The Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) in April named Claire Smith their 2023 Red Smith Award winner. She is the first Black woman and the second consecutive Black journalist (after the Athletic’s Leon Carter in 2022) to win the award.
It is the latest honor for the legendary sports journalist, whose career spans more than four decades, including stints with the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and ESPN. She was Major League Baseball’s first female beat writer, initially for the Hartford Courant, then the Times.
However, Smith also made history when after the first game of the 1984 National League Championship series, the San Diego Padres physically removed her from the visitors’ clubhouse despite an NL rule requiring equal access to all accredited journalists during the playoffs. Then-commissioner Peter Ueberroth the next day issued a new rule that all major league locker rooms must be open to all reporters regardless of gender.
Smith now applies her experience and wisdom to future sports journalists as co-director and assistant professor of practice at the Claire Smith Center for Sports Media at the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University, where both she and her mother earned degrees.
Smith and her fellow faculty members are dedicated to preparing tomorrow’s sports journalists. “We combine academic rigor with real-world experience and training,” according to the center’s website.
Being a college professor “is something that I had thought about every single time I was asked to go to a campus and talk to the students about journalism,” Smith recently told the MSR. “My job is to prepare them and make sure that they have the writing skills” no matter the medium they wish to pursue as a career, whether doing podcasts or working as communications specialists writing press releases.
Sports journalism, according to a new Pew Research Center study, remains a field where men (83 percent) are more likely than women to be involved, and where Blacks, Latinos and Asians are still underrepresented in almost every news and sports beat.
“The goal is to promote diversity, equity and inclusion,” continued Smith. “If we’re not doing our job, I especially wouldn’t be doing my job.”
During her career, Smith was undeterred in reporting on the lack of diversity in baseball, especially the very low number of Black managers in baseball. Currently, there are two Black managers out of 30 MLB team. Over a 26-year period (1995-2021), less than nine percent of managers hired were Black, according to Arizona State University’s Global Sport Institute.
More importantly, Smith is an expert in telling stories. “You have to look for something new and see what the magic is,” she observed of covering baseball.
“See how sports transcend and help populations decompress, and why is that? Why do 30,000 people get so much joy out of a strikeout?”
Even with today’s technology, Smith stressed the importance of writing. She also stressed the importance of reaching out as early as high school to help convince students that they could become effective communicators.
Smith’s resume includes the 2017 BBWAA’s Career Excellence Award and the Jackie Robinson Foundation’s ROBIE award for lifetime achievement. She is permanently celebrated in the “Scribes & Mikemen” exhibit at Baseball Hall of Fame and has been honored by NABJ (a 2021 Hall of Fame inductee and 1997 Sports Journalist of the Year) and Temple University (a 2014 inductee in its School of Media and Communication Hall of Fame), among others.
Smith has been an influential voice among Black writers and editors both in newspapers and television. Now she is directing her voice to a new generation: “That’s the way I will certainly keep preparing them.”