalism with Mr. Gotchy or his late UNLV professor Allan Padderud, who introduced Mayne to “sink or swim” journalism.
“He gave us the basics, but when it came time for the higher level classes, he just gave us the rope to be good or not be good. To make your failings,” Mayne told The Times.
When he was younger, Mayne would pitch stories to former Seattle Times reporter Steve Kelley to get insight on whether a story was good.
He freelanced for ESPN for about four years. Mayne bugged John Walsh, former chairman of ESPN’s editorial board, the most for a job at the network. Mayne sent a desperate letter to Walsh with three options to choose from: hire him on the spot, keep working and his time would come, or he isn’t going to cut it.
At first glance, the letter illustrates what a middle school kid would write on a note and give to his crush to find out how the other person truly felt.
“That’s actually a great analogy, and that’s precisely what I was doing,” Mayne said.
This letter represented how drastically Mayne was yearning to get a full-on answer.
“I just thought I belonged. No offense to who was there, but I saw what was going on and I was like, ‘Well, I can do that.’ And I just didn’t give up until they finally relented,” Mayne said.
Al Jaffe, ESPN’s former vice president of talent from 1996 to 2015, was Mayne’s biggest champion and eventually offered him the full-time gig.
“I had to fight hard just to get to ESPN. I’d almost say that the biggest accomplishment was just getting there,” Mayne said. “I would call their 800 number, a joke book, so often it was easier to hire me than to keep paying that bill.”
Mayne now does the same for others, supporting young journalists as they work their way up.
Lance Zierlein, now a draft analyst for NFL.com, called Mayne for advice early in his career.
“Paying it forward has value,” Zierlein posted on Twitter.
Mayne preaches the basics are vital.
Get the story right, say the names right. When that part of it is mastered, be yourself. Mayne accepts any criticism that inevitably follows.
“We were reading tweets from people, and there were a handful of people who hate me and glad to see me leave, but some of them we’d read them and we’d just start laughing. … I’m not going to take away their right to hate me, they can go ahead and do so,” Mayne said.
It’s the mindset he wants to instill in young journalists, urging them to create their style despite what the critics may say.
“I really believe this, you just can’t fear failure. Like I was frustrated more than fear of failing,” Mayne said.
He has fielded inquiries since announcing his exit from ESPN, but his first priority is to “catch some air” and hang out with his family before deciding on what’s next.
Monday’s show had all the finale antics: Mayne displayed his humor, reminiscing with lifelong friends.
Nobody knows what the next act will look like, and he’s in no rush to figure it out.
“I don’t think it’s any time to decide like today, tonight, tomorrow. I think the right thing will happen when it happens,” Mayne said as Monday bled into Tuesday, the first day after his “SportsCenter” run ended.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.