On June 19, 2018, former APSE president Jeff Wohler presented Terry R. Taylor for induction for the Red Smith Award, APSE’s highest honor. Here is an excerpt from Jeff’s induction speech that shows how much Taylor, who died last week at age 71, meant to our organization.
To be here today to help honor one of our country’s finest sports journalists – who happens to be a dear friend – is a rare privilege indeed.
I hope you can take away from this a sense of what newspaper sports journalism was like back in the ‘80s and early ‘90s –when Terry Taylor was helping lead the way.
I remember the first time I met her. AP Sports Editor Darrell Christian brought her to Tampa one February in the mid-‘80s, to introduce his new deputy to those who gathered for contest judging. Several of us – Bill Dwyre, Herb Stutz and John Cherwa from the LA Times, Dave Smith from Dallas and Steve Doyle from Orlando – gathered for dinner with Darrell and Terry. It was a nice evening, and we were all interested in learning about Terry and how she might work out as the new #2 at AP sports.
She wowed us with her smarts, her charm, her wit, and her presence. Darrell had made the right move…introduce his new deputy to some of the heavy hitters in the business (myself excluded) so they would spread the word that she going to be the right fit for a damn tough job. And she was.
So, here we are, more than 30 years later, and she is about to become the 38th Red Smith Award winner for her “extended major contributions to sports journalism.”
Here are some stats:
- She is the second woman to receive this award. (Mary Garber in 2005)
- She is the second AP staffer to receive this award. (Will Grimsley in 1987)
- And she is only the 10th sports editor – the non-writing manager or executive leader of the sports department to receive this this award.
(Also, she received the Mary Garber Pioneer Award, presented by the Association for Women In Sports Media.)
During the early years of APSE, when writers as well as editors were among the forming members, it was assumed that the best writers would be the obvious choices for the Red Smith Award. After all, it was their product, their writing that was contributing the most to sports journalism.
So, after Red Smith won the first award, who could argue when Jim Murray, Fred Russell (of the old Nashville Banner), Blackie Sherrod, or Furman Bisher were selected. Back then, the writers regarded the editors as those who worked behind the scenes, and they didn’t make “same imprint on the world as did the poets.”
But things were changing. Henry Freeman invented the USA Today sports section. Dave Smith in Dallas invented (so he claimed) the agate page. Bill Dwyre in Los Angeles unleashed a talented staff across the country and the world to cover sports. The guys in the back room were finally being recognized for their impact.
Now, today, Terry Taylor joins THESE editors for HER major contributions to sports journalism: Dave Smith, Ed Storin, Dick Sandler, Bill Dwyre, George Soloman, Joe McGuff, Van McKenzie, Vince Doria, and Henry Freeman. Folks, that is an oversized Mount Rushmore of sports editing talent right there.
When I talked with Terry shortly after her selection, her first reaction was… “I looked at the names and asked myself, ‘Do I really belong’?” And so I said: “You were America’s sports editor. Maybe even the world’s sports editor. And you did that job better, and longer, than it’s ever been done.”
She had more than 120 people reporting to her. There were 80 different domestic AP bureaus that covered sports as part of their assignment. And there were 45 more bureaus around the world. Back then, AP was living the 24/7 news cycle – for both its print and broadcast clients. Nobody else was doing that then – of course, today, it’s just a fact of life for everybody.
In her role as deputy sports editor, she was the straw that stirred the daily drink. We would see her in action at various APSE gatherings…contest judging, conventions, even regional meetings. She’d be on the phone – anywhere she could find one because cell phones didn’t exist then – planning coverage of this event or that… a minor league hockey game in Rochester or decathlon coverage at the Olympic Games.
Those of us with smaller staffs that covered a city, a state or a region, tried to imagine what it would be like to staff the country – or even the world – and have to be as thorough at getting complete and accurate agate… …Or ensuring the right words were written, or soothing the frayed nerves of a staffer in Timbuktu – and doing this day in and day out…always with that huge responsibility of doing it right and without error.
But that wasn’t all. Despite planning coverage for 14 Olympics, Super Bowls, World Series, various NCAA tournaments, and Triple Crowns, she had to deal with us. Here’s how she saw it:
“I got to deal with the maniacs in my office, and hundreds of sports editors screaming at me… all the time.”
I’ve been on the phone and corresponded with more than two dozen sports editors and AP staffers for their thoughts, anecdotes and memories of Terry Taylor as the sports editor for AP.
I was inundated. I’m going to offer a sampling here…it’s a shame I can’t read them all, but I did compile the package for her to add to her collection.
From Jerry Micco, Pittsburgh: “Terry’s time as sports editor was maybe AP Sports’ greatest period of innovation and growth. People may talk about her being a pioneer because of her gender, but I look more at what she did in her job…organizing and increasing Olympic coverage; the broadening of AP’s enterprise and feature report was groundbreaking, and her attention to detail was relentless. She brought AP sports to another level.”
