The late Don Banks, who had a 36-year sportswriting career that included over 16 years at Sports Illustrated’s SI.com website, has been selected as the 2020 Dick McCann Award winner by the Professional Football Writers of America (PFWA).
Banks, the 52nd McCann Award honoree, is the third person who was affiliated with either Sports Illustrated or SI.com to receive the McCann Award, joining Paul Zimmerman (1996) and Peter King (2009).
The McCann Award is given to a reporter who has made a long and distinguished contribution to pro football through coverage. The award is named for McCann, who was the first director of the Pro Football Hall of Fame (1962-67). McCann was a longtime reporter in New York with several newspapers, the Newspaper Enterprise Association and King Features Syndicate. After a stint in the Navy in World War II, he was a sports columnist for the Washington Times-Herald in 1945. A year later, he joined the Washington Redskins as publicity director and was the club’s general manager from 1947-62 before taking the job with the Hall of Fame before its’ 1963 opening.
Other 2020 nominees for the McCann Award were Jarrett Bell (USA Today), Vic Carucci (Buffalo News), Jeff Legwold (ESPN.com), Gary Myers (author) and Barry Wilner (Associated Press).
Banks began his career covering prep sports as an intern in the Tampa Bay area for the St. Petersburg Times with his first byline in 1982. He went on to cover the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1990 for the Times, before moving to Minnesota to cover the Vikings and the NFL for the Minneapolis Star Tribune (1996-99) and later the St. Paul Pioneer Press (1999-2000). It was there that Banks caught the eye of editors at Sports Illustrated. In 2000, he was hired as NFL columnist for SI.com.
Banks was an NFL lifer. At SI, his “Snap Judgments” column on Sunday evenings became appointment reading for NFL fans. After an illustrious career at SI ended in 2016, Banks moved on to write about the league for NFL.com, Bleacher Report, Patriots.com and The Athletic. That led to the editors at the Las Vegas Review-Journal, needing a respected national presence to cover the NFL with the Raiders moving to Nevada in 2020, to hire Banks as their NFL correspondent.
Banks died suddenly at age 57 on Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019 in Canton. He was there to cover the Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremonies, and his first story in his new job for the Review-Journal was published hours before he died.
“I want to express my sincere appreciation and thanks to the PFWA for recognizing Don with this award, as well as to the loyal readers who supported him throughout his career, said Alissa Banks, Don’s widow. “Don’s work was his passion, and he would truly be humbled by this recognition. I choose to think that he is celebrating this great honor right along with those who love and miss him.”
Banks was also in Canton to celebrate his close friend Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times, who received the 2019 McCann Award during last year’s enshrinement weekend.
“On top of being a dogged and tireless reporter and an unforgettable storyteller, Don could do uncanny impersonations. That spoke to his meticulous eye for detail, and that carried over into his stories,” said Farmer. “He could identify a granular trait or element or trend that might otherwise have gone unnoticed, and he put it into words. From that point forward, you never looked at something the same way. Don was universally liked and respected, and unfailingly generous in sharing his experience and wisdom with younger reporters.”
“Don was so conscientious and such a truth-teller that I hired him when I ran the Sports Illustrated website ‘The MMQB’ to write a weekly column called ‘The Conscience’. He did it so well,” said King, the NFL Insider for the NBC Sports Group. “You could always count on his columns to cut through the PR spin and the surface takes. His Sunday night NFL column was the only piece of required reading passed around the set of ‘Football Night in America’ at NBC in its early days because NBC’s Dick Ebersol valued his instant interpretation of what happened that day in the NFL.
“I’m thrilled the PFWA is honoring Don with its highest award. His sons, Matt and Micah, will be over the moon, as will his widow, Alissa,” King said. “It’s just wonderful, and so fitting, to see that the work of a great NFL scribe will be memorialized forever in the cradle of pro football.”
Banks will be honored at a future date by the Pro Football Hall of Fame during Enshrinement Week Powered by Johnson Controls at the Enshrinees’ Gold Jacket Dinner and the Enshrinement Ceremony in Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium.
ABOUT THE PFWA: In its 57th season in 2020, 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 and the organization’s 29th president. 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’s Mike Jones. Follow the PFWA at ProFootballWriters.org and on Twitter at @PFWAwriters.
DICK McCANN AWARD WINNERS (To a reporter who has made a long and distinguished contribution to pro football through coverage): 1969 – George Strickler (Chicago Tribune); 1970 – Arthur Daley (New York Times); 1971 – Joe King (New York World Telegram & Sun); 1972 – Lewis “Tony” Atchison (Washington Star); 1973 – Dave Brady (Washington Post); 1974 – Bob Oates (Los Angeles Times); 1975 – John Steadman (Baltimore News-American); 1976 – Jack Hand (Associated Press); 1977 – Art Daley (Green Bay Press-Gazette); 1978 – Murray Olderman (Newspaper Enterprise Association); 1979 – Pat Livingston (Pittsburgh Press); 1980 – Chuck Heaton (Cleveland Plain Dealer); 1981 – Norm Miller (New York Daily News); 1982 – Cameron Snyder (Baltimore Sun); 1983 – Hugh Brown (Philadelphia Bulletin); 1984 – Larry Felser (Buffalo News); 1985 – Cooper Rollow (Chicago Tribune); 1986 – William Wallace (New York Times); 1987 – Jerry Magee (San Diego Union); 1988 – Gordon Forbes (USA Today); 1989 – Vito Stellino (Baltimore Sun); 1990 – Will McDonough (Boston Globe); 1991 – Dick Connor (Denver Post); 1992 – Frank Luksa (Dallas Morning News); 1993 – Ira Miller (San Francisco Chronicle); 1994 – Don Pierson (Chicago Tribune); 1995 – Ray Didinger (Philadelphia Daily News); 1996 – Paul Zimmerman (Sports Illustrated); 1997 – Bob Roesler (New Orleans Times-Picayune); 1998 – Dave Anderson (New York Times); 1999 – Art Spander (Oakland Tribune); 2000 – Tom McEwen (Tampa Tribune); 2001 – Len Shapiro (Washington Post); 2002 – Edwin Pope (Miami Herald); 2003 – Joel Buchsbaum (Pro Football Weekly); 2004 – Rick Gosselin (Dallas Morning News); 2005 – Jerry Green (Detroit News); 2006 – John McClain (Houston Chronicle); 2007 – John Clayton (ESPN.com); 2008 – Len Pasquarelli (ESPN.com); 2009 – Peter King (Sports Illustrated); 2010 – Peter Finney (New Orleans Times-Picayune); 2011 – Bob McGinn (Milwaukee Journal Sentinel); 2012 – Tom Kowalski (MLive.com); 2013 – Dan Pompei (Chicago Tribune); 2014 – Ed Bouchette (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette); 2015 – Dave Goldberg (Associated Press); 2016 – Chris Mortensen (ESPN.com); 2017 – Ed Werder (ESPN); 2018 – Charean Williams (Pro Football Talk); 2019 – Sam Farmer (Los Angeles Times); 2020 – Don Banks (SI.com)