(Reposted with permission from the Herald-Whig, Quincy, Ill.)
By David Adam Herald-Whig
Posted: Aug. 13, 2016 4:40 pm Updated: Aug. 15, 2016 8:01 am
Linda Moore’s life was shaped by sports. In turn, it became her passion.
Her first job was helping track statistics during Quincy University women’s basketball games in 1978. She later took jobs with the U.S. Sports Academy and the U.S. Olympic Festival, but her biggest move was made in 1996 when she was recruited to work for the X Games, an ESPN production. Moore eventually handled the finances for ESPN Original Entertainment and helped the restructuring of ESPN the Magazine.
Now retired from ESPN, Moore has returned to her roots. She’s a member of the board of trustees at Quincy University and has made a sizeable donation to the QU soccer program for a team room at Legends Stadium.
And to think, it all started with a late-night radio broadcast.
Were you an athlete growing up in Payson?
No. When I grew up in the early 1970s, women’s sports were kind of taboo. In my neighborhood, there were only a couple of us girls, and neither of us were ever really into the Barbies. Why would we play with Barbies? There’s a baseball game going on out there. We just always played. The guys were welcoming becauyse they needed the players. You can’t play baseball with two guys or football with four guys. We just always kind of fit in. Nobody saw us as girls or boys. We were just kids playing games and having fun. I went the route of the pom pom squad in high school, but I remember my junior year in high school. Thanksgiving Eve. I just couldn’t sleep, and I turned the radio on. It was the Quincy University men’s soccer game against Simon Fraser (in the semifinals of the 1976 NAIA National Tournament) that went until like two in the morning. Fourteen overtimes. (QU lost.) It was pretty early in the game when I started, and I was mesmerized by that broadcast. I was awake the entire game. That was my first introduction into, wow, sports can really be exciting, and my first introduction into soccer.
How did you get involved with sports at QU?
I remember seeing a sign on the bulletin board that said they needed statisticians for the holiday basketball tournament. See Frank Longo. I went in to see him, and he said, “Can you keep basketball stats?” I said, “Oh, yeah, I did that in high school.” So I kept stats and became friends with Frank. He got me a job as a student in the sports information office, and it was the beginning of a great career. Little did I know at 19 that I would eventually go to the worldwide leader in sports. In fact, ESPN was born when I was a junior in college. Sept. 7, 1979. We watched the games on ESPN. I thought, “This is pretty cool, sports 24/7.” But it was like field hockey from Montana. I think back about some of the programming back then and think, “Oh my gosh. How did they ever make it?” ESPN was the little engine that could. For me from the time I met Frank Longo all through my career, it was all about loving what you do. I never felt I had a job. I had a passion.
You first went into college admissions, then you became connected with the U.S. Sports Academy in St. Louis and then the U.S. Olympic Festival. How did you get connected with ESPN?
I went to St. Louis work with the U.S. Olympic Festival in 1994. While I was there, Jim Downs, my director and vice president, went to ESPN. I went to Denver in 1995 and then to Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics. Jim asked me after that what I was going to do. I said, “I don’t know. What do you do after the Olympics?” He offered me a job with ESPN in San Diego. Figured I’d do it for a couple of years, and I never left.
What did you do in San Diego?
I was recruited to do the X Games. It started in 1995 as the Extreme Games in Rhode Island, and it was going to be an event every other year. It was so successful in 1995 that they did it in 1996. The X Games was a 10-day event, and they had goofy things like kite sailing and adventure racing and downhill mounting biking. I went to San Diego on Oct. 1, 1996. Jim said the job was probably beneath me, but I was like, “What the heck. Why not?” My first title was participant services manager. That lasted one day. I became the assistant director of sports and comp. My job was really a glorified athlete babysitter. I was in charge of athlete registration, athlete prize money distribution, athlete hospitality, athlete credentials. Back then, the term athlete, coming from the Olympics, was a very loosely used term. They weren’t exactly what I would call an athlete.
Then what would you call them?
My impression of an athlete was the Olympic athlete or the national champions from QU. So I had this stereotypical image of what an athlete was. These kids were young. Most of them were teenagers and they lacked discipline. They rode bikes and skateboards and inline skates. It was just not the impression that I had of an athlete. They also had attitudes. Being the strict conservative Midwestern girl, and these were surfer dudes from California, we clashed. There were several of them who I pulled by the ear, clipped their credentials and kicked them out. We had words. I was called every name in the book. It was halfway through the first event that I realized these kids were homeless, from broken homes. They were kicked out by their parents at 12, 13 years old and living on the streets. They were just misunderstood. A lot of them were high school dropouts. The only thing they loved was their sport, and they put everything they had in their sport, and they were good at it.
Is there a particular athlete who you think of when you describe those first XGames athletes?
