Sunday, June 8, 2008

Jim McKay, 1921-2008

There are all too few people in public life who strike me as being essentially decent people, decent in the sense that they are unwilling to impose themselves too much on a situation. The job of politician seems incompatible with this, as they see their role to control the arena. The same is true of executives or lawyers, who may be fine individuals, caring and involved, but are perhaps too disposed to ensuring that everyone knows they're on the scene.

I've worked for a few, too few, people who had this innate decency, who reacted to situations as they truly were, giving credit where it belonged, fading into the background when warranted. I've known others with this self-effacing quality, but they don't tend to fare well in our chest-thumping, credit-taking culture.

It's always dangerous to assume you know anything about people you see on a screen or in print. As much as I might want to ascribe positive qualities to, say, Michael Jordan or Barack Obama, I don't know either, so I run the risk of being disappointed if I were ever to discover the real person.

However, when you've grown up allowing someone into your family room or den, even through the one-way medium of television, and you've never heard anything to contradict the view you want to hold, the image becomes powerful, and you tend to go with it.

So I feel the loss of sports broadcaster Jim McKay, a man who covered even the most bizarre "sports" with respect, understanding that those participating took barrel jumping as seriously as most of us treat football. The ESPN biography to which I linked has all the facts, so I won't recount them here. All of the tributes mention his work at the 1972 Olympic tragedy; I can never forget that wrenching time and the way that McKay helped us through it (in a way that would never be possible today; the news division would immediately big-foot it and we wouldn't see the sports people until the games came back).

Jim McKay is one of those fellows, few of whom seem to be produced in this very-different era, who understand that the event's the thing. I can think of a few others, perhaps the exemplar of which is Dick Enberg. That McKay cared about cliff diving made me care about cliff diving, and he would bring us enough of the people behind the event to show us why we should.

So, thank you and goodbye, Jim McKay.

[Note: my wife pointed out that McKay's signature phrase, "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat," probably couldn't be uttered today. It would more likely be, "the thrill of victory and the inspirational character-building experience of defeat."]

1 comment:

Citizen Carrie said...

I tried to resist, but I can't hold off commenting on Jim McKay any longer. He used to utter these dreaded words every year when I was a teenager, "We'll return to the World Figure Skating Championship a little bit later in our broadcast. But first...Boxing"!

I like watching different sports, and Jim McKay was a champion of all of them. I miss Wide World of Sports.

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