NABJ Sam Lacy Award winners honored

Six winners came prepared with grateful acceptance speeches

Related content: Seventh Sam Lacy Award winner got a big surprise

AnotherViewsquareBeing honored in front of family, friends, colleagues — even strangers — can be a bit overwhelming, often humbling. To hear your accomplishments neatly outlined as you are being introduced can induce some surreal moments. It’s receiving your flowers while you can smell them, a favorite phase my pastor likes to say.

Six of the NABJ Sam Lacy Sports Pioneer Award winners knew in advance of their honors and were expected to appear at last week’s ceremony at the downtown Minneapolis Hilton’s third-floor ballroom. These six have been honored before but not by the NABJ Sports Task Force, who each summer honors athletes, coaches, sports journalists and other influential figures who made legacy contributions to the NABJ host city and community.

Briana Scurry accepts her award from Ron Thomas.
Briana Scurry accepts her award from Ron Thomas.

Not one of them took the award, named for Sam Lacy who was inducted in 1998 into the broadcasters’ wing of Baseball Hall of Fame, lightly. Nor did the audience, who welcomed with standing ovations each winner’s pre- and post-acceptance remarks

The Sam Lacy six didn’t stutter or stumble. None gave chicken circuit opening jokes to lighten the moment. Rather, their speeches were humble and heartfelt, avoiding cliques or cue card-like statements. Not one individual went over their allowed time at the podium.

“My son wrote [this speech] for me,” admitted Bill McMoore as he read aloud his written thoughts. The 89-year-old McMoore is dealing with health issues and was assisted by his son.

But he still displayed the determined stubbornness that probably sustained McMoore as “the lone representative of his race” on the University of Minnesota football team and boxing team soon after World War II ended and he enrolled in his hometown university. “It was a long road,” he said.

“I love baseball. I love having a ballpark as an office,” says Sports Task Force Journalist of the Year LaVelle Neal III, who has covered the Twins as a primary beat writer for nearly 20 years. The Chicago native began his baseball writing career covering the Kansas City Royals for the Kansas City Star, but Neal cut his sportswriting teeth covering other sports for that paper as well, including soccer and minor league hockey.

Although Neal was elected in 2013 to be the first Black president of the Baseball Writers Association of America, and in 2012 the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum named him baseball writer of the year, he pointed out that receiving last week’s honor named after the late legendary Black sports journalist might top the previous ones.

“Having met Sam Lacy and all the things he did — he wasn’t allowed membership in the Baseball Writers Association of America, and to have this award named after him is a fantastic thing,” Neal said. “It is one of the highlights of my life.  If my career becomes even half of his, I will be very fortunate.”

Briana Scurry said it was hard to return to Minnesota just a few months after she buried her mom. Her mother and father were her biggest fans. The two-time Olympic gold medal-winning and 1999 World Cup champion soccer goalie, who now lives in Washington, D.C., said, “I had a lot of success. It was quite an honor to be awarded by journalists.

“The only thing that would have made it better is if they had been here,” Scurry said of her parents. “They were a testimony of all that I could do. I give it all to them.”

“I’m definitely in good company with these five individuals,” added St. Paul native Linda Roberts, who has been a student, player, and administrator at the University of Minnesota since she graduated from St. Paul Central in the mid-1970s. Her career rebounding mark set during her Gopher years (1977-81) still stands as the school’s best.

Cuban-born Tony Oliva has made Minnesota his home since the early 1960s. “I never dreamed in my life I would be that good,” said the first American League hitter to lead the league in batting average in his first two full seasons. His statue has stood outside the Twins’ new ballpark since it was erected in 2011.

The should-be-in-the-Hall-of-Fame gentleman noted, “I’m very proud to be an American and a Cuban.” Oliva also reminded the audience, “I’m Black. I’m very proud to be Black.”

Alan Page celebrated his 70th birthday last Friday — a large sheet cake was brought out and everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to the now-retired Minnesota Supreme Court justice because of mandatory retirement rules. “This honor is focused not only on our athletic careers, but what we’ve done beyond that,” said the first Black to sit on the state’s Supreme Court bench.

Our weekly word limit doesn’t allow us to say more about each of the Sam Lacy six at this time, but future columns are being planned to focus on each individual.

Editor’s Note: There was a seventh winner of this year’s NABJ Sam Lacy Sports Pioneer Award: MSR columnist Charles Hallman, who was not informed in advance of the honor and was caught by surprise as he took notes for this column during the ceremony. Charles is too modest to write about himself, hence Mitchell Palmer McDonald’s adjacent story Seventh award winner got a big surprise.


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