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December 06, 2001

Outtakes with Jim McKay

ESPN's Dan Patrick interviewed Jim McKay of ABC Sports on Sept. 12, the day after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, D.C.

Jim McKay
Jim McKay hosted the first Wide World of Sports in 1961.
Dan Patrick: Should we play any games, in any sport, this weekend? What is the proper period of grieving?
Jim McKay: I have thought about this a lot. And this does not reflect the views of my son Sean, who is the head of CBS Sports. My first thought was about the logistics of moving all these players and team personnel around the country so soon after these hijackings. Then I thought about how in x-number of stadiums around the country you will have 60,000 to 70,000 people. That doesn't sound very safe.
DP: I agree. From a patriotic standpoint, great. We all want to hear and sing the anthem right now. But from a safety standpoint, realistically, we can't play that soon.
JM: On the weekend after President Kennedy was assassinated [on Friday, Nov. 22, 1963], I had promised Sean, who was 6 years old, that I would take him to the game. Of course, they did play that weekend. It was pouring rain in New York. But I had promised him and I took him. To this day, I still feel a little bit guilty about going to the game that day. It seemed almost obscene.
DP: Was it a wake-like atmosphere? We mourned President Kennedy, but I don't know if we felt as threatened as we do today.
JM: It just seemed inappropriate. He had been killed on Friday and there we were on Sunday. It was very close to the event. He was the president of the United States. I'd be concerned about the games being played Sunday and on Monday.

DP: Does it remind you at all of the 1972 Olympics?
JM: The striking thing about Munich was that it had this strong sense of being unprecedented. It was the idea of terrorists disguised as athletes climbing the fences at this convocation of the world's athletes. Then going into the headquarters of one team, holding them prisoner and then flying them to the airport and killing them all. The violation of all that was so shocking. It was a smaller thing, if 11 dead people can be considered small. But the point of this tragedy, and what makes it so incredible, is the numbers. The huge numbers. And the impossibility of hijacking four planes at once and doing what they did with them. But the last report I heard was that we could be talking about 7,000 people in New York. That's an act of war, as the president said, not just an act of terrorism.

DP: Do you remember how you reacted to the games continuing in 1972? I believe it was 34 hours later.
JM: We got off the air at about 4 o'clock in the morning. We were back out at the stadium at 10 o'clock that morning for what was supposed to be the beginning of the decathlon. But it wasn't. It was a memorial service. German television had gone off the night before with a report that all the terrorists had been killed and that all the hostages had been saved. So the vast majority of people came to the stadium expecting to see the decathlon. Instead, they saw black draping the stadium and a memorial service.
DP: Was it too soon?
JM: I thought at the time they should have waited longer. I didn't think they should have cancelled the Games because that would have been giving the terrorists what they wanted, to make the world stop. Maybe they should have waited two days, just out of decency. Also, Avery Brundage, the president of the IOC, gave what amounted to a political speech. I thought that was disgraceful.
DP: Any other recollections?
JM: Peter Jennings was our closest reporter to the event as it was going on in Munich. Roone Arledge had called up Peter, who was then ABC News' Middle East correspondent, and said, "How would you like to come to the Olympics? Get away from that tension in the Middle East. Cover the sidebar stories and the news aspects for us." He said yes, and the next thing he knew he was holed up in the headquarters of the Italian team. At one point they were going to go through the buildings that were closest to where the hostages were. He was as close as 50 yards to that balcony we saw so many shots of. Peter hid in the bathroom of the Italian team and no one thought to look in there for him. He was key to our telecast then and he is in the thick of it now as well.

DP: What about Atlanta in 1996 and resuming those games?
JM: We were at a hotel and I had gone to sleep before it happened. When I woke up in the morning, my instant reaction was that they were replaying something from Munich. I couldn't believe something had happened again.

DP: Are you concerned about safety measures from here on out?
JM: Anything is possible. You may remember that a few years after Munich, they raided a meeting of OPEC oil ministers! Not a lot of sense to be made of that. But as President Kennedy, and others, have said, "If a guy is willing to risk his life for yours, he is probably going to succeed." Remember that old movie where the terrorists came into the Super Bowl with a blimp?
DP: "Black Sunday." But yesterday makes you think it could happen. It used to be just a movie. It was surreal.
JM: In the past, our reaction when we caught terrorists before they did anything was, "We'll always do that. We'll stop them." It is hard to believe that this huge, expensive and complex operation came off without us having any inkling.

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