With signature multi-colored socks and a personality to match, John A. Walsh’s impact on ESPN has been vivid. Tasked in 1987 with bringing a greater editorial sensibility to ESPN, Walsh retires today with a vast legacy that helped shape the organization as a whole and sports journalism in general.
From transitioning sports writers to TV, to re-inventing SportsCenter, to being a central figure in the launches of ESPN Radio, ESPN.com, ESPN The Magazine, ESPNEWS, ESPN2, The ESPYS and the company’s editorial board, Walsh’s impact is felt by sports fans on a daily basis.
Walsh has mentored countless reporters and co-workers and among those he counseled is now ESPN President John Skipper. The Johns teamed up on the early days of ESPN The Magazine and the colleagues continued to work closely on a wide-range of editorial projects. Today, Skipper shared his thoughts in a memo to ESPN’s staff:
“John has been celebrated often, and appropriately so, for bringing a newspaperman’s sensibilities to television. He was the among the first to recognize that print reporters and editors could thrive in television, that news involving sports is still news and that fans would respond to smart content that educated them beyond scores with breaking stories, provocative features and enterprise reporting. The SportsCenter of 1987 is vastly different from the show we enjoy today thanks in large measure to John.
“He led the charge in creating the ESPYS, which have given us some of our most iconic and heartfelt moments, an enduring tribute to Arthur Ashe and has helped to raise millions for cancer research. He has been a mentor and confidant to hundreds; was instrumental in launching many of our businesses and shows that feature journalism and storytelling in their foundation, including ESPN Radio, ESPN.com, Outside the Lines and our NFL and MLB studio shows; and established the Editorial Board and the written guidelines and policies we follow in our Content division.”
Walsh earned his journalistic reputation via leadership positions at Newsday, the Washington Post, Rolling Stone and Inside Sports. So he was well equipped to help nurture the rapidly expanding ESPN empire, where journalism was at the center of considerable growth. The photos above give a glimpse into the people and the products Walsh has impacted.