When Brian Kenny was asked to play himself in the 2006 film “Rocky Balboa,” the choice was easy. “That was a blast,” he said. “To meet Sly (lead actor, writer and director Sylvester Stallone) and be there, it was an honor to be asked to be a part of it.”
Brian KennyThe ESPN anchor has been practically everywhere you look when tuning into “The Worldwide Leader in Sports,” either on the television or radio dial. The same year that he was in the latest installment of the Rocky saga, Kenny was named as the top guy on the 6 PM edition of “SportsCenter.” He also has his own two-hour block on ESPN Radio on weeknights from 8 to 10 PM and is the host for ESPN2’s “Friday Night Fights,” as well as ESPN Classic’s “Top Five Reasons You Can’t Blame” and “Classic Ringside.”
Although he is well-versed in all sports, boxing and baseball are the passions for Kenny, the son of a retired NYPD detective. He was exposed to a teenage Mike Tyson back in the mid-1980s while working as the sports director at WTZA-TV in Kingston, New York, but not in the sense that you would expect.
“I would go to the gym on my way to work and had a chance to meet Mike and all his trainers there, including Kevin Rooney,” he said. “We still didn’t know for sure that he was going to be a heavyweight champion back then. My personal dealings with him – he was soft-spoken and humble. He had a depth of intellect and was a big, sweet guy. He also was the hardest worker in the gym.”
Of course, Tyson went on to become the youngest heavyweight champion of all time when he defeated Trevor Berbick by a second round TKO in 1986 at the age of 20 years and four months. Later, “Iron Mike” became the unified champion and was recognized as one of the best boxers of all time before his career was derailed by bad decisions in and out of the ring. “We’re still fascinated by Tyson, but there’s always that side of him” said Kenny. “You saw it unravel and happen. He was always in search of a strong figure. He had control of the world. He didn’t need to be controlled.”
During his tenure in Kingston, Kenny won 11 New York State Broadcasters Association Awards, as well as five Associated Press Awards for Journalistic Excellence. He previously was a news reporter and sports anchor in 1985 and 1986 at WLIG-TV in Riverhead on Long Island.
Brian KennyAfter 13 years in his home state, Bristol, Connecticut called on Kenny and he the awards didn’t stop there. He won a Sports Emmy Award in 2003 for his work on ESPN’s “Baseball Tonight;” was named the 2004 Media Personality of the Year by Sports Illustrated and was the recipient of the 2005 Sam Taub Award for the Boxing Broadcaster of the Year by the Boxing Writers Association.
When asked which of the two he prefers covering, Kenny was non-committal. “You can’t be an expert on every sport,” the 45-year-old said. “Those are the two sports that I love. I grew up playing baseball and was always reading about the game and the allure of it.
“Then I started boxing in my 20s, sparring at the gym,” continued Kenny,” and my interest (in it) was heightened. To be able to host (the two sports) for ESPN is a dream come true.” He has been the play-by-play man for ESPN’s “Wednesday Night Baseball” and is the host of the network’s annual Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Cooperstown.
The married father of five has certainly made a name for himself and the signs were there when he attended St. John’s University and the New York Institute of Technology, which he graduated magna cum laude from in 1985.
Maybe he can fall back on acting as a second career. Kenny was also in 2007’s “Resurrecting the Champ,” which starred Samuel L. Jackson, Alan Alda and Josh Harnett, and teamed up with fellow ESPN personality John Saunders to form an announcing team of a demolition on a 2008 episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” where the family who operated a youth boxing gym in Geneva, New York had a new home and gym built for them and their students.