ESPN Pioneers Visit Bradley for Steiner Symposium – The Bradley Scout

Photo by Lee Lardo

Three men walk into a ballroom: an author and two sports commentators with six Emmy awards combined. This is not the setup of a joke, it is the panel of speakers hosted by the Department of Communication’s Steiner Symposium 2022.

The Steiner Symposium was an all-day event on November 15 where students from all majors were able to participate in panels on topics such as Title IX, Athletes and Mental Health, Inclusion and Diversity, and Sports Entrepreneurship. Rounding off the day was a conversation with Bob Ley and Charley Steiner, moderated by Jim Miller.

The name Charley Steiner may ring a bell as it does in the Charley Steiner School of Sports Communication at Bradley University, the first named sports communication school in the country. He is named after this Bradley alum who spent 14 years as a SportsCenter anchor at ESPN and now announces for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Ley, a colleague and friend of Steiner, was honored as one of 19 “ESPN Originals” since he had been with the company since its conception in 1979 before retiring in 2019.

Moderator Jim Miller was also a friend of both, having met them while writing his book “Those Kids Have Fun: Inside the World of ESPN.”

Miller opened up the conversation about ESPN’s beginnings. Ley jumped at the question and began to recall his 1979 interview. He had been offered a job with cable television in New Jersey that same week, but decided on ESPN due to a lack of corporate oversight, wanting build something from scratch. Steiner’s path to television was very different; he graduated from Bradley intending to get into radio.

He landed the interview for ESPN completely by accident, from a passing conversation between Steve Bornstein and “Larry the liquor guy,” who Steiner jokingly credits with kick-starting his career. The jokes were a dozen of the three throughout the speech.

After discussing the early years, Miller opened up about the 1989 World Series. The infamous October 17, 1989 game was postponed due to a 6.9 magnitude earthquake that cut power to the stadium.

“It lasted long enough to start an Ave Maria but not long enough to finish one,” Ley said.

ESPN’s truck was the only one with a generator, so 18 minutes after the quake, Ley was on the air.

“We were just moving. . . Everyone knew they had a job to do,” he added

They produced the first national images of the earthquake, which they later learned had killed 66 people. An anecdote of Ley’s that caught the breath of many in the audience was how each crew member strategically walked behind him on the air to reassure their families that they were safe.

“He was the one who said we could play with the big boys,” Steiner said.

Miller continued to guide audiences through the story of ESPN and Steiner and Ley’s respective roles and journeys alongside that story. Interestingly, politics influenced both men’s decisions in different ways.

Steiner left the company in 2002 and said covering the first few baseball games after 9/11 motivated him to keep going. He took a job with the Yankees, moving to the Dodgers three years later.

Ley cites the 2016 election as a major factor in his departure. After the crossover of sports and politics, such as Donald Trump calling out NFL players and the Social Equity Movement, Ley took what was supposed to be a sabbatical in 2018, but has decided to officially retire in 2019.

In the final minutes, members of the public asked questions ranging from opinions on current political happenings to advice for the future of sports coverage.

Both Steiner and Ley said the best advice they could give was to learn how to write a good story and make yourself indispensable.

“Writing, for me, is key,” Steiner said.

This panel was well received by the audience, with much laughter and enthusiastic applause. The line to meet these ESPN legends after the panel was out the door.

“It was really interesting to hear about the early days of ESPN and SportsCenter, especially as someone who wants to get into baseball broadcasting, to hear about the beginnings of an empire,” said second-year sports communications specialist Meagan Ruger.

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