An NFL career – and life – off track: ESPN Audio’s “Finding Nittmo” podcast debuts
A most curious tale of a life that’s taken a sudden and puzzling turn is the topic of the latest SC Featured podcast from ESPN Audio: Finding Nittmo – the curious post-NFL life of former placekicker Bjorn Nittmo.
The first Swedish-born player to play a full season in the NFL (N.Y. Giants, 1989), Nittmo bounced around various pro leagues for more than 10 years – training camp with other NFL teams, playing in Arena Football (three different teams), CFL and the World League of American football. Along the way, he even became a favorite of David Letterman, appearing on the late-night show a number of times, and he was in “Any Given Sunday”.
But, it was on one play in a 1997 Tampa Bay–Atlanta preseason NFL game that altered Nittmo’s life forever. And that of his wife and four children in Texas.
A concussion – the third of his career – while attempting to tackle the Falcons ballcarrier on the opening kickoff wiped much of his memory and changed him forever.
On the sidelines, he couldn’t remember if the game had started. In news reports that week, he claimed to have no memory of the previous two weeks. In the years that followed, his recall of the past was largely gone. Soon, he was too.
Today, his family rarely sees him and has no certainty as to his whereabouts or how he survives.
The two-part podcast (nearly 40 minutes each), “Finding Nittmo,” was co-produced by Barry Abrams and Christine Newby. With the help of Nittmo’s wife, ESPN Features Unit producer Dan Arruda and reporter Chris Connelly tracked down the elusive Nittmo in Arizona last fall.
“He lives a very nomadic life and travels from job to job,” Arruda said. “Most of his days are spent driving around Northern Arizona putting up satellite dishes and installing internet cable. He’s not going to return phone calls or texts, so getting him to sit down for an interview is very difficult. You just kind of show up where you think he might be and hope that he agrees.”
SC Featured’s video profile of Nittmo debuted Sunday, April 23 on SportsCenter.
Long-form podcasts are the latest iteration of ESPN’s hallmark of storytelling. Without the time constraints inherent to television, podcasts allow for a more expansive – and, despite the lack of visuals, expressive – deep dive into compelling podcasts.
Gus Coletti, senior managing producer in the Features Unit, has been overseeing the SC Featured podcasts since their February debut. They are an outgrowth of last summer’s Pin Kings, a 16-episode series that accompanied treatments on TV, online and in ESPN The Magazine.
“In the audio-only environment, we have the time to expand the key themes, narratives, and characters. . . pulling back the curtain through the perspective and commentary from the producer and reporter in the field,” he explains. “We, get a clearer picture of Bjorn and what has become of his life.”
After working in TV studio production at ESPN for more than eight years, Coletti recognizes the challenges to now producing solely for the ear, not the eye and ear.
“The biggest challenge coming from the visual world is how to create images through sound,” he says. “Yet, there’s so much creativity and leeway. We use music, sound captured in the field, anecdotes and narration from Jen Lada.”
Pete Gianesini, senior director, digital audio programming, has high hopes for the series.
“When SC Featured reached out to us about a podcast, we jumped at it,” he says. “We have collaborated at times, adapting the great work they do to tell the story in audio form, but now with a regular series we can bring the listener even deeper into and behind more stories.”