Rich Cimini of ESPN.com, Michael Cohen of The Athletic, Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer, Ian O’Connor of ESPN.com, Ben Shpigel of the New York Times and Seth Wickersham of ESPN The Magazine all won first place honors in their respective categories in the Professional Football Writers of America’s 2019 Dick Connor Writing Awards.
The Connor Awards encompass beat reporting, columns, features, enterprise news/features, breaking news and game stories written by PFWA members from post-Super Bowl LII in Minneapolis through Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta.
The awards are named for Connor, the ninth PFWA president (1980-81) and the organization’s 1991 Dick McCann Award recipient, who worked for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News. Connor was inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame in 1992 and was a 22-time Colorado Sports Writer of the Year honoree.
Beginning this year, the Connor Award categories were named for some of the renowned pro football writers who chronicled the NFL over the league’s first 100 seasons: the Bob Oates Beat Reporting Award, named in honor of the Los Angeles Times reporter and the PFWA’s 1974 Dick McCann Award winner, the Dave Anderson Column Writing Award, named after the New York Times’ Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and the 1998 McCann Award honoree, the Bryan Burwell Feature Writing Award, named in honor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and New York Daily News writer and columnist, the Lesley Visser Enterprise News/Features Award, named after the pioneering football writer who became the NFL’s first female beat reporter in 1976 at the Boston Globe and who later worked for CBS, the Will McDonough Breaking News Award, named after the Boston Globe reporter and columnist who went on to a decorated career in TV journalism and who received the McCann Award in 1990 and the Dave Goldberg Game Story Award, named after the 41-year Associated Press reporter and 2015 McCann Award honoree.
The 2019 Dick Connor Writing Awards were judged by Malcolm Moran, the director of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, who has directed sports journalism programs for more than a decade after a career as an award-winning reporter and columnist at the New York Times, USA TODAY and other publications.
First place in the Oates Beat Reporting category went to Cimini. “The game story, feature, breaking news and wild card submissions each reflected a rare understanding of a Jets franchise that invented new forms of futility for much of the time since its Super Bowl triumph a half century ago,” Moran commented. “The game story assigned blame to multiple deserving targets without becoming harsh or unfair. The feature presented a fun, creative way to connect with Super Bowl III: a detailed description of the journeys of the championship rings.”
O’Connor took first place in the Anderson Columns category for “The NFL’s ‘willful ignorance,’ and how it botched the Kareem Hunt case”. According to Moran, “With careful reporting and research, the column establishes how ‘preposterous’ it was that the NFL could not produce more about video evidence of Hunt’s actions and includes the valuable perspective of Kathy Redmond, founder of the National Coalition Against Violent Athletes.”
Wickersham won first place honors in the Burwell Feature Writing category for “And Now For His Next Act…”. Moran said, “A profile of Odell Beckham Jr. offers rich details beyond the OBJ persona and the impact of his celebrity status by connecting him with his old school, Isidore Newman School in New Orleans, and his football camp in New Jersey.”
Fowler was first with “The Carruth Project” in the Visser Enterprise News/Features contest. “The ‘Carruth Project,’ in its seven chilling parts, deconstructs what was called ‘one of the most notorious crimes in Charlotte history,’ which sent former Carolina Panther Rae Carruth to prison for 19 years for conspiring to murder his pregnant girlfriend, said Moran. “Years of patience and persistence created a surprising and memorable conclusion.”
Cohen, for “Sources: Tragic death of former teammate keeps Cole Madison away from Packers”, took first prize in the McDonough Breaking News category. “The absence of Madison, an offensive lineman, is linked to his reaction to the suicide of former teammate Tyler Hilinski,” said Moran.
Shpigel took first with “Chiefs Finally End a Playoff Drought at Home, Burying the Colts” in the Goldberg Game Story category. “A long-awaited home victory describes the ‘grand playoff unveiling’ of Patrick Mahomes and the powerful emotional significance for the family of late founder and owner Lamar Hunt,” Moran said.
Cohen earned the most individual awards with three – two with The Athletic and one with Sports Illustrated. In addition to his first-place award in Breaking News, he also earned third-place honors in both the Enterprise News/Features and Game Story contests. Fowler and Rich Campbell of the Chicago Tribune each earned a pair of awards. In all, 15 different PFWA members received a first-, second- or third-place award.
Prizes in the beat reporting contest are $500 for first place, $250 for second and $125 for third. In the remaining categories, first place receives $250, second place earns $150 and third place has a $75 award.
The full list of the 2019 winners follows:
2019 DICK CONNOR WRITING AWARDS
Bob Oates Beat Reporting
1. Rich Cimini, ESPN.com
2. Rob Demovsky, ESPN.com
3. Chad Graff, The Athletic
Dave Anderson Column Writing
1. Ian O’Connor, ESPN.com: “The NFL’s ‘willful ignorance,’ and how it botched the Kareem Hunt case”
2. Greg Bishop, Sports Illustrated: “’The Rams Are Our People:’ How L.A.’s Team Lifted the Community After a Week of Tragedy”
3. Scott Fowler, Charlotte Observer: “What’s 13 feet tall, tarnished, fading? Jerry Richardson’s legacy and hopefully this”
Bryan Burwell Feature Writing
1. Seth Wickersham, ESPN The Magazine: “And Now For His Next Act…”
2. Dan Pompei, Bleacher Report: “Matt Millen ‘At Peace’: Haters Never Got to Him, and Failing Health Won’t Either”
3. Tyler Dunne, Bleacher Report: “’I Can’t Be Stopped’: Stedman Bailey Opens Up on Shooting, NFL Comeback Attempt”
Lesley Visser Enterprise News/Features
1. Scott Fowler, Charlotte Observer: “The Carruth Project”
2. Jenny Vrentas, MMQB.com: “The NFL and Social Justice: This Is What Players and Teams Are Doing in Their Communities”
3. Michael Cohen, Sports Illustrated: “The Violent Life of Eric Naposki”
Will McDonough Breaking News
1. Michael Cohen, The Athletic: “Sources: Tragic death of former teammate keeps Cole Madison away from Packers”
2. Rich Campbell, Chicago Tribune: “Roquan Smith’s holdout centers on new NFL helmet-contact rule”
3. Chris Tomasson, St. Paul Pioneer Press: “Vikings legend Alan Page will put politics aside, accept Presidential Medal of Freedom”
Dave Goldberg Game Story
1. Ben Shpigel, New York Times: “Chiefs Finally End a Playoff Drought at Home, Burying the Colts”
2. Rich Campbell, Chicago Tribune: “Bears defense flexes on high-flying Rams during a dominant 15-6 victory”
3. Michael Cohen, The Athletic: “Another case of costly mistakes and missed opportunities for the Packers”
ABOUT THE PFWA: In its 56th season in 2019, the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA) is the official voice of pro football writers, promoting and fighting for access to NFL personnel to best serve the public. The PFWA is made up of accredited writers who cover the NFL and the 32 teams daily. Bob Glauber, the national football columnist for Newsday, is the organization’s president for the 2018-20 seasons. The Athletic’s Lindsay Jones is the PFWA’s first vice-president, The Athletic’s Dan Pompei is the PFWA’s second vice-president and The Athletic’s Mike Sando is the PFWA secretary-treasurer. At-large members include ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold, ProFootballtalk.com’s Charean Williams, Sports Illustrated’s Jenny Vrentas and USA Today’sMike Jones. Follow the PFWA at ProFootballWriters.org and on Twitter at @PFWAwriters.