PFWA announces 2021 Dick Connor Writing Awards

Rob Demovsky of ESPN.com, Greg Bishop of Sports Illustrated, Nicki Jhabvala of the Washington Post, Kalyn Kahler of Sports Illustrated, Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer and Kevin Fishbain of The Athletic all won first place honors in their respective categories in the Professional Football Writers of America’s 2021 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 LIV in Miami through Super Bowl LV in Tampa.

The Connor Award categories are named for some of the renowned pro football writers who chronicled the NFL over its history: 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.

First place in the Oates Beat Reporting category went to Demovsky. This is Demovsky’s first top prize in the Connor Writing Awards.

Bishop took first place in the Anderson Columns category for “Sports Agent Buddy Baker loses his parents six minutes apart to COVID-19”. Bishop also won the column competition in 2018. He has seven PFWA first-place awards in his career as he also earned top honors in game stories four times (2015-18) and in news in 2016.

Jhabvala won first place honors in the Burwell Feature Writing category for “The lasting friendship of Alex Smith and a soldier with a nearly identical leg injury”. This is Jhabvala’s first PFWA first-place award.

Kahler was first with “The theological evolution of former Green Bay Packer Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila” in the Visser Enterprise News/Features contest. This is Kahler’s first top award in the PFWA contest.

Fowler, for “Removal of the statue of Carolina Panthers founder Jerry Richardson”, took first prize in the McDonough Breaking News category. This is Fowler’s second PFWA top honor as he won the enterprise/news features category in the 2019 contest.

First place in the Goldberg Game Story category went to Fishbain with “How the Bears came back and won a ridiculous game in Atlanta”. This is Fishbain’s first PFWA first-place finish.

Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated received three individual awards, while Bishop and Tim Graham of The Athletic each earned two awards. In all, 19 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 $125 and third place has a $75 award.

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. A long-time PFWA officer, Connor also served as secretary-treasurer, and later, the organization’s vice-president.

The 2021 Connor Writing Awards were judged by Malcolm Moran, the director of the Sports Capital Journalism Program at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis. Moran 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.

The full list of the 2021 winners follows:

2021 DICK CONNOR WRITING AWARDS

Bob Oates Beat Reporting

1. Rob Demovsky, ESPN.com
2. Zak Keefer, The Athletic
3. Amie Just, New Orleans Times-Picayune | New Orleans Advocate

Dave Anderson Column Writing

1. Greg Bishop, Sports Illustrated: Sports Agent Buddy Baker loses his parents six minutes apart to COVID-19
2. Mike Sielski, Philadelphia Inquirer: The forgotten story of former Dallas Cowboy Richmond Flowers and his brave stand for America
3.(tie) Ian O’Connor, ESPN.com: The ‘dreadful example’ of Tom Brady working out with Tampa Bay teammates in defiance of medical recommendations; Michael Hurley, CBSBoston.com: Setting the record straight on Colin Kaepernick as an NFL quarterback

Bryan Burwell Feature Writing

1. Nicki Jhabvala, Washington Post: The lasting friendship of Alex Smith and a soldier with a nearly identical leg injury
2. Tim Graham, The Athletic: Stevie Johnson, the drop, the tweet and the box kept sealed for years
3.(tie) Jenny Vrentas, Sports Illustrated: Lamar Jackson, Quarterback, Redefined; Dan Pompei, The Athletic: How the grief of former Texans general manager Rick Smith reshaped his life

Lesley Visser Enterprise News/Features

1. Kalyn Kahler, Sports Illustrated: The theological evolution of former Green Bay Packer Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila
2. Jenny Vrentas, Sports Illustrated: The extensive help provided by the New Orleans Saints to the local Catholic archdiocese after revelations of sexual abuse
3.(tie) Tim Graham, The Athletic: Descriptions of a ‘toxic culture’ at Pegula Sports and Entertainment, owners of the Buffalo Bills; Don Van Natta Jr. and Seth Wickersham, ESPN.com: Donald Trump’s role in an attempt to stop the investigation of the New England Patriots’ Spygate Scandal

Will McDonough Breaking News

1. Scott Fowler, Charlotte Observer: Removal of the statue of Carolina Panthers founder Jerry Richardson
2. Chris Tomasson, St. Paul Pioneer Press: Minnesota Vikings decide to practice following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis.
3. Dennis Waszak Jr., Associated Press: The debut of New York Jets coach Robert Saleh coincides with the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks

Dave Goldberg Game Story

1. Kevin Fishbain, The Athletic: How the Bears came back and won a ridiculous game in Atlanta
2. Greg Bishop and Jenny Vrentas, Sports Illustrated: How Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers became Super Bowl champions
3. Ben Shpigel, New York Times: Tom Brady’s 7th Super Bowl win ends N.F.L.’s most challenging year

ABOUT THE PFWA: In its 58th season in 2021, 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. Lindsay Jones of The Athletic is the PFWA president for the 2021-22 seasons and the organization’s 30th president. Jenny Vrentas of Sports Illustrated is the PFWA’s first vice-president, Calvin Watkins of the Dallas Morning News is the second vice-president and Mike Sando of The Athletic is the secretary-treasurer. At-large board members include USA Today’s Mike Jones, ESPN.com’s Jeff Legwold, The Athletic’s Dan Pompei an ProFootballTalk.com’s Charean WilliamsFollow the PFWA at ProFootballWriters.org and on Twitter at @PFWAwriters.

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