Sports

The Tragic Drowning Death of Original ESPN SportsCenter Anchor Tom Mees

Tom Mees was one of the ESPN originals. Along with Chris Berman and Bob Ley, Mees was one of the first anchors to narrate sports highlights to a national audience when the new network launched in 1979. Mees also worked as an anchor and reporter who covered the NHL and numerous other sports until his tragic death in 1996. Here’s a look back at one of the original ESPN personalities Tom Mees. 

Tom Mees before ESPN

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In 1972, after graduating from the University of Delaware, Tom Mees took a path similar to other aspiring sports journalists when he started his career as a sports reporter for WILM-AM radio station in Wilmington. For six years, Mees covered the local sports scene. 

In 1978, Mees moved to Tallahassee, Florida, and simultaneously moved to another medium. He worked for a year at WECA-TV covering the sports scene, including the Florida State Seminoles and other Florida-area sports teams. 

What happened next to Mees was something that hadn’t ever happened to another sports reporter in the history of broadcast television. Mees learned of an opportunity to work for a new sports network launching in Connecticut that would broadcast sports coverage 24/7. It was a crazy idea to consider at the time, but Mees took a chance and applied for a job. ESPN hired him as one of its first-ever sports personalities. 

Mees covered a variety of sports at ESPN

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When Tom Mees arrived at ESPN, there wasn’t a template. There weren’t any examples to follow. This was all new territory. It was the Wild West of sports coverage. And Mees, along with Chris Berman and Bob Ley, would be the trailblazers. Oh what a trail they blazed. 

From 1979 to 1987, Mees worked exclusively as a lead anchor for the network’s nightly highlight news show, SportsCenter. Over time, as the network adjusted its coverage, Mees found himself working in different capacities. In 1987, when ESPN signed a contract with the NHL, Mees took on the responsibility of host for NHL broadcasts.

In those early days, as ESPN would lose, then regain its contract with the NHL, Mees served as the main NHL host during the season, while anchoring the SportsCenter desk during the offseason. He was one of the early advocates for the NCAA Ice Hockey on ESPN and was influential in the growth of the Frozen Four, the NCAA Hockey’s championship tournament.

While Mees focused on hockey, he also worked in other sports, including college basketball, college football, and MLB. In 1994, when ESPN celebrated its 15th anniversary, Mees, Berman, and Ley were the only three original SportsCenter anchors still working at the network.

The tragic death of Tom Mees

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On August 14, 1996, Tom Mees and his two young daughters headed next door to the neighbor’s house for some fun in the sun at the swimming pool. Unfortunately, their enjoyable afternoon turned deadly in a matter of seconds.

Initial reports indicated Mees had jumped into the pool to save one of his daughters. Police later said that was not the case. To this day no one knows exactly what happened. On that day Mees’ wife Michelle, was alerted to the situation by one of her daughters. When she arrived next door, she discovered her husband lying on the bottom of the pool. Mees told police her husband did not know how to swim. 

Medical personnel arrived and tried to resuscitate Mees en route to the local hospital. Their efforts were unsuccessful and he was pronounced dead. Fellow anchor Chris Berman remembered Mees years later as ESPN celebrated its 50,000th SportsCenter

“I think between Bob Ley, Tom Mees and me, we must have done 5,000 or 6,000 of them. That’s the way it was back in the 1980s here at ESPN. A ton of work with everyone rolling up their sleeves. That part hasn’t changed much in 2012, as we get set to present our 50,000th SportsCenter. But for me, and those of us here in the 80’s and 90’s, a lot of things changed when we lost Tom Mees in 1996. He had a spirit and energy, and, dare I say, a sense of purity in his love of sports and his delivering of the evening’s news through the TV to his fellow sports fans that all of us envy to this day. He was on SportsCenter or calling his beloved NHL games or on assignment to pro football, college basketball, and so much more for just one reason. Tom was there to give us the sports.”

Mees did deliver the sports and he did it well. At the time of his death, Mees was just 46.