COLLEGE PARK (3/15/18) — Michael Wilbon, a sportswriter, columnist and television commentator for almost 40 years, is the winner of the fourth annual Sam Lacy-Wendell Smith award presented by the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland. The award is presented to a journalist who has made significant contributions to racial and gender equality in sports.
Wilbon, the co-host of ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” with Tony Kornheiser since 2001, was an intern, sportswriter and columnist for The Washington Post for 31 years before leaving the newspaper in 2010 to devote himself full-time to ESPN.
The previous winners of the award were Claire Smith of ESPN, James Brown of CBS Sports and William Rhoden, formerly of The New York Times and now with ESPN’s “The Undefeated.”
The award will be presented to Wilbon on May 6 during a luncheon at Nationals Park in Washington.
“Michael Wilbon has for nearly four decades demonstrated the fearlessness needed to confront the inequalities in sports that Sam Lacy and Wendell Smith wrote about their whole careers,” said television host Maury Povich, whose late father Shirley Povich was a sports columnist for The Washington Post for 75 years. “How wonderful for Michael to be recognized.”
Of Wilbon winning the award, George Solomon, director of the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism and Wilbon’s former editor at The Post, said: “Michael Wilbon’s career epitomizes why we established the award and what the award means. Since he began his career, Mike has written and talked about racial and gender equality in sports and stood up for those qualities his entire professional life.”
Lacy, the longtime sports editor for the Baltimore Afro-American, as well as other publications, was the first African-American member of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Lacy won the Associated Press Sports Editors Red Smith Award for contributions to sports journalism in 1998. He died in 2003 at the age of 99.
Smith worked for a number of African-American newspapers, as well as the Chicago Tribune and Chicago Sun-Times. He was a chronicler of Jackie Robinson while working for the Pittsburgh Courier and with Lacy pushed Branch Rickey to sign Robinson for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1945. (Robinson’s first year with the Dodgers, breaking the MLB modern-day color barrier, was 1947). Smith, who died in 1972 at age 58, won the Red Smith Award in 2014.
“I grew up in Chicago, fortunate enough as a kid to both read Wendell Smith as a sportswriter and watch him on WGN, then I worked in Washington, D.C., at a time when I could both read Sam Lacy in the Afro and be in his company at events,” Wilbon said of winning the award named for the two journalists. “And it gives me goose bumps to receive any award created in the honor of those two icons. Honored doesn’t adequately describe my feeling.”
Wilbon, a native of Chicago, attended Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism (he is a member of the Board of Trustees) and interned at The Washington Post in 1979 and 1980 before being hired full-time by The Post in 1980. Before becoming a sports columnist at The Post in 1990, he covered Howard University, Georgetown, Maryland, the NBA, NFL, MLB, MLS and 10 Olympic Games.
In addition to co-hosting PTI with Kornheiser, Wilbon has been an NBA commentator for years for ESPN and ABC and writes occasional columns for ESPN.com. He also has co-authored books with NBA Hall of Famer Charles Barkley.
He and his wife, Sheryl, are the parents of a 10-year-old son, Matthew Raymond. They live in Bethesda, MD.
About the Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism
The Shirley Povich Center for Sports Journalism at the University of Maryland’s Philip Merrill College of Journalism is a resource for journalists, academics and the public who want to explore the complex role of sports in society. The center is led by its director, George Solomon, who was assistant managing editor for sports at The Washington Post from 1975-2003.