ESPN Pioneer Chet Simmons Dies at 81

Sports broadcaster launched network in 1979, helped develop ABC's iconic Wide World of Sports
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Chester Simmons, president of ESPN when it launched in 1979, died March 25 in Atlanta of what ESPN said was natural causes. He was 81.

Chet Simmons began his sports career in 1957 with Sports Programs Inc., the predecessor of ABC Sports, where he helped develop the iconic Wide World of Sports. His resume included serving as president of NBC Sports and founding commissioner of the USFL.

Simmons received the Lifetime Achievement award at the 2005 Sports Emmys.

"Chet Simmons' leadership and vision in our first years were absolutely critical to ESPN's survival," said ESPN and ABC Sports President George Bodenheimer in a statement. "He was the only industry President to have pioneered both sports broadcasting in the late '50s and cable television in the late '70s. His legacy lives on in ESPN's culture, stellar employees and commentators, and innovative programming. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Harriet, and his children."

Simmons is credited with helping launch and/or develop the sports broadcasting careers of Jim Simpson, Merlin Olsen, Greg and Bryant Gumbel, Dick Enberg, Curt Gowdy, Tony Kubek, Joe Gargiola, Sandy Koufax, Vin Scully, Donna de Varona, Dick Vitale, Cliff Drysdale, Tim Ryan, and Jack Buck, among others.

His resume also included media consultant to Madison Square Garden and the Marquis Group and adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina.

He is survived by his wife, Harriet, and four children.