Our finest teacher

June 12, 2008|By Robert A. Boland

The tributes have flowed since the news of his passing, but perhaps none will sum up the legacy of Jim McKay better than the description by former colleague Al Michaels that Mr. McKay "was like a favorite teacher."

As someone who grew up learning from Mr. McKay, I have lost that favorite teacher, and for me and millions of others in my generation, we are all the poorer that his voice has been silenced. Jim McKay was more than the most significant sports broadcaster of the second half of the 20th century; he was the most significant teacher of sports the world has known.

We speak today about globalism and a world beyond the borders of the United States, but long before Thomas L. Friedman flattened the world, Mr. McKay had already spanned it and taught us that the love of sport is universal.

Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson put it well, saying of Mr. McKay, "He changed our view of sports and our world experience of sports." Sport defies map lines, languages, political systems and cultures, and Mr. McKay and his boss at ABC, Roone Arledge, taught us this again and again. He was also there when terrorism and conflict imposed themselves tragically upon the sports we love in the 1972 Munich Olympics, teaching us that triumph and very real tragedy walk hand in hand.

Jim McKay cut his teeth as a Baltimore sportscaster and was famous in Maryland for his love of thoroughbreds, but the impact of his life and career can be found around the world in every sports broadcast and in every sports fan touched by his voice and storytelling. Consider the things that would not be as they are today but for Mr. McKay's influence. For just one example, does ESPN exist today without Jim McKay?

But for me, his is a larger and more personal legacy. When Mr. McKay signed on the first Wide World of Sports broadcast in 1961, there were no sports broadcasting, sports management, sports business or sports law programs at colleges in the United States. Sports was about playing or coaching. There are now about 200 sports educational programs at universities in North America alone, with thousands of people like me working as sports educators. Those of us who teach, sharing a love of the knowledge of sport, carry the torch that Mr. McKay lit so brightly. He taught us so much about sports and their place in the world. I may hold degrees in history and law, but I hold my most cherished diploma, a degree in the humanity and importance of sports, from Mr. McKay's academy.

This summer, I will lead 15 students from New York University to Europe to study sports there. As part of this trip, we will travel to Munich to examine the continued legacy of those 1972 Games, the site of Mr. McKay's defining broadcasts. There can be no more appropriate way to honor him, and this trip will be my chance to share his impact with my students, walking among facilities still vital and in use today, sharing scenes and images inseparable now in memory from Jim McKay's voice and descriptions.

In my career, I hope to honor Jim McKay, a person I never met face to face but one who touched me time and again and who will always be my role model as a teacher of sports. He was truly our favorite and our best teacher.

Robert A. Boland is a professor of sports business at New York University. His e-mail is robl1000@aol.com.

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