His name was Troy McMurray. He was a kid who was homeless and kicked out of his home. A BMX rider. A punk is what I would have described him as. Four years later, I really got to know him. He had been at every event. He opened my eyes to know that these kids are just misunderstood. They weren’t what most people in my generation were used to. In some cases, they had learning disabilities. They weren’t typical students. They weren’t typical people, but they had this underlying passion to make a difference. I grew to love these kids. Now they have kids who are competing, and they’ll ask me, “Was I that bad when I was their age?” Oh yeah. These athletes grew with their sports and the X Games.
When you see where the X Games were and how popular it is now, does it surprise you?
It was just a change in my vision. It goes back to something (QU soccer coach) Jack Mackenzie said. We play the game because we like it. We play it well because we love it. That saying has guided me through my entire career, and it describes a lot of those kids back then. When you find your passion, it’s not a job. It’s your life’s work. They found their passion at an early age. Not all of us are that fortunate. It changed my perspective on people. Coming from a small town, you have a stereotype of what good and bad should look like, but good and bad comes in all forms and varieties. You have to change your perspective to see a person a little differently. We’re now more culturally aware of the differences in people.
How are the X Games different now than it was at its infancy?
The sports aren’t much different, other than they’ve progressed. Tricks they’re doing today they didn’t think about 10 to 15 years ago. The sports have come a long way for the better. That’s probably why mainstream America appreciates them more. As an event, the X Games is more of a business. When we started, it was about marketing telling the world about these new sports and telling the world about these new breed of athletes. Now, It’s a part of ESPN and it’s about the bottom line. It has evolved into a legitimate business. It was like a startup company.
How did your role evolve?
I outgrew my position quickly. In 1997-98, we wanted to add the X Trials and our B3s — Bikes, Blades and Boards. Those events were much smaller in scope but it allowed us to grow our audience. I took over those events. I knew the athletes, and I could manage a team. It was there that it became apparent that I could talk the finance lingo and the business lingo that they needed me at the corporate office to be the liaison. I had moved from St. Louis to Denver to Atlanta to San Diego to San Francisco to Oakland, and I was tired of moving. I went to my boss and said, “Hey, I have one more move in me. Make it good.” He’s like, “We need you at corporate headquarters. Would you move to Bristol (Conn.)?” It sounded like a stable move, so I did that. That was in 2000. I became the director of business operations for the X Games. My main job was to manage the budget. I still did the credentials and hospitality, but I also did the finance. I let my team eventually take over some of those other things, and I focused more on the business side of things. That’s when my senior vice president, Ron Semiao, who is now with the NFL Network, came to me and said, “I need you to do more than the X Games. Can you do the finances for ESPN Original Entertainment?” Well, yeah, bring it on. I managed the budgets and staffing, risk management, insurance, all of the business aspects. When we did “Playmakers” and “The Bronx is Burning,” that fell under our group. We started “30 for 30,” and the whole ESPN film series became a division under us. We also started E:60.
Sounds like you had plenty to keep you busy.
Then they came to me and said, “Will you take over the business operations for the magazine?” Sure. I was part of the team that transitioned ESPN the Magazine from 26 issues a year, moving it to Bristol, downsizing the team and changing the philosophy about what the magazine was all about. And yet, at the heart of it all, my heart was still with the X Games, and I stayed with the X Games throughout it all.
What did you learn during your time at QU that you still use every day?
Believing in what you do, respecting other people, respecting authority, but also just doing what you love. I also learned that you will never get anywhere by yourself. Other people will get you where you want to go. Remember who got you where you were and where you are, because without them you wouldn’t be there. I think back of so many people who helped me get to where I was. When people ask, “What kind of image do you want people to have of you?”, I want them to say that as she was climbing the ladder, she had one hand up, pulling herself up, and one hand down, pulling someone else up. That to me is how we build and how we make tomorrows better than today.
Going from a girl on the pom squad at Payson to a person with the jobs you had at ESPN … that’s a remarkable run for someone from a small town.
I just do what I do. If that helps somebody else, great. I’m just little ‘ol me. But that humble philosophy was what all of us in Quincy had. I remember as a college recruiter going to Hebron, and they won a state basketball championship (in 1952) when they had eight boys in the school. Those kind of stories, well, it’s the little engine that could. ESPN was that way for years. Who thought somebody could put sports on the air for 24 hours a day?
You retired in January. Why did you come back to Quincy?
Why not Quincy? My parents are getting older, and I wanted to enjoy them. This is my hometown. There are so many good things and so many positive things going on here. Quincy’s a great place to be. It’s a great place to grow up. It’s a great place to thrive. If I want to go golf every day, I could, but I don’t. Maybe one of these years. I wanted to come back to Quincy to make a difference, and I knew I could make a difference.
So what do you do in retirement?
I’m still involved in QU on a number of levels. I love teaching the next generation of leaders in the graduate program for communications. I’m on the Friends of the Castle board. I’m working with Coach Mackenzie and a few others to publish a book about the history of QU soccer. It’s important that we tell that story. Also, I have this dream of figuring out a way to capture all of the volunteerism that goes on in Quincy. If we collectively took all of the time that people put into their church or nonprofit or school or sports leagues that we have, took all of those hours together, Quincy would be a place were there is more volunteerism per capita than any other place in the country.