It Was All About Family at Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame Ceremony
The Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame celebrated its fifth anniversary on Dec. 13 with an emotional ceremony that honored eight of the industry’s greatest past and present forces.
From start to finish, the theme of the ceremony was the unique nature of the sports-broadcasting industry that redefines the very nature of “family.” The emotional bonds and attachments formed by a career in sports production can often become as strong as the blood bonds connecting parent and child.
Inductee Dick Ebersol, former chairman of NBC Sports and Olympics, said the yearly event reaffirms those bonds.
“[It shows] how much those in the industry depend on one another, how lucky we are to have one another, and not just in going out and doing a great show. Or coming to each other’s rescue when something falls apart or doesn’t work,” he said. “But I saw it tonight with the [Ron] Scalise family and what this industry did for our family in a time of real tragedy. This is a really, really special group of people in this room. It is a remarkable family.”
The induction of late sportscaster Jack Buck kicked off the ceremony, with his son Joe Buck, current Fox Sports lead play-by-play announcer, accepting on his father’s behalf. For the father of eight, family was obviously important, but Joe said his father’s caring extended beyond his own family to those who worked for him or people he simply met.
NFL Films President and visionary Steve Sabol was on hand for the ceremony to join his father Ed as the first and only father-son duo ever to be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
“A night like tonight reminds me how many people are truly involved in making a film – camera, sound, music, script, everything – and a lot of those people are here tonight,” said Sabol. “[Considering] all the amazing people that have worked in this business, this is a great honor. I’ve had a great ride and I’ve enjoyed all of it.”
Debbie Honkus, CEO of NEP Broadcasting and the first woman to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, discussed the early days of both NEP and ESPN, when she not only worked with Scotty Connal, ESPN’s first president/CEO, but also became friendly with both him and his wife. The fledgling companies quickly became joined at the hip, a move that helped each become a giant in the industry.
“The whole family relationship started with ESPN, and it is that family atmosphere that this business is really all about,” said Honkus, who also acknowledged her husband, Mike, and son, Jason.
She added that it was the 1988 Summer Olympics in Korea that convinced her that she wanted to be part of the TV-sports business. Six weeks of 18-hour days don’t always end in such positive feelings, but Honkus said there was no turning back when she returned home and realized how much fun she had had despite the hard work.
“I came home green because I ate so much kimchi,” she said, “and I also was bitten by the bug.”
Honkus wasn’t the only NEP Broadcasting executive inducted into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame. CTO George Hoover was honored for a career that transformed the nature of big-sports-event engineering and truck design.
He joined the company 22 years ago, thanks to Honkus and NEP founding partners Tom Shelbourn and George Wensel, who are also in the Hall of Fame.
“They allowed me to help shape the vision of technology in sports broadcasting,” said Hoover. “I also deeply appreciate all the trust you [all] have given me as I design and bring together facilities for the productions we all work on.”
He acknowledged that the team behind him — the engineers, drivers, folks at the NEP office, and those involved in truck fabrication and design — played an invaluable role in his career success. He also thanked
Jeff Joslin, with whom he has worked for 30 years, and acknowledged his family: his wife, Mac; first wife, Anne; and son, Chuck.
“Without their support and understanding, I certainly would not be standing here today,” he said.
Brian France, CEO/chairman of NASCAR, was on hand for the induction of his father, Bill France Jr., who transformed NASCAR into a major TV powerhouse while serving as its top executive from 1972 to 2000.
“I am often compared to him, as naturally you will be, but there is no way in the world I could ever compare to my father,” said France. “He was the greatest guy I know.”
Betsy Nagelson McCormack, widow of IMG founder and Hall of Fame inductee Mark McCormack, discussed her husband’s vision of the marriage of sports and television. Anything but risk-averse, McCormack was responsible for the creation of world feeds, globally distributed sports programming, the “Breakfast at Wimbledon” tagline, and having golf tournaments end on Sundays instead of Saturdays.
“He changed the way some events were run, to cater to TV,” she said. “He not only affected broadcasters then but the way we think about television today.”
Dawn Trainer Scalise accepted the award on behalf of the late Ron Scalise, alongside three of his four children: RJ, Brenna, and Jess (Rosario is currently at UConn). The legendary audio mixer for ESPN changed not only the philosophy of audio mixing but also the technology. For example, his ability to create new audio toys like Xducer microphones that could be mounted within the field of play or walls in a venue brought new depths of sound to sports broadcasting.
“If Ron were standing up here today, I know that accepting this award would mean more to him than any of his 14 Emmy Awards,” she said. “I also know that he would be very humbled. Those of you who worked alongside Ron or spent time with him know that his work was never about him. He would rather the award went to all of you. So to know that his peers thought enough of him to give him this honor would mean the world to him.”
Following the induction of Scalise, Jim Nantz, lead play-by-play anchor for CBS Sports, took to the stage to introduce the SVG Sports Broadcasting Fund, a new charity designed to help sports-production professionals who find themselves in financial need due to illness, injury, or death.
“In recent years, there have been at least three times when our industry has come together to offer financial assistance for those in need,” said Nantz. “Ron Scalise is just one example. Tom Cox of Turner Sports is another. And then there is Jeremy Schultz of CBS, who passed away earlier this year after a tragic fire last Christmas season. But there are more of our fellow professionals in need every day, and that is why it is my great pleasure to introduce the Sports Video Group Sports Broadcasting Fund.”
Later in the evening, Ebersol, reflecting on the night and the importance of the Fund, pledged $100,000 to the Fund.
“I don’t think we can take anything out of this night tonight more than family,” he said. “We’ve seen it repeatedly tonight … and the one debt I believe that all of us owe tonight is to take care of those who aren’t as fortunate we are, who have lost others. And so … I would hope everybody over this next five or six weeks would dig deep to start this fund off in a big way.”