For a man who’s been one of NBC Sports top on-air personalities for nearly three decades to say “television is largely to blame for the decline in character in collegiate athletics today” is heady stuff.
But, Lexington’s Tom Hammond, will be just that blunt as Billy Reed’s “Conversations with Champions” guest at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, March 2 in Georgetown College’s John L. Hill Chapel. Hammond, who covered Southeastern Conference basketball games for nearly 30 years until two years ago, is the fifth sports celebrity in this fireside-chat series on character, ethics and integrity in college athletics that will be taped for future showing on Kentucky Educational Television. Reed, the host, is Georgetown’s second Executive Scholar-in-Residence.
If you don’t know the Tom Hammond name right away that’s a testament to his skill and preference of not overshadowing the event he covers. But, you will know his face from many Olympiads as NBC’s host for Track & Field, Figure Skating and Ice Dancing, plus horse racing going back to the inaugural Breeder’s Cup in 1984. This spring he will again host all three Triple Crown races starting with the Kentucky Derby in May.
“College sports has become such big business I’m just not sure where it will stop,” lamented Hammond, who still does play-by-play for Notre Dame football on NBC. “The (Auburn quarterback) Cam Newton affair – where a parent shops his athlete-son around – is particularly disturbing.”
Hammond, who was sports director at WLEX-18 for 10 years beginning in 1970, said, “I’m not sure it’s any worse than before…I think sports journalists covered things up in the old days. We just know more about it now with new media and social media.”
One step in the right direction, Hammond said, would be for the NCAA to put an end to “the one-and-done rule” in college basketball. “I’m for the same as college baseball – once you sign to play, you have to wait three years before going pro.”
Another troubling trend to Hammond is the increasing vicious actions and words of fans. “Fans are losing sight that it’s just a game, that sports should be an enjoyable extension of the college experience,” he said. “You can’t read the posts on message boards…they’re so mean and ugly.”
Hammond’s sense of Georgetown College athletics is that games are just that – games. Among his messages for our student-athletes will be: “Enjoy the experience, the camaraderie and the teamwork because it will be the best time of your life. And, leave with no regrets. Don’t say 20 years from now: ‘I should have worked harder’.”
A Lexington resident still, Hammond also covers Gymnastics for NBC and did NFL play-by-play for years before the network won the Sunday Night Game of the Week in ’06. In January, he called the Wild Card game between the Seattle Seahawks and New Orleans Saints.
Hammond has been awarded horse race broadcasting’s top honor, the Eclipse Award (Media category), in 1984 and 1996. He was awarded an Emmy Award for coverage of the 1992 Breeder’s Cup. He also won Emmys for sports broadcasting in 1988 (men’s and women’s basketball), 1992 (Olympics coverage of track and field and diving), and 1996 (Olympics Track and Field).
He was the first recipient of the annual Outstanding Kentuckian Award given by the A.B. Chandler Foundation, is a charter member of the Lafayette High School Hall of Fame, and has been inducted into the Kentucky Journalism Hall of Fame at the University of Kentucky. He was inducted into the Hall of Distinguished Alumni by UK in 2000.