“A Story Unlike Any Other I’ve Ever Been A Part Of …”

#SCFeatured's Gene Wojciechowski reports on NBA star Marc Gasol's work rescuing immigrants

Veteran ESPN reporter Gene Wojciechowski has had many award-winning storytelling adventures.

However, for Sunday’s SC Featured, Wojciechowski traveled to the Mediterranean Sea and within 80 miles of the Libyan coast for what he describes as “a story unlike any other I’ve ever been a part of.”

Last year, Marc Gasol of the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies had a chance meeting with the founder of Proactiva Open Arms, a group that rescues immigrants fleeing war, persecution, and poverty via the open sea. Last month, Gasol joined a search-and-rescue effort, and Wojciechowski and ESPN producer Jason Johnson went along to document.

“Open Arms” will debut in the 10 a.m. ET edition of SportsCenter on Sunday and re-air in other editions.

Wojciechowski discussed the making of the piece with Front Row:

You went out to sea on the actual rescue ship?
We did. There were two rescue ships — we were with Marc on the escort ship, a converted yacht retrofitted for these missions. The main ship is a converted tugboat. We joined Marc in his hometown of Barcelona, flew to Malta, met the rescue ships 45 miles offshore on a Monday, and were at sea until that Saturday.

You were there to do a story, but did you also participate?

As de facto crew members (the full-time crew on the ship is very small), we were expected to help when needed. If that meant cleaning the kitchen area, helping serve meals, etc., we did it. During an actual rescue, we were with Marc on a small speedboat dispatched to the wreckage of a raft used by immigrants. What we found that morning would later become an international incident: two bodies floating amongst the mangled remains of the rubber raft … and, miraculously, also a survivor. And once we returned to the main ship, we were asked to assist in the transfer of bodies to the upper deck. They needed help, so we helped.

That’s what I mean by saying it was unlike any story I’ve ever covered. Jason and I were there to chronicle the mission, but sometimes the mission required an extra set of hands. You tried to balance the requirements of your job with the reality of the humanitarian nature of that mission. It was a heartbreaking and tragic experience, but also uplifting in ways we hope will be obvious in the piece.

<center><strong><em>SC Featured</em> Coordinating Producer Picks Three Stories That Resonated in 2018<br /> </strong></center>

Sunday marks the end of the 2018 season for SC Featured, the award-winning storytelling brand of SportsCenter.

Victor Vitarelli, senior coordinating producer in ESPN Features who oversees SC Featured, was asked to select three stories from the 2018 season that resonated with viewers. His choices:

  • Memorial Day— An essay by Steelers star and former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva about the meaning of Memorial Day.
  • Respect — Born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome, Andrew Peterson became a three-time Special Olympics gold medalist and Boston Marathon qualifier after a man fought to adopt him and his three siblings.
  • Bubba Wallace — Profile of up-and-coming NASCAR star Bubba Wallace who is the only African-American driver currently on the circuit.
  • Since its debut in 2013, the SC Featured brand has brought unique and compelling feature stories to SportsCenter during the months of the NFL offseason. New SC Featured stories will return in February.

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