Lesson in Hanging Tough - My father always told me a man had to live up to his job. Then one day, he showed me just what he meant. By Sean McManus
My business card says "President of CBS News and Sports," but it's that last part of my title, the sports part, that's always been in my blood. As a kid, I was a pretty good football player, and in fifth grade I was the quarterback for the Fairfield Country Day School in Fairfield, Connecticut. My dad is Jim McKay, the sportscaster, and though he was often away covering events, he tried to make it to every school function he could.
One day, we were facing Mooreland, and my team and I were playing pretty lackluster football. At half time, with our team down a few scores, he came over to me on the bench. He leaned in and put his mouth right up to the ear hole in my helmet and said, "You should be embarrassed. If you're not going to do the job that's asked of you, then why don't you just go back in there and forfeit?" And then he turned around and left for work. For the start of the second half I was on the kickoff squad, and I remember I just zeroed in on the kid with the ball and crushed him—just in case my dad was still up on the top of the hill watching.
My dad talked about those values a lot—doing your job, living up to your responsibilities—but it wasn't until September of 1972, on a day that changed our lives forever, that he showed me exactly what he meant. I was 17, and my dad had taken our family along to Munich while he covered the Olympics. September 4th was meant to be his day off, and he was going to take a swim and then he and I were going to spend the day together touring Munich. That morning he called me and said, "Something's come up. I've had to go to work." I asked if I could join him, so he sent a car for me and I camped out in the control room with Roone Arledge and the rest of the ABC team. It was then that I saw what was happening: Terrorists had taken members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage.
My dad was in the anchor chair, reporting on the events, for 18 hours straight. Up until then he'd been a respected sports commentator, but hardly a big celebrity. But the grace and determination he showed during the ordeal made him a household name, especially with those famous words: "They're all gone." I remember riding back with him after it was over, when the outcome couldn't have been worse. He was exhausted, and all he said to me was, "I think we did the job that we were asked to do." We got back to the hotel, and he undressed. He still had his swimsuit on under his clothes.
I got back to the States a few days before he did, and there were probably 1,500 letters and telegrams at our door from people, including Walter Cronkite, saying how moved and inspired they had been.
My father and I remain very, very close—he was the best man at my wedding. So when I called him up a year ago and told him I'd been named president of CBS News—that Walter Cronkite had called me "boss"—he was overwhelmed. He still cries at the drop of a hat. But no matter how successful I become, he'll often remind me of that football game against Mooreland.
"Do you remember what I told you that day?"
"You remember me whispering in the ear hole?"
Like anybody else who's had a bit of success, I can get a little self-inflated, a bit supercilious about the quality of my hotel room and other amenities that come along with my job. But I also know that while my position is a big deal, I'm not. It can disappear tomorrow. And so while I'm lucky enough to have it, I try to follow not only my dad's words, but his example: As long as I do the job I'm asked to do, everything else will be all right.