Showtime Sports president and general manager Stephen Espinoza, who has overseen the network’s sports programming, including its boxing franchise, since 2011, gets numerous calls, texts and emails on any given day. But those who were trying to get in touch with him this past spring were met largely with silence.
The reason? Espinoza was quite ill with Covid-19.
“I’ve never been in a situation where I was too sick to text or email,” Espinoza told BoxingScene.com in his first public remarks on his bout with the illness. “And I could not pick up my head and I could not get it together enough to text people back or answer phone calls or write an email.”
Espinoza lives in Manhattan, where Showtime is based, and New York City, of course, was the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States this past spring. Like so many others, Espinoza caught the coronavirus.
“My girlfriend ( Jeannena) and I both had it,” Espinoza said. “Imagine the worst flu you ever had combined with the worst hangover you can imagine -- at the same time -- and that’s what it felt like.”
Espinoza said his girlfriend caught the disease first and likely is the one who passed it on to him.
“She used to work for the Lakers and she went to (Los Angeles) for the Kobe (Bryant) memorial (which took place on Feb. 24) and probably got it there. She got sick as soon as she got back. She brought it back.”
Espinoza said he came down with symptoms about a week later.
“She had it for several days and I thought I was good,” Espinoza said.
But then he also caught it. “I was dead to the world at that point,” he said.
By mid-March the sports world was shutting down because of the coronavirus pandemic and Showtime aired what turned out to be the final live boxing event for several months when it televised a “ShoBox: The New Generation” quadrupleheader headlined by junior welterweight prospect Brandun Lee against Camilo Prieto on March 13 from the Grand Casino in Hinckley, Minnesota, where organizers at the last minute decided to move forward with the show but barred spectators due to concerns about the virus.
“I was just barely able pick up my head and watch that,” said Espinoza, who was in the midst of his month-long battle with the illness.
“It was a week of being in bed unable to move or get out of bed and then about three more weeks of just being exhausted all the time,” Espinoza said. “It took everything I could just to get up to go the bathroom.”
Espinoza said Jeannena was even more ill than he was.
“She had it much worse. She had a temperature of 104 for several days and lung pain and difficulty breathing,” said Espinoza, adding that they were ill at a time when it was very difficult to get tested for Covid-19 in New York.
“Fast forward to June/July when testing became (more widely) available and I went in and got tested for the hell of it and I had the antibodies. So I definitely had it,” he said.
Espinoza said he is “pretty much back to normal” but that Jeannena still has some ongoing lung problems.
He said the illness was bad and that he’d rather take a big punch from professional fighters set to co-headline their first Showtime PPV card on Sept. 26.
“I’d rather take a left hook from Jermall or Jermall Charlo easily, because it would be intense pain and then you’re recovering,” Espinoza said with a laugh. “Covid I think it is definitely worse.”
Dan Rafael was ESPN.com's senior boxing writer for fifteen years, and covered the sport for five years at USA Today. He was the 2013 BWAA Nat Fleischer Award winner for excellence in boxing journalism.