Ted Stevens, a man revered within the U.S. Olympic movement for his advocacy on behalf of athletes and sports, was inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame on Thursday.
Stevens, who served Alaska for 40 years in the U.S. Senate, was one of 11 inductees honored at a ceremony in Chicago. He's the 16th person to be inducted as a "special contributor" and joins a Hall of Fame loaded with some of the country's most famous athletes.
The author of the Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act, Stevens helped bring order and reorganization to the somewhat chaotic world of amateur sports back in the 1970s. The act provides protection for athletes, in part by giving them the right to due process, and led to the creation of the U.S. Olympic Committee as well as national governing bodies for each Olympic sport.
On numerous occasions the late Senator went to bat in Congress for athletes and Olympic-related causes, said Anchorage's Nina Kemppel, a member of the U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors.
"In my view, he's irreplaceable," Kemppel, a four-time Olympic skier, said. "He always stood up for us in Congress. We need to find another Ted Stevens who will be a proponent for us."
In announcing his selection to the Hall of Fame, the USOC in a press release called Stevens "one of the greatest champions of the Olympic movement in the U.S."
"No one in American political life did more for amateur sports than Ted," Dick Ebersol, the former chairman of NBC Universal Sports and Olympics, said after Stevens died in a 2010 plane crash in western Alaska.
Kemppel, 41, grew up in Anchorage knowing all about Stevens' contributions to Alaska as a U.S. senator. She was also aware of his contributions to sports, including his role as a co-sponsor of Title IX, the 1972 law that transformed the landscape of American sports by mandating gender equity in federally funded schools.
But it wasn't until she became a USOC insider -- first as an member of the athletes advisory board, then as a member of the board of directors -- that she witnessed the immense gratitude and regard shown to Stevens in the U.S. Olympic world.
"Going into the Olympic family, I wasn't surprised, but I felt honored that Ted Stevens was so well respected," Kemppel said.
"His legacy lies in his advocacy. The support he provided was phenomenal."
Stevens is a member of the 15th class of inductees into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame. He joins a shrine that includes 98 Olympians, five Paralympians, 10 teams, four coaches, 10 veterans, 16 special contributors and two Olive Branch award winners.
Also inducted in Thursday's ceremony was the 2004 women's softball team, Gail Devers (track), Jean Driscoll (Paralympic track & field), Gary Hall Jr. (swimming), Lisa Fernandez (softball), Kristine Lilly (soccer), Dan O'Brien (track & field), Jenny Thompson (swimming), Ed Temple (coach, track & field) and James Connolly (veteran, track & field).
Honorees were chosen by Olympians, Paralympians, members of the Olympic family and more than 100,000 members of the public who voted online.
Thursday's ceremony will air Aug. 24 on NBC Sports Network (cable Channel 39).
Reach Beth Bragg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.