“With solid writing, reporting and research, this series of three reports uncovered serious problems with youth football in America, where three million children play annually, including a player paralyzed after being coached to use a dangerous tackling technique, coaches offering cash prizes for big hits and rampant gambling. This important investigation added to the growing body of coverage about concussions and football with stories that graphically illustrated the problems and featured exclusive interviews with those involved in the controversies. ESPN’s reporting had an impact by identifying abuses and policy gaps, as well as prompting an 18-month police investigation into corruption and gambling.”
ESPN, long recognized as the leader in journalism within the sports arena, was honored today with one of the most prestigious awards in all of journalism.
Outside the Lines, with reporting done by the Enterprise units of both television and ESPN.com, has been named one of 14 recipients of the 2014 Alfred I. duPont Columbia University Award, it was announced this morning by Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism. ESPN was the only cable outlet to be honored this year.
It marks ESPN’s first duPont Award, which honors outstanding broadcast, digital and documentary journalism and recognizes excellent reporting in the public service, commitment to important stories and innovative storytelling.
“To be honored by the duPont Jury serves as an affirmation of the important journalism ESPN has done and continues to do on a daily basis,” ESPN Executive Vice President, Production, John Wildhack said. “This award is a reflection of the commitment our company has to not only telling compelling stories but also in helping to have a positive influence on the world of sports. It is a tribute to the hard work, dedication and incredibly talented people throughout our news gathering unit.”
ESPN’s winning submission — “Outside the Lines: Youth Football Concerns” — reported on issues at the youth football level, identifying abuses and policy gaps, and helped to shape a national conversation about whether parents should let their children play tackle football.
“These stories are critical because close to three million children play youth football, so documenting what is happening to them is paramount,” said Senior Coordinating Producer of ESPN’s Enterprise Unit and OTL Dwayne Bray. “