A Look Back at Bob Ley’s ESPN Career

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A Look Back at Bob Ley’s ESPN Career

Bob Ley’s Statement:
Across 40 years I have enjoyed a professional journey unimaginable when I joined ESPN on its first weekend of existence in 1979. Each day since has been a unique adventure, one I embraced for the challenge and unequaled fun of a job like no other.
Now, it is time for change.
I will be retiring from ESPN, as of the end of the month.
To be clear, this is entirely my decision. I enjoy the best of health, and the many blessings of friends and family, and it is in that context that I’m making this change.
To Jimmy Pitaro and his senior leadership team, my sincere personal thanks for their understanding and patience over the past months.
Through the decades, and my innumerable experiences at ESPN, I have built many deep and fulfilling friendships. You know who you are. I hope you also know how much you mean to me. We have shared an American story unlike any other. And we will continue to do so in the years ahead.
I have been gifted by our viewers and consumers with a precious commodity – your trust. To be invited into your homes was a privilege I never took for granted, one I worked each day to uphold. Thank you for that.
In September, I signed off my last show saying, “I’ll catch you on the flip side.” Now it’s time to take that vinyl off the turntable (ask your folks), flip it over, and drop the needle on the B-side. There are always great cuts, and hidden gems on the B-side.
Thank you for a great run.  

ESPN President Jimmy Pitaro on Bob Ley:
“The standard of excellence that has become a hallmark of ESPN began in the early days when we were a start-up with a bold vision. Bob was there for all of it and, over the years, his unwavering commitment and unparalleled work ethic drove our journalistic ambitions. The best way we can thank Bob for what he’s meant to ESPN and to sports fans is to continue to uphold the journalistic integrity and principles he’s instilled in ESPN for nearly 40 years.”

ESPN Executive Vice President, Event & Studio Production and Executive Editor Norby Williamson on Bob Ley:
“While Bob Ley’s departure from Outside the Lines ends an important era for the show, we are excited for what lies ahead for this critical news and information brand. Helping to further the connectivity OTL has with SportsCenter, Jeremy Schaap and Ryan Smith, two well-established journalists with prior OTL hosting experience, will handle the bulk of anchoring duties.”

Bob Ley joined ESPN on September 9, 1979, two days after the fledgling network first came on the air. Originally a SportsCenter anchor and the leading host of ESPN’s NCAA basketball coverage, Ley quickly became the face of ESPN’s aggressive coverage of breaking news and issues. He established himself as a respected voice for ESPN’s industry-leading reporting on the most important and sometimes controversial topics in sports. From topics like doping in the Olympics and steroid use in major sports to stories about domestic violence and sexual abuse, Ley has always known how to present stories in a way that was professional, objective and smart, while serving fans in a responsible, factual manner. Here is sampling of just some of the major sports stories Ley has lent his expertise and gravitas to:

