Incredible redemption of TV’s biggest joke
Lisa Guerrero wasn't sure she wanted to live anymore.
After one season as a sideline reporter in America for Monday Night Football, she was fired. She was humiliated and clinically depressed.
Since her mother died of lymphoma when Guerrero was eight, sports had been her bond with her father. In 2004, after she lost her job, she tried to avoid sports entirely as she was in a fog, often unable to rise from bed in the morning, feeling bullied by criticism and taunts after being one-and-done on MNF - the brightest stage on the NFL scene.
One day, months after her firing, she drove on the Pacific Coast Highway in California. Out of old habit, she mistakenly flipped on sports radio.
The hosts cackled, reading a column from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper that ransacked her name, focusing on her looks and calling her MNF's "biggest liability ever". She pulled over.
"I considered killing myself," Guerrero told The New York Post.
She had fallen from working with iconic commentator Al Michaels and legendary NFL coach and broadcaster John Madden in prime time to a punchline. She felt smothered.
A former cheerleader for NFL team the LA Rams, actress, swimsuit model and magazine cover girl, she was presented by many, upon her 2003 MNF hiring, as a bimbo. Since the move failed, the narrative stuck. The shots fired at her were incessant.
It was not, however, the end of Lisa Guerrero.
FEARLESS REPORTER A WORLD AWAY FROM THE NFL
Before diving into yesteryear, it is probably best to start with today. The best way to describe Guerrero's job description these days is: crusading reporter for American entertainment TV show Inside Edition.
While someone unfamiliar with an investigative reporter's role on a news/entertainment show might think it is fluff, her job certainly is not. It is dangerous, not glamorous. And she fights for those wronged.
"Part of what I do now is to physically go out and confront people," said Guerrero, 56. "A lot of them are bad people, criminal and dangerous."
In 2012, her report led to a Nebraska man being tried and found guilty of intentional child abuse that led to a two-year-old's death. Dustin Chauncy is in prison for 80 years to life.
Nearly a decade ago, she went for an unscheduled interview with a paediatric dentist in Arizona, who was allegedly performing unnecessary procedures on young patients. Guerrero was clipped by the dentist's car as he drove off to avoid her interview. She first flew home before going to urgent care. She had a few bruises.
Recently, she reported on Marcus Lamb, a leader of one of the world's largest religious networks, Daystar Television. After Lamb accepted an $AUD5.1 million loan as part of the Paycheck Protection Program implemented to aid the economic recovery during the COVID-19 shutdown in America, Guerrero reported that Lamb bought a multimillion-dollar private jet. She chased him down, which resulted in him returning the PPP loan, although he claims he made the purchase with other money.
She has won more than 30 national awards for investigative journalism.
WHAT HAPPENED ON MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL
Guerrero has never before told her side of her Monday Night Football experience or its aftermath, bottling up her feelings for nearly two decades.
When the Monday Night Football hiring process began in 2003, she had no aspirations for the job. However, the MNF executive producer at the time, Fred Gaudelli, noticed her work on Fox Sports' Best Damn Sports Show.
Yes, she was attractive, but she was intelligent, too. She had been a sportscaster for nearly a decade. What she wasn't was a sideline reporter, and she did not want to be one.
She had turned down opportunities to try it out during college football games for Fox Sports. When MNF called, she initially told her agent, Ken Lindner, to decline the chance.
"Are you crazy? It's Monday Night Football," Guerrero recalled Lindner saying.
He wore her down and, since she was travelling from Los Angeles to New York do to a lingerie cover shoot for men's magazine FHM, she agreed to meet with Gaudelli. He told her the job would focus on entertainment and football. She vividly remembers him saying it would not be an "X's and O's" sideline job, meaning she wouldn't be required to analyse the games in great technical detail.
"I was like, 'Oh, that changed the whole thing for me'," Guerrero said.
She got the job, but when it was announced, the sports/entertainment distinction wasn't publicised. There was immediate criticism both inside the industry and outside, painting her as a cheerleader/model breaking the sanctity of the sideline.
Iconic American sportscaster Keith Olbermann reportedly suggested Michaels and Madden should resign in protest.
Before the first game, when the FHM cover came out, the "pearl clutchers" at parent company Disney, in Guerrero's words, didn't want the sports entertainment role anymore. It became more of a traditional sideline job, which, of course, she had zero experience doing.
