Claire Smith with the Red Smith Award at the 2023 APSE Conference in Las Vegas.

By Kelly Ward / APSE Diversity Fellows

On the day Claire Smith received APSE’s Red Smith Award, she got a text from Astros manager Dusty Baker asking if she’d be in Seattle for the MLB All-Star Game.

She had to tell the man she calls her brother that she was in Las Vegas instead, being honored for her work as an MLB reporter, pioneering the beat for women and people of color.

She spent 40 years covering baseball, becoming the first woman to be full-time on a beat while working at the Hartford Courant as the New York Yankees beat writer. She’s worked at giants such as The New York Times and ESPN. Now, she works as an assistant professor at her alma mater, Temple University, and is executive director of the Claire Smith Center for Sports Media there.

“It was not lost on me that I could follow and learn from such giants, but I also had to carve a different path. I knew this in my heart,” she said. “The voice within me was charged with doing more than writing about balls and strikes. It had to give others a say through underwritten stories, overlooked stories, of underserved communities and peoples.

“That voice had to show my father that I heard him when he sent me out into the real world after telling me I would have to prove what I wasn’t before ever being allowed to prove what I was.”

How influential has Smith been in her illustrious career? When David Boardman, dean of the Klein College of Media and Communication at Temple University, wanted to create the Claire Smith Center at Temple and was told that he would need a “seven-figure check,” he was able to get a $500,000 check – a joint check — from MLB and the MLB Players Association while they were in a lockout while bargaining the new contract.

“[MLB commissioner] Rob Manfred’s response when he was approached on this was ‘You had me at Claire Smith,’” Boardman said. “Do you think that would happen with very many sports journalists? I don’t think so.”

Boardman was one of four to speak about Smith before she accepted her award, but based on the influence she had at The Philadelphia Inquirer and her other stops, it’s safe to say it was harder to narrow down a list of people who would speak than find people to do so.

As much as Smith received the award for the work she has done over more than four decades, it’s the future of sports journalism that she concerns herself with now. She urged the editors in the room to hire the best people and to use their sway in this industry to make it equitable and diverse place.

“Did the colors I chose help change the canvas of this thing we call sports journalism?” she asked. “Did the palette I held in my hand for 40 years inspire a youngster here or there? I can only hope so.”

APSE President Jorge Rojas (from left), Philadelphia Inquirer executive sports editor Gary Potosky, David Boardman of Temple University, Red Smith Award winner Claire Smith and longtime sports journalist Jon Pessah, who presented Smith ahead of her award on Tuesday, July 11, at the APSE Conference in Las Vegas.