  • He provided the first live national reports during the 1989 World Series earthquake in San Francisco.
  • That same year he fronted the news of Pete Rose’s indefinite suspension from Major League Baseball.
  • In May 1990, Outside the Lines made its debut as ESPN’s investigative news program with Ley as the host. He would go on to host the show for the next 29 years. The first episode was a special called “When the Cheering Stops.”
  • As host of Outside the Lines, Ley continued to report on some of the biggest sports stories in history including Magic Johnson’s AIDS announcement in 1991 and the O.J. Simpson trial in 1995.
  • In 1998, Ley hosted an Outside the Lines special that examined the Nike sweatshops in Vietnam. The powerful reporting revealed that Nike had still been operating sweatshops with terrible conditions including managers physically abusing workers. This was one of many impactful Ley stories that led to real change.
  • In 2000, Outside the Lines aired “Bigger, Stronger, Faster” a report that examined the next 100 years of the human body in sports by exploring how genetic engineering and medical breakthroughs could impact athletes.
  • Less than a year later, Ley spearheaded ESPN’s coverage of the 9/11 attacks. He was the first to report that no baseball would be played that week in honor of those who lost their lives.
  • Ley was one of the leading voices in challenging the game of football and its protection of players from concussions and CTE. He hosted multiple Outside the Lines reports over the years that examined the issue and shared real stories from current and former players. The investigative work they did on this topic won Ley and OTL a prestigious Peabody Award.
  • In addition to the topics of concussions and CTE, Ley also was a leader in reporting on the NFL’s handling of domestic violence. When the Ray Rice video surfaced of Rice abusing his then-fiancée, Ley reported on the case from start to finish. He continued to challenge and report on domestic violence cases that followed.
  • Ley led ESPN’s coverage on Penn State football coach Joe Paterno’s resignation after the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse findings in 2011. Less than a decade later, the Outside the Lines investigative team reported on former U.S. gymnastics doctor Larry Nassar and the hundreds of survivors he sexually abused for decades. Ley and the OTL team spent years reporting on the story and the handling of information at Michigan State. The team was recently awarded prestigious IRE and Peabody Awards for its coverage.
  • In 2014, Ley hosted the Outside the Lines special “The N-word,” which aired during Black History Month and included a roundtable discussion of how the word is used in society.
  • Ley was at the anchor desk for virtually every major story over the past four decades including deaths of sports legends like Muhammad Ali and Arnold Palmer. When Ali died, Ley led ESPN’s coverage in the wee hours – along with Jeremy Schaap – and conducted hours of interviews with notable figures in Ali’s life.
  • Soccer has always been in Ley’s DNA and he was the face of ESPN’s coverage of major soccer events including the 1982, 1994, 1998, 2010, 2011 and 2014 men’s and women’s World Cups. He also reported from the Euros on 2016.
  • Ley’s reporting on set during the FIFA presidential election in 2015 became a signature TV moment when he ripped up a piece of paper with FIFA’s agenda printed on it during a live studio coverage.
  • In 2016, Ley had another memorable moment on live TV while he was covering a major league baseball game in Havana, Cuba. Pro-democracy protestors interrupted his live report and were violently arrested, all captured on live television.

Awards & Milestones

  • In 1980 Ley hosted the first-ever NCAA selection show, that same year the NFL Draft was also broadcasted live for the first time on ESPN with Ley as the host. He would go on to host both iconic broadcasts for the next nine years.
  • Outside the Lines, with Ley in the anchor chair, made its debut in May of 1990.
  • Ley narrated the very first This is SportsCenter ad when the campaign debuted in 1995.
  • He has won 11 Sports Emmy Awards including the Emmy for outstanding studio host in 2018.
  • Ley and Outside the Lines won its first DuPont Award in 2014 for reporting on issues at the youth football level.
  • Ley has also helped ESPN win two Peabody Awards – most recently for its coverage of the sister survivors, Larry Nassar and Michigan State and in 2013 for the OTL report “NFL at a Crossroads,” which examined brain injuries.
  • Ley and Outside the Lines have also won four Edward R. Murrow Awards.
  • In 1999, Ley was given the Honorary All-America Award by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America for his contributions to the sport of soccer.
  • In 2015, Ley celebrated 25 years of Outside the Lines with a special primetime anniversary show.
  • Earlier this week, Ley was inducted into the 2019 NSMA Hall of Fame for Sports Broadcasting. His acceptance speech is here.

Did you know?

  • Ley is ESPN’s longest tenured anchor. He began his career at ESPN on September 9, 1979.
  • Throughout his career he interviewed four U.S. Presidents: Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush. He also hosted a Town Hall with President Clinton on Race and Sports in 1998.
  • Ley is a graduate of Seton Hall where he has been both the commencement speaker (2019) and an instructor. He also received an honorary doctorate of human letters from the university.
  • He gave the commencement speech at the University of Hartford in 2008, where he also received an honorary doctorate of humane letters.
  • A native of New Jersey, Ley is an avid Bruce Springsteen fan and has twice guest-deejayed on E Street Radio on Sirius XM.

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Molly Mita

I am a proud member of the ESPN communications team that is responsible for building publicity for award winning brands including SportsCenter and Outside the Lines. I have spent my last few years working in the NFL at The Detroit Lions and The Baltimore Ravens before heading to NBCUniversal. I have been blessed with the opportunity to work at some of the best organizations in the world but I am most excited for my journey here ESPN.
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