Victor Vitarelli, senior coordinating producer in ESPN’s Features Unit, explained the network’s approach for this and other such shoots, where safety may be a concern: “For every feature that we produce internationally, as well as some domestic stories, we involve ESPN Vice President of Global Security for ESPN Michael Heimbach. ESPN Security has contacts on the ground who can determine the safety of sending our employees there and also serve as a resource throughout the duration of the shoot.”
On Sunday morning, SC Featured, the storytelling brand of ESPN’s flagship news and information program SportsCenter, returns with the story of Nick Pugliese, an American who found an opportunity to continue his soccer career in Afghanistan’s pro soccer league. The feature will debut during the 10 a.m. ET SportsCenter with re-airs all day. Producer Dan Arruda, a 12-year ESPN veteran, spent 10 days in Kabul during September and October with Pugliese and talked to Front Row about the experience.
How did the opportunity to do this feature come about?
I saw the story on SI.com written by Grant Wahl and I just thought it was a fascinating story. I mentioned it to Victor Vitarelli [senior coordinating producer in ESPN’s Features Unit] not really thinking there was much of a possibility of being able to go over and do it. That’s how the ball started rolling.
What was it that drew you to it?
I was just fascinated by the idea of an American all by himself living in this country and of all the things, he was playing professional soccer. It just seemed very surprising to me and I wondered what his life was like.
So that’s how you advanced the story, by bringing into it what his life’s like over there?
I reached out to Nick through email and we started Skyping once a week for a couple of weeks just so we could get comfortable with one another and he could tell me about himself and his life. I think I realized he would make a great subject of a story and I kind of knew what his life was like and what his routine was like and what he was doing there. It gave us a better idea of how we could do the story.
Did you ever feel like you were in a place you shouldn’t be or did you ever feel unsafe?
There’s a company over there that offers security services for journalists and media members so we stayed within their compound. There were always armed security guards with us everywhere we went. And we were out in public places with cameras and we never were made to feel threatened or anything of that nature at all. People were extremely friendly and open and welcomed us into their homes, so I never once felt like we were in a place we shouldn’t be. Obviously you drive around the city and there are armed military and police members on almost every corner, so you do realize that you’re in a place that can be dangerous, but we never saw anything that made us afraid or fear for our lives.
Was it an experience you’ll never forget?
No doubt about it. Thanks to this job I’ve been able to travel throughout the world – I’ve been to South Africa, South America throughout and into Europe, but I’d never been to the Middle East. Just seeing a culture and a way of life that I’d never experienced before was absolutely fascinating and opened my eyes to a whole different place in the world, and I will never forget my time there.