From the convention: Red Smith winner Albom rejects cynicism in sports writing

SALT LAKE CITY – Years before he made it look easy, Mitch Albom made sports writing appear distressingly difficult. So much that Dave Anderson, the legendary New York Times columnist, told the young Albom to settle his nerves.

Albom was profiling Anderson, asking tough questions and trying to be perfect, when Anderson noticed.

“Kid,” Albom recalled Anderson telling him years ago, “this job isn’t as hard as you’re making it out to be.”

Albom recalled the story Friday, shortly after receiving the prestigious Red Smith Award during the APSE convention in Salt Lake City. Albom is a longtime columnist at the Detroit Free Press, and he’s also a best-selling author and commentator. The Free Press’s sports editor, Gene Myers, introduced Albom at the annual luncheon, which honors a journalist for lifetime achievement.

“I know that my peers, being sports guys and gals, will want to hear the stats and the stories,” Myers said, reading from prepared remarks that also ran in Friday’s edition of the Free Press. “And what it’s like to be the boss of a legend in our field. Hint: It inspires you.

Albom told several stories during his remarks, recounting some of the experiences that led him to receiving APSE’s top honor. He said he learned some things the hard way, adding that he tried to go his own way, even if it wasn’t always the most popular route. Albom said he skipped media parties, hospitality suites and much of the socializing that he saw others doing, instead spending his time on finding different kinds of columns. His way led to Albom’s being named APSE’s top sports columnist 13 times.

“Red Smith famously said: ‘Writing is easy. All you have to do is open a vein and bleed,’” Myers said. “Why has Mitch won all these awards and sold all those books? He bleeds every word. Every time.”

In addition to a plaque to commemorate the Red Smith Award, the organization’s president, Garry Howard, presented Albom with a copy of the plaque that hangs in the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana University.

Albom also cautioned young writers from egregiously attacking their subjects in columns, saying that lives can be changed when the proper care isn’t taken. So many years after that first discussion with the New York Times’ Anderson, Albom said he’s learned plenty during his long career.

“Be able to sleep at night with what you’ve written,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot of lessons. And hopefully passed on a few.”

Kent Babb

The Kansas City Star | Kent Babb covers the NFL's Chiefs and writes sports features for the Kansas City Star.

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