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TV Titan

He changed how the world watches sports

Any sports fan would be agog reading Bill Fitts ’53’s career accomplishments, such as executive producing eight Super Bowls (including the first one), creating The NFL Today, bringing Bryant Gumbel to New York to host GrandStand, and commissioning ESPN’s music library (including the composition of the iconic SportsCenter theme song).

A five-decade-plus sports television production pioneer and CBS/NBC/ESPN legend, Fitts was honored Dec. 11 with induction into the Sports Broadcasting Hall of Fame alongside peers such as Bob Costas, Jim Nantz, and Dick Vitale.

“I feel very lucky to have the opportunities that I’ve had,” Fitts says. “You couldn’t do it the way I did it. You have to really get into this stuff at an undergraduate level because there’s heavy competition.”

An English literature major and football/lacrosse/diving star at Swarthmore, Fitts had no idea sports would be his professional calling ... he was too worried about graduating.

“Swarthmore for me was a huge challenge,” Fitts says. “I couldn’t even keep up with the reading. I met my future wife, Fran Lemke Fitts ’54, after my freshman year, and we were able to get through everything together.”

Getting into television production on a fluke, Fitts rose through the ranks. Not even a two-year break for military service slowed his ascent, thanks to his bold innovations that forever changed the way athletics were covered, packaged, and broadcast.

Even since “retiring” in 1997—when he still helped ESPN cover the X Games and the annual Bassmaster Classic tournament—Fitts remains busy, training his two terriers to compete in dog agility competitions.

“During my career, I always looked to hire and work with people who were smarter than me,” he says. “I think I’m the proudest of my development of the ESPN production staff: Especially when you’re dealing with creative, disparate personalities, teaching is truly a rewarding challenge.”