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ESPN at 40: Chapter 4 of 4

ESPN at 40


EDITOR’S NOTE: In the course of gathering content to surround ESPN’s 40th anniversary on Sept. 7, producers spoke with dozens of current and former ESPN employees.

To commemorate its 40th anniversary, SportsCenter Special: ESPN’s 40, a collection of 40 testimonials from ESPNers past and present, was televised Friday, Sept. 6, at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.

Whenever large historical projects like this are undertaken by our content creators, there is inevitably a treasure trove of material that just doesn’t make the cut. But it’d be a shame to not share some of those gems.

Front Row is honored to be able to share some of this bonus content, along with archival photos and helpful links and snippets of content that live on other ESPN platforms.

We hope you enjoy and we thank you for 40 years of fanship and memories.

Chapter 1 | 2 | 3

Talk to any ESPN employee about working for the largest sports media company in the world and inevitably the culture of ESPN will be brought up. From the little start-up that could to the big behemoth that DOES, there has always been an underdog mentality that permeates throughout ESPN. It’s a culture of being bold but not cocky; brave but not brazen and most of all, at the end of the day, it’s about sports fans creating unmatched content – and memories – for fellow sports fans. Here, in our final chapter, is what ESPN means to those who work here and a sampling of their indelible memories.

The employees are ESPN’s most valuable commodity. . .

Bob Ley, Host, Outside the Lines, Anchor, SportsCenter (1979-2019)
You can’t create a culture. Culture occurs organically, and it occurs from the people in it, the quality of the people, the way they react, especially the challenges, and I’ve seen it. That aspect, the human caring aspect, the dedication to your job, the loyalty to your fellow teammates here, that is what propelled us. I see it best exemplified in some of the sadder moments, when people have challenges in their life or tragedies.

George Bodenheimer, President (1981-2011)
A perfect example: During Stu Scott’s memorable ESPYS speech (2014) where he was talking about how his colleagues cared for him when he was ill. You know the ESPN people come to help each other and we’ve always had each other’s back. It’s because it’s the people of ESPN that create and fulfill and live and carry the culture forward.

Rob King, Senior Vice President, Original Content (2004-Present)
So, I get to ESPN, and truth is I don’t know much about the television business. I don’t really know how to log in. I’m living in temporary housing. My wife and my son are still down in New Jersey because we hadn’t sold our house yet. I’m drinking out of a firehose. And the phone rings, and I pick up the phone, and it’s George Bodenheimer. It’s the president of the company calling me hours after I got on campus. You hear about ESPN’s culture. You hear about its welcoming nature. But this is the kind of place where the president of the company is going to reach out to a new employee on Day One, and it has always had that spirit. It is something that we should all cherish.

Bob Ley
People just rally. It’s unspoken and it’s unsaid, and you see it time and again. If we didn’t have that, we’d have a successful company after 40 years, but we would not have ESPN.

Sage Steele, Anchor, SportsCenter (2007-Present)
It was LeBron’s first season back in Cleveland and the Cavs made it to the 2015 NBA Finals against the Warriors. We were 90 seconds out from the start of NBA Countdown. . . And all of a sudden it hit me, and I looked around and I got completely choked up. It hit me that I’m literally living my childhood dream.

The key to me is to never forget where you came from, never forget those dreams that you had when you were little girl and people told you, `Are you crazy? You can never do that.’ I try to tell myself on the tough days, never ever forget where you came from.

Steve Bornstein, President (1980-99)
ESPN is, to me, the greatest entertainment company that I’m aware of. Because they take their sport seriously, but they don’t take themselves too seriously.

Keith Olbermann, Anchor, SportsCenter (1992-1997, 2013-Present)
What does the brand ESPN mean to me? Well, here in my sixth incarnation working for the network I find it a familiar home to return to. My parents are gone now and my childhood home is not quite the same thing, but always ESPN is there when I need it. As a safe haven as a place to go when I can’t get employment anywhere else! But, seriously, it’s amazing to see. We showed a lot of monster trucks in the ‘80s, and to go from that to literally fulfilling the old tagline of the `Worldwide Leader in Sports’ is quite an accomplishment.

Scott Van Pelt, Anchor, SportsCenter (2001-Present)
The beauty of coming to work here every day on SportsCenter is that something might happen that’s never happened, and when it does, if you get to do SportsCenter that night, then you get to be the ones that are talking about the thing that’s never happened.

Stan Verrett, Anchor, SportsCenter (2000-Present)
Still to this day, I think about the enormity of what ESPN is. And there are moments when my face is the only one on ESPN, when there’s a single shot on me, that still blows me away. And if you’re going to occupy that space, then you better bring it because there’s an expectation that’s been set by the people who came before you about that brand. This is ESPN. This is SportsCenter. This is the gold standard in sports journalism. And you have to hold up your end of the bargain as you inherit that responsibility. And I never ever lose sight of it.

Pablo S. Torre, Senior Writer,, Co-Host, High Noon (2012-Present)
Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon, the hosts of PTI, they played a lot of golf with President Barack Obama and they are very careful to not disclose any of these intimate details. But I got clearance to tell one: Barack Obama once asked the following question: `Is Pablo Torre Filipino?’ 

I am. I am a hundred-percent Filipino, and the fact that Barack Obama saw me on ESPN and asked that question to himself and wanted to know the answer that tells me everything about the power of ESPN and the platform that I suddenly found myself on. It blew my mind and I want that written somewhere on my gravestone when I die. `Is Pablo Torre Filipino?’ – President Barack Obama.

Ashley Williams, Production Assistant (2018-Present)
Growing up, I was super involved in sports. My first sport that I ever played is cheerleading. And I love that I would always have arguments with classmates that cheerleading wasn’t a sport. And I could say, `No, it’s on ESPN, it’s absolutely a sport.’

Max Kellerman, Featured Commentator, First Take, Boxing Analyst (1998-Present)
It’s like the `Cheers’ episode where Norm gets a job as a beer taster. You kind of feel like Norm with the job as a beer taster. It is your job, right? It’s your freaking job to follow sports.

Matthew Berry, Senior Analyst, Fantasy Sports (2007-Present)
I get asked all the time, `So you’re ESPN’s fantasy football guy, right? Like, you do fantasy football for the largest sports media company in the world. Is this your dream job?’ And I’m always like, `No. When I was dreaming of jobs, this didn’t exist.’ Like when I was in college, who thought you could make a living at fake football?

Stephen A. Smith, Featured Commentator, First Take (2003-Present)
You’re going to work night and day. You’re going to fill these airwaves. In the end it’s about relationships. It’s about family. It’s about having a great, great time at doing what you do, and it personifies the meaning of a career instead of a job. A job is doing what you have to do to get paid, and to either sustain or elevate your quality of life. A career is doing what you want to do. You never feel like you’re punching a clock when you love what you do, and you love the people that you’re doing it with. And that, to me, personifies everything that ESPN has been about.

Rosa Gatti – Senior Vice President,  Communications and Corporate Citizenship (1980-2013)
A few years before retirement, I realized I was the one continuous  leader in senior management meetings since 1980 – a witness of amazing history.  What stands out, above all, are memories of the wonderful, dedicated, selfless people – the team that built this cultural icon. Few people have such an opportunity. I was blessed to be a part of it.

George Grande, Anchor, SportsCenter (1979-1989)
I think all of us had a vision. We hoped that there were enough people out there like us who wanted more sports, who wanted more scores, who wanted more highlights. And I think what time has proven is that, yes, there were a lot of people out there who thought the same way we thought.

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