Father’s Day Reflection

June 13, 2013
BY Jim Williams
Sean McManus Pays Tribute to His Dad, Jim McKay
Sean McManus, chariman, CBS Sports

Sean McManus, chariman, CBS Sports

Not only is Sean McManus the chairman of CBS Sports, he is also the son of Baltimore broadcasting legend Jim McKay, who died in 2008 at the age of 86.

Jim McKay, whose last name originally was McManus, started his TV career as a member of the staff at WMAR (Ch. 2) in 1947, after leaving his job as a reporter for the Baltimore Sun. He remained with the station until 1950, when he moved to New York for a network job at CBS.

At that time, there already was a Jim McManus on the air in New York, so he changed his last name to McKay. In 1961, Roone Arledge, then-president of ABC Sports, asked McKay to join that network to host a new program, “Wide World of Sports,” which ultimately changed the way sports on television was packaged and presented. The team of McKay and Arledge were together for more than 37 years and won countless awards, both for “Wide World of Sports” and their coverage of numerous Olympics.

As Father’s Day approaches, the JT asked McManus, 58, to reflect about his dad and what he remembers most of his work and family life.

JT: What was it like growing up with Jim McKay as your father?

McManus: My sister, Mary, and I had a great childhood. Dad and my mother [Margaret Dempsey McManus] met as reporters for the Baltimore Sun and married in 1948. They both loved doing things with their family and made certain we had good times together. As parents, they worked as a team. Since Dad would be gone on weekends, it wasn’t unusual to see him during the week standing with a bunch of Mom’s friends waiting to pick us up from school so he could take us to one of our many after-school activities. When he was on the road, my mother was always there to make sure we did our homework and to support us in everything we did.

The entire family was also really proud of my mother. She was an outstanding journalist in her own right. She wrote a nationally syndicated celebrity column … from our dining room. I remember she once was inv-ited to interview Cary Grant over dinner. Mom said they’d have to meet over lunch because she had to be home when her children got out of school. We had great parents.”

Young Sean McManus by the side of his sportscaster father, Jim McKay, during a “Wide World of Sports” world barrel jumping contest, circa 1965.

Young Sean McManus by the side of his sportscaster father, Jim McKay, during a “Wide World of Sports” world barrel jumping contest, circa 1965.

Tell us how your parents felt about Baltimore.

My parents loved the Baltimore area. They made a promise to themselves that when my sister and I graduated from college, they would leave the New York area and move back to
Baltimore. In 1982, they bought a house in Monkton. Dad and Mom became very active in the Maryland horse-racing industry, and Dad was a minority owner of the Orioles. They kept very busy in the community right up until they passed away — Dad in June 2008 and then Mom in October 2009.

Was your father supportive of your broadcasting career?

Yes, he and my mother were both supportive. I started in my teens as a go-fer at ABC, working a number of events and getting to see how television was done. I never really thought about a career in front of the camera, I felt more comfortable in production and then in management.

Tell us how your father, along with Arledge and the rest of the ABC team, changed the way viewers watch sports.

Jim McKay at the Baltusrol Golf Club, lower course, in Springfield, N.J., for the 1980 U.S. Open; Jack Nicklaus won the tournament.

Jim McKay at the Baltusrol Golf Club, lower course, in Springfield, N.J., for the 1980 U.S. Open; Jack Nicklaus won the tournament.

“Wide World of Sports” covered a number of different sports throughout the years. But its philosophy was to bring the viewers up close and personal with the athletes. They felt telling you a story about the competitors made them more real to the viewers. It was all about the back story. Doing features on Dorothy Hamill, Mark Spitz, Olga Korbut, Jean-Claude Killy, A.J. Foyt, Mario Andretti and so many others made the viewers want to watch them. It was a winning formula then, and it is the way we still do television sports. Telling the story of the athlete playing in the game can, in some cases, be more entertaining than the game itself.

Your father will be forever remembered for his coverage of the 1972 massacre of 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team at the Munich Summer Games. What can you tell us about that horrible day?

Our entire family was at those Games. In the early morning of Sept. 5, my father and I were swimming in the hotel pool. Suddenly, we were told that Roone [Arledge] wanted my father to get to the broadcast center as quickly as possible. We went up to the room, and my dad got dressed so fast that he did not take off his swimming trunks. Once we got to the broadcast center, my father was told there was a hostage situation and that members of the Israeli Olympic team were being held at gunpoint at team quarters in Building 31 of the Munich Olympic Village.

When Jim McKay first stepped before the ABC microphone on April 29, 1961, he could never have predicted the fantastic success of one of television's longest-running series.

When Jim McKay first stepped before the ABC microphone on April 29, 1961, he could never have predicted the fantastic success of one of television’s longest-running series.

While there were other ABC sports and news reporters on hand, Roone told my dad that he wanted him to anchor the coverage. Arledge knew that Dad had a newspaper background and that he understood breaking news. I was in the control room for the entire 14 hours that Dad was on the air. At 3:24 a.m. local time, Dad had to deliver the terrible news that all 11 Israeli hostages were dead. The horrors of that day were never forgotten by our family.

Jim McKay is still known to the sports world as an award-winning reporter, TV personality and a member of the American Sportscasters Association Hall of Fame. But on June 16, he is remembered as a wonderful dad.

Jim Williams is a local freelance writer.

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