WHERE ARE THEY NOW: Whatever Happened To The Original ESPN Stars?

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ESPN has become as big a player in contemporary sports culture as many of the actual leagues are.Don’t believe us?

At this point, the network, based in Bristol, CT, is worth more than the NFL, and worth more than the NHL, NBA, and MLB combined. 

We learned this previous fact from the fantastic book “Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN,” by James Andrew Miller and Tom Shales, which was published last year.

“Those Guys Have All the Fun” tells the booze-soaked underdog story of ESPN from its inception in 1979, when it was owned by an oil company and dedicated hours to sports like slow-pitch softball and Irish bicycling.

Drawing from the book, and other sources on the web, we took a look at where the original ESPNers ended up nearly 33 years later.

Father-son team Bill and Scott Rasmussen came up with the idea for ESPN and managed to get Getty Oil to fund it. But the professionals who were brought in eventually forced the Rasmussens out. Don't feel too bad for them, though — they managed to net $3,414,866 off a $39,000 investment.

Scott went on to become a political commentator, author and the founder/president of Rasmussen Reports. Bill has consulted on television operations, wrote a book about founding ESPN and now mostly does speaking engagements.

Stuart Evey was the Getty Oil executive who convinced the company to sign on with ESPN after he heard Rasmussen's pitch. When Getty sold ESPN to ABC in 1984, Evey's involvement ended. The book presents Evey as a hard drinker who clashed with those he brought in to run the company, but also deserves much of the credit for its initial direction and success. Evey wrote a book about ESPN, and he now consults and does speaking engagements.

Evey brought in Chet Simmons to run the programming side. Simmons had been with NBC Sports, and he took over at ESPN as president, building up programming like SportsCenter and the NFL Draft before leaving in 1982 to serve as commissioner of the upstart United States Football League. He died of natural causes in 2010.

Evey also hired Jim Simpson, on a then-remarkable 3-year $1 million contract to serve as ESPN's marquee announcer. Simpson was famous for his work with NBC, and he gave the network some early legitimacy. He's now retired in the Virgin Islands.

After Leonard spoke ESPN's opening words, he introduced George Grande, the first SportsCenter anchor ever. Grande continued in that role until 1988, when he left ESPN to do major league baseball play-by-play.

The only other original SportsCenter anchor still with the network is Chris Berman. His style of frequently using nicknames in his broadcasts was initially met with fierce resistance from some corners of the network, who thought he wouldn't be taken seriously.

Berman's original hosting partner was Tom Mees, and he hosted SportsCenter and did NHL games for ESPN until his accidental drowning death in 1996.

Bryant Gumbel's brother Greg was brought on, he thinks, to add some racial diversity to the network, according to the book. Greg left ESPN in 1988 for MSG and then CBS, then NBC, then CBS again, where he now calls football and college basketball.

ESPN hired recently fired Detroit Pistons coach Dick Vitale to do basketball play-by-play. Vitale was known for talking ceaselessly on broadcasts, and Jim Simpson would devise different ways to get him to shut up. Vitale still calls games for ESPN.

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