Another year, another snub: Pulitzer Prize ignores sportswriters

Somebody needs to tell the Pulitzer Prize committee there is a section in the newspaper called sports.

It was the same old story this week for the press box gang. Another year of being bypassed by the Pulitzers.

OK, Sara Ganim and the Harrisburg Patriot-News were awarded a Pulitzer Prize for their terrific coverage of the Jerry Sandusky saga.

Ganim, though, isn’t a sportswriter and the mess at Penn State went way beyond the realm of a sports story.

Check the record books. George Dohrmann of St. Paul Pioneer Press was the last individual sportwriter winner in 2000. He received the Pulitzer for his reports of fraud in the Minnesota basketball program. Ira Berkow shared the 2001 Pulitzer for national reporting for his article “The Minority Quarterback” in a New York Times series on race in America.

Since then, more than a decade, nothing. The Pulitzers bypassed Lance Williams and Mark Fainuru-Wada’s fine work on BALCO for the San Francisco Chronicle.

Actually, the Pulitzer snub goes back forever. Only three columnists: Red Smith (1976), Dave Anderson (1981), and Jim Murray (1990) have won the award for commentary. Zero for Grantland Rice and Jimmy Cannon, giants among giants. And the fact that Smith and Murray had to wait until they were so deep into their careers is absolutely absurd.

Now, it’s been 22 years since a sport columnist has claimed a Pulitzer. Meanwhile, a myriad of other columnists in other departments have enjoyed champagne celebrations in their newsrooms. In fact, an old colleague, Mary Schmich from the Chicago Tribune, won the Pulitizer for commentary this year. Congratulations, Mary.

Certainly, with all the great sports columnists in the land, at least a few of them were worthy of breaking the 0 for 22 skid. Again, absurd is the only word that comes to mind.

In his new book, Over Time: My Life as a Sportswriter, Frank Deford details how the sportswriting fraternity repeatedly gets dumped on when it comes to major journalism awards. The Sports Illustrated legend writes in the book (due out May 1) that he once asked NPR to nominate him for a Peabody Award for his weekly commentaries on sports.

NPR decided against it after a Peabody representative flat out said Deford wouldn’t win the award.

He writes:

But this is what stung: Peabody’s spokesman told Ellen (McDonnell, NPR’s executive director of news programming), “You should’ve nominated Daniel Schorr for politics.”

The late Mr. Schorr was the distinguished political commentator on NPR–as far as I was concerned, they could’ve given him a Peabody each and every year. But the idea that his work talking about politics merited recognition simply because of the subject matter, while mine disqualified me–well, yeah that upset me. I’m sorry, but every now and then I take umbrage.

Regarding the Pulitzers, Deford also takes umbrage with the committee giving an annual award to an editorial cartoonist. Matt Wuerker of Politico was tabbed this year.

Deford writes:

Hey, I love political cartoonists. But how many of them are there left? What? Two dozen? And how many newspaper sportswriters are there? Thousands. And for them, the Pulitzer people deign to give out one to a guy at the New York Times every generation or so.

Deford concludes his rant as only he can.

I’m sorry, I can’t apologize for pointing out what slights we in the profession so regularly receive. Sports journalism has been such a crucial economic part of the daily press that it ought to be recognized more, if only because it’s kept a lot of newspapers in business. And yeah, I know, it’s the toy shop. But some toys are very well made.

I always have resented that people label sports the toy department. There is serious work done there by serious people. I’d love for one of the Pulitzer committee members to spend a year covering a Major League Baseball team and then tell me that’s a joy ride. After that grueling experience, I bet they promptly would give a Pulitzer to a baseball writer.

The annual Pulitzer slight bugs all of us in the fraternity. It would be nice for the committee to take a longer look at sportswriters next year.

However, they probably will be too preoccupied judging the best editorial cartoonists.











2 thoughts on “Another year, another snub: Pulitzer Prize ignores sportswriters

  1. I don’t disagree with what you’re saying but I think it’s worth noting that in the last three years, the NYT has been a finalist for sports writing twice. This year it was for a great series about the life of Derek boogard and last year or the year before it was for a series about concussions in football. That still plays into your hypothesis that the sports writing recognized is often only from a major publications, but being a finalist is still a very high honor

  2. Sports is “Entertainment”.

    How many Pulitzers have been awarded for “Entertainment”-based journalism? Not many.

    When Entertainment Tonight or Sports Illustrated gets someone on the Board that awards these prizes you might have a chance.

    Otherwise, just accept that sports journalists are have little to no effect on the world or how we view it.

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