The first slip-up was at the end of the opening night game. She asked Washington quarterback Patrick Ramsey about ex-teammate Laveranues Coles. The problem was, they weren't ex-teammates at all - they were still playing together on the same team.
She corrected herself and it really doesn't sound that terrible in hindsight. However, it fed the narrative. While she struggled on-air, her off-air experience was worse.
She would throw up before each game and lost 3.6kg during the season. As the year went on, she was relegated to pre-packaged feature stories. Her now-ex-husband, former Major League baseball star Scott Erickson, was spotted on the sideline with her, which became a topic of debate.
In her eyes, her relationship with Gaudelli, who had championed her for the job, deteriorated in an unhealthy manner.
"I was terrified," Guerrero said. "People at home probably looked at it as, 'She's scared of the job. She's intimidated by Monday Night Football'. I wasn't afraid of the job. I was afraid of (Gaudelli).
"I was afraid of him screaming at me after every game and during the game. I cried every game. It was awful."
Gaudelli and Guerrero's views of what transpired differ.
"I've always held the production and engineering crew, the announcers and, most of all, myself to the highest of standards on all shows," Gaudelli, who is now the executive producer of NBC's Sunday Night Football, said in a statement to The Post.
"I believe this approach has maximised the performance of those I've worked with for 34 years. I like Lisa. I did my best to support and encourage her. I'm disappointed to be hearing about this for the first time 17 years after we worked together on Monday Night Football."
It was not the right fit.
THE WARRIOR WITHIN
For Guerrero, sports have always been the bond with her dad, while her last name keeps her mother's memory alive.
When her mother died, she and her father, social worker Walter Coles, became best friends, cheering the Rams in the NFL, the LA Dodgers in the MLB and the LA Lakers in the NBA.
In her 20s, Lisa wanted to honour her mother and her Latina roots by taking Lucy Guerrero's last name. Before her mother died, when she was six or seven, she remembered her mum repeatedly telling her that Guerrero means "warrior" in Spanish.
So there she was on the side of the Pacific Coast Highway, mistakenly turning on sports radio. And these radio hosts were delivering maybe the final crushing blows to her love of sports and her bond with her father and sullying her last name. She felt empty and it pushed her to the edge, suicidal thoughts raging in her head.
"I don't want to be humiliated the rest of my life," she remembers thinking.
As she sat on the side of the highway contemplating her life, she called her dad. Coles earned his master's degree in social services from the University of Chicago. He leaned on that, coaxing her to go on and telling her that there was life after Monday Night Football.
"'It is not just sports for you'," her dad told her. "I don't know how many times he had to tell me before it got through my head that sports isn't everything."
She listened to her dad, not the radio hosts.
"I want Monday Night Football to be a line on my resume, but I don't want Monday Night Football to be the last line on my resume, so I picked myself up, and I really started to think hard about what I wanted to do," Guerrero said.
TOPLESS PLAYBOY SHOOT TO THE RESCUE
She used her looks to her advantage. Playboy had been asking her to do a shoot forever and she had said no.
"At this point, I'm almost 40 - I think I was 39 - and Latina and, as you know, most Playboy covers are very young blondes," Guerrero said. "I thought, what if I were to negotiate this cover?"
The cover was pretty wholesome, while she posed topless inside the magazine. She used the press tour to tout her desire to work in entertainment TV, which led to the Inside Edition gig shortly after.
By 2010, she was promoted to investigations, where she is a sensation. Her 2019 interview with preacher Kenneth Copeland about his wealth has more than six million views on YouTube. She is so calm and composed, and her questions are on point.
That is the thing about where she was on Monday Night Football and where she is now. When she received the sideline job, the knock was she was too FHM. Her critics claimed she wasn't a real enough journalist to be reporting on football injuries and halftime adjustments.
It didn't work and she was picked on across the US. That's why it all hit her so hard. It felt like bullying and it was incessant.
Today, at Inside Edition, she tracks down the bullies.
After all she went through and where she is now, you'd better know what Lisa Guerrero's last name means. She picked herself up like a warrior.
"I wake up and pinch myself every day," Guerrero said. "I can't believe I get to chase bad guys every day for a living. I get to make a difference in people's lives and I get to make change happen. I get to be a victim's advocate."
This article first appeared on the New York Post and was reproduced with permission
Originally published as Incredible redemption of TV's biggest joke