Las Vegas, Nev.— Honoring history is not just for journalists like me, a longtime lover of history, but for today’s young Black journalists to gain awareness and a better appreciation for those who opened doors despite the odds, according to Ray Richardson at this year’s NABJ Sports Task Force Sam Lacy Pioneer Awards.
Sam Lacy is the first Black member of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (1948). Later he became the first Black writer in the Baseball Hall of Fame (1998), a true pioneer in his own right, who wrote his final column on his death bed at age 99.
The first “Lacys” went out in 1989 (Larry Doby and Pop Gates) and every year since, including two pandemic years (2020 and 2021) when the annual event went virtual. The ceremony honors trailblazing athletes, coaches, administrators, and journalists, living or deceased.
For many years, this columnist has had the pleasure and the opportunity to brush with greatness—to talk with them and hear their stories. It’s always a delight, a highlight of attending the NABJ convention, to be in a packed room of Black sports journalists young, old, and in between.
“Sam Lacy would be proud,” said MLB executive Del Matthews of this year’s honorees, which included a first-ever set of brothers, Sam and Randall Cunningham (football); the entire 1990 UNLV men’s basketball team; two Black women pro team presidents—Sandra Douglass Morgan (Las Vegas Raiders) and Nikki Fargas (Las Vegas Aces); Jim Hill (broadcast journalist); William Claire “Hailey” Harding (print journalist); and Andre Agassi (tennis, philanthropy).
Former Twin Cities sportswriter and KMOJ personality Ray Richardson, a longtime co-host of the Lacy awards, shared this year’s duties with first-timer Kelsey Nelson.
Sam Cunningham died last year. He was a member of Southern California’s all-Black backfield in 1970, who completely dominated an all-White Alabama squad in 1970, forever changing college football for Southern-based PWI (primarily White institutions).
His brother Randall played 16 NFL seasons at quarterback: Cunningham proved that “teams could win with a Black quarterback,” noted Richardson.
Harding played Negro Leagues baseball and pro basketball with the Harlem Rens, but he is more renowned (but still overlooked) as a Black journalist who led the fight to integrate pro football.
Morgan has achieved many firsts, including becoming team president of the Las Vegas Raiders last month, the first Black woman in NFL history to be named a team president.
Greg Anthony, now a basketball analyst, accepted the award for his and the Runnin’ Rebels’ 1990 national championship that set an NCAA record for an average margin of victory in the tournament (18.7 points), including thrashing Duke 103-73 in the finals. “It was an incredible experience,” said Anthony via video.
Jim Hill started his broadcasting career in 1972 while still playing as a pro football player, and according to Richardson, “has been the face of LA sports for 60 years.”
“This is an unbelievable award,” said Nikki Fargas, a former college head coach, now president of the Aces in the WNBA.
But the last honoree last week caught the winner totally by surprise, as Sports Task Force President A. Sherrod Blakely announced that Richardson was also a Lacy winner this year.
“I’m speechless at the moment,” said Richardson to the MSR afterward. “I’m humbled and it’s a wonderful feeling to be appreciated like that.”
Richardson is now doing daily sports reports on KBLA-AM in Los Angeles, where he started last week. “I always wanted to get back in sports. I like the station, an all-Black station, a talk station,” noted Richardson. “I’m gonna try to make it happen.”