From Dale Bye, most notably from Kansas City (and our bylaws and contest expert back in the ‘80s and ‘90s): “What stands out for me about Terry Taylor is the lack of anecdotes. To a newspaper sports editor, the AP sports editor should be like the home plate umpire. You don’t want to know they were there. At early APSE conventions, ‘AP On The Firing Line’ was heavily attended, contentious and lasted all afternoon with editors offering an assortment of gripes. Terry made completeness and consistency the trademark of her tenure. When I left the conventions more than 20 years ago, ‘AP On The Firing Line’ was benign, sparsely attended and slotted for an hour. That speaks to the terrific job Terry did in running the AP sports department. She was cheerful and tough – hard combination to beat.”
From Steve Doyle, then in Orlando: “Terry is a fearless, brash, smart-ass of a wonderful human being. She could light a room with her smile and kill a rattler with a look. She stepped into the ultimate job of conflict – managing writers and editors and the expectations of thousands of us – and never slowed down to see if anyone liked how she was doing. She took that Philly girl spirit, that New York toughness and a well-honed knowledge of her craft, and simply went about her work. She may not have been the nation’s first female sports editor, but she certainly was its most powerful and most important – by any gender. And she wore that crown like a survivor in Game of Thrones.”
From Bill Dwyre, Los Angeles Times and a Red Smith Award winner: “Terry Taylor was tough, smart and besieged. She had to answer to hundreds of idiots like myself who wanted to know, first thing Monday morning, whether the guy who won the curling tournament in Calgary had two t’s or one in his name. The worst and best idiot of us all was Dave Smith, who ran the Dallas Morning News like the Germans run railroads, and who never let Taylor’s AP off the hook on a piece of missing agate. Smith was the best sports editor of our era. I thought Terry Taylor’s survival of Smith, on a daily basis, should have earned her a Nobel Peace prize. The Red Smith Award is a perfect consolation.”
From Cathy Henkel, Seattle, one of the founders of AWSM and a pioneer in her own right: “During that two-decade span, I know firsthand that running a sports department, composed largely of men while constantly trying to diversify its ranks, is layered with hurdles – some subtle, others not so much. In running a world-wide network, Terry, with great agility, cleared them all.”
From Tom Curley, president of AP during much of Terry’s tenure: “Terry knew the story. She always knew the story. She cut to the quick as well as any editor. And she never suffered a fool gladly or even for a minute. She jumped onto my radar screen in 2004 when I returned to the newsroom after the opening ceremony of the Athens Olympics, and a shouting match had broken out. You know who won. A non-sports person had written the lead, and it was all about politics and problems dogging the Olympics. ‘Nobody cares about the politicians,’ she said. ‘The greatest athletes in the world have taken the field. That’s the story.'”
From Jim Litke, AP sports columnist: “She took her leadership role seriously. The first question she asked when I arrived on-site anywhere was… ‘Is everybody playing well together?’ If there was any hint of discord, five seconds after I’d hung up, the phones along the rest of press row lit up in sequence until pretty much all of us were chuckling over whatever we were arguing about.”
From Henry Freeman, USA Today, and a Red Smith Award winner: “You could always count on Terry to be well organized and professional, and her best came out at the big events. At the 1988 Seoul Olympics, there was a 13-16 hour time difference and most American journalists had time to think about their stories. At AP, their deadlines came every minute with demands from all over the world. And there were days when I was about to hit a wall, but I’d walk across the hall to the AP bureau, and check in with Terry. She had done such a good job of planning and deploying her resources, she looked perfectly calm.”
From Nancy Armour, formerly of AP and now of USA Today: “She called me one day, telling me she noticed all my leads were the same… she said no writer should ever be content to write in the same style or tone for every story.., that you have to stretch yourself and recognize that different stories call for different approaches. Fast forward 20 years and one day I looked at my lead and could hear Terry’s voice in my head: ‘it’s the same type of lead as yesterday.’ Two points to this story: Terry remains the best editor I ever had. And nothing escaped her attention. She read every piece of copy that was on the wire, and had thoughts about all of it. It made the wire better, and she made all of us better.”
When her selection was announced, Jeff Rosen asked me for some comments. I said, “She ran a giant sports department, the biggest in the world, and she did it longer than anyone else ever did. She did it with distinction, attention to detail, with style, with class and with grace. She deserves the Red Smith Award because she made such a difference in our business.”
If you ever received a letter, an email or a note from Terry Taylor, it was always signed TRT. Precious few know what the R stands for.
But now, for me, and from today forward, the R will stand for Red Smith – as in Terry Taylor, Red Smith Award winner.
Read Terry’s Red Smith induction speech: