Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame Ceremony Honors Eight Inductees, Raises Funds for Those in Need
The Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame honored eight of the industry’s most respected and beloved icons during an emotional ceremony at the New York Hilton Hotel on Dec. 11. The sixth-annual celebration, hosted by CBS broadcaster Jim Nantz, once again reinforced the familial and intimate nature of an industry that values the art of storytelling and personal relationships above all else.
The Hall of Fame’s sixth class was made up of ESPN Executive Chairman George Bodenheimer, audio pioneer Ray Dolby, famed NFL commentator Frank Gifford, CBS and Fox Sports visionary production executive Ed Goren, trailblazing NBC cameraman Cory Leible, longtime NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, NBC operations and engineering guru Jack Weir, and iconic broadcaster Jack Whitaker.
The ceremony not only praised those who have laid the foundation for today’s sports-broadcasting landscape but also remembered industry professionals suffering personal tragedy, with all ticket sales for this year’s ceremony going directly to the SVG Sports Broadcasting Fund for the second consecutive year. In addition, the Hall encouraged attendees to contribute to the fund to assist industry professionals and their families in need.
The evening kicked off with the induction of Bodenheimer, who shepherded ESPN into the modern era during his 13 years as network president in the ’90s and 2000s. He becomes the second ESPN chief in the Hall of Fame, following Chet Simmons’ induction in 2011. But, where Simmons guided the fledgling network through its early years, Bodenheimer turned ESPN into a multibillion-dollar property that is the envy of the entire industry.
“My gratitude to the Hall of Fame voters who selected me for this honor is exceeded only by my deep and sincere appreciation for the people of ESPN, many of whom are here tonight,” he said. “Their hard work, their belief in our mission 33 years ago when our vision was just a dream and anything was certain, their tenacity, humility, and commitment to do better tomorrow than they did today, their passion to embrace what’s next in serving sports fans, those are the reasons why I am here tonight.”
Few voices, few faces are more identified with the legend of Monday Night Football than Frank Gifford’s. The New York Giants legend transformed MNF into one of the most beloved properties in all of
sports. Gifford’s induction Tuesday night began with a video tribute from the current MNF team of Mike Tirico and Jon Gruden and led into a moving speech by one of the most versatile voices in the history of sports television.
“It’s been a great life and a great run for me, and I’ve enjoyed it very much,” said Gifford. “I’m so proud of the events in which I was a privilege to be a part of, but it was the technicians and people behind the scenes that made that all happen and deserve so much of the credit. I am truly honored.”
Ray Dolby’s induction marked yet another chapter in a long line of achievements for the godfather of multichannel audio. Over the past half century, Dolby has become a name synonymous with high quality and innovation in the world of broadcasting and live sports audio. After founding Dolby Laboratories in 1965, Ray went on to spearhead the move to surround sound and in doing so changed the way viewers experience sports on television.
“Ray realizes that sports broadcasters have helped drive the adoption of surround sound, HD, 3D, and more,” said Dolby Labs’ Broadcast Applications Engineer Ken Hunold, who accepted on behalf of Dolby. “You, as an industry, have blazed the trail with us, and we will be there with you in the future to continue to do what you do best.”
Nantz said it best during his introduction of cherished broadcaster Jack Whitaker: he was more poet than reporter. Whitaker’s unique on-air spin during CBS and ABC Sports telecasts brought a provocative, intellectual voice to sports television. Most identified with golf, horseracing, and Olympics coverage, he was still at the top of his game during his memorable acceptance speech.
“Thank you so much for giving this wonderful award in time for me to remember that I’ve gotten it,” joked the 88-year-old Whitaker. “I will tell you that any time I can be in the same club as Jack Buck, Jim McKay, and the rest of these [inductees], I consider myself a lucky man.”
In 45 years behind the scenes at NBC, Jack Weir revolutionized the network’s engineering and operations workflow while helping to build the Olympics into the sports-television juggernaut it is today. Weir, who passed away in 2010, was an authoritative yet modest and beloved leader, or, as his son John put it during the ceremony, “a funny combination of humble and in charge.”
“I know he would be happy to get this award, but he’d shrug and say it was not big deal,” Weir’s son Rob said during the acceptance speech. “What would have meant the most to him would be sharing this moment with so many colleagues in this room he loved and respected for so many years and to have a lot of his family here.”
Without Cory Leible, American sports fans would be a disenfranchised bunch. His use of the handheld camera for helicopter-facilitated aerial shots and close-ups on golf-course putting greens, as well as sideline and end-zone shots for NFL coverage on NBC, delivered an intimate view of the action that fans had never before seen. Not surprisingly, the humble daredevil’s humorous speech proved to be one of the highlights of the evening.
“I’ve now been to two inductions — the first one was the Army, and they have me a gun at that one. This is a beautiful award so I think I prefer this one,” he laughed. “I’m just so honored to be here with all of these amazing [fellow inductees]. It’s not every day that they put you in the same company as this, and I am very appreciative of that.”
As fellow inductee Ed Goren said during the night’s festivities, “You never want to be the guy who follows the guy, especially when that guy is Pete Rozelle.” However, Paul Tagliabue did it and became one of the most legendary commissioners in the history of pro sports, guiding the NFL into an age of unprecedented labor peace and record television deals that would make the league one of the most powerful and lucrative sports entities on the planet.
“It’s important to remember the shoulders you stand on: [fellow Hall of Famers] Pete Rozelle, Val Pinchbeck, and so many others,” he said. “And as good as you are, you are only as good as your partners: the David Hills, Dick Ebersols, and George Bodenheimers. But most importantly, you are never anything without the players and coaches. What we do is easy compared to what they do on the field. It’s not only the great players but how may of them have gone into broadcasting. We are the beneficiaries of their talent.”
After more than two successful decades at CBS and CBS Sports, Ed Goren made a bold career choice in 1999: he left the Tiffany network for a fledgling Fox Sports outfit that had a lone feather in its hat: a newly signed NFL-rights deal. The move proved to be a defining moment in a career built on fearlessness and a willingness to break the rules in order to make way for innovation. At Fox, Goren secured a portfolio of rights that would become the envy of the industry and also helped innovate some of the most groundbreaking production tools in the history of sports television, most notably the Fox Box score/clock graphic.
With his audacious career, legendary loyalty, and endearing personality, Goren made clear during his acceptance speech that he will always be grateful to be part of a tightly knit industry that has always paid it forward.
“I’ve been extremely grateful to work with people like this. Functions like this are really special because it reminds us all of how small our little community is and how fortunate we all are to have worked in this industry,” Goren said. “In a way, it truly is a family … yes, at times dysfunctional, but, more often than not, it’s a family that appreciates and celebrates the wonderfully talented people who work in sports television and actually call it work.”