Unseen and Unheard: Memories of working with “The Major”; the meaning behind ESPN’s annual credit roll

This year’s holiday credit roll will debut at the end of the 11:30 p.m. ET edition of SportsCenter on Wednesday, Dec. 24
This year’s ESPN employee credit roll will debut at the end of the 11:30 PM ET edition of SportsCenter on Wednesday, Dec. 24.

EDITOR’S NOTE: In 34-plus years at ESPN, Senior Vice President, Corporate Communications Chris LaPlaca has been a part of the evolution of a company that has changed the way sports are consumed. Today, his job takes him to all corners of the company – where he is fortunate to meet and work with colleagues from all walks of ESPN life. What makes ESPN different? In this recurring column, Chris will shed light on those answers through the eyes of the people he encounters every day, but that most fans rarely get to meet.

Companies are all the same – a collection of buildings, offices, cubes, meeting rooms, computers, tablets and phones – until the people show up. In a world driven by technology, people still make the difference.

The other night in New York City, former ESPN President Steve Bornstein was, quite appropriately, inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. In his remarks, he spoke eloquently about his family – his parents, his wife, his children. And then he spoke about his “other family”. . . his “ESPN work family.”

Those of us from ESPN who were there were touched by his remarks – especially given that (hopefully), the holidays are a time when thoughts of family and friends rush to center stage – and it got me thinking about the ESPN family of today. Here are just a very few of our stories.

“The Major” moves on

[For Judy Murrone,] no job was too big – or too small. And she did just about all of them in her more than three decades with ESPN.

2015 will be the first year in 34 that begins without a fixture at ESPN and in my group not sitting at her desk, accomplishing so many things not seen in the boxscore.

Judy Murrone, sometimes referred to as “The Major” in ESPN Communications because of her leadership in superbly filling any number of roles, retired a few months ago. She and I had been a team for 33 years.

On paper, she was my assistant.

In reality, the roles were often reversed.

She was the whole team’s “go-to” person for just about everything. She served on several Bristol (Conn.) boards and committees to give back to her hometown, and she won awards for her contributions. No job was too big – or too small.

And she did just about all of them in her more than three decades with ESPN.

There was the time in our infancy she took a call from actor Cary Grant, who wanted to know where our boxing ring announcer got his bow ties. . . and she didn’t believe it was him.

Or the time she had to give a speech in accepting one of her awards and she stressed for a month about it before nailing it at the podium.

For every one of those singular moments, there were hundreds of “Judy, who do you call for this?” and “Where do we keep the notepads?” and “How do we do expense reports again?” moments.

And she was always there, always the rock. I’m quite certain she had nightmares of me simply yelling her name from my office because that was often my first instinct at the first sign of trouble.

We had a retirement party for Judy this summer. Retirement parties are the closest we will ever get to attending our own funeral service, and hers was a blast!

People at all levels of ESPN attended, as did leaders from the Bristol community and, most importantly in keeping with the family theme, her immediate and extended family.

There were laughs, and some tears, and the very real sense that she had crafted an impactful career versus having just performed a job.

ESPN is filled with “Judys”

Judy was all about the work, period, and that is a common theme at ESPN.

Often, at the end of television shows, viewers see or hear credits – “shout outs,” if you will – to the key people who made it happen. We do it in full but once a year.

Since 1980, every employee at the company is publicly acknowledged in a credit roll that runs at this time of year. This year, it will run Christmas Eve after the 11:30 p.m. ET SportsCenter, and it will include every one of my roughly 7,000 colleagues. (Note: The credit roll will be published on Front Row on Friday, Dec. 26.)

I joined ESPN in 1980, and I have a vague memory of the effort lasting a few minutes at best in the early days. Today it takes around 30 minutes, and we also post it on our employee web site, which is funny when you consider that we didn’t have an employee web site back then – mostly because there was no Internet.

I remember lots of animated discussions back in the day.

“Why don’t we run credits like the other networks?” was a recurring question. I remember the “elders” at the time saying every job is important to our overall success, and that if we started running credits it would take too much time, where do you draw the line, someone will get left out, etc.

It’s better, they said, to focus more on the work itself.

They were planting the seeds of an “all for one and one for all” culture that is part of our secret sauce today.

Mike L’Etoile, editorial graphics production manager, is in charge of producing this year’s list, which takes months to compile and triple check, when you consider the global nature of ESPN and all of our different departments.

While I have heard many stories over the years of families – especially parents of ESPNers, and/or children of ESPNers – pointing animatedly to the screen when their loved one scrolls by – Mike has a different metric for success, given the pressure to get that much data exactly correct:

“Success for us is getting zero comments/feedback,” he said.

I’m reminded as well of another quote by another former company President, George Bodenheimer: “Imagine what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit.”

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Many of us this time of year are happy for the opportunity to spend some “down time” with family and friends. I’ll be doing the same, but I will also be thinking of my ESPN family who will be doing what they always do – working very hard to deliver on our promise to serve sports fans, anytime, anywhere. Thanks for being a fan and for taking the ride with us. Happy Holidays to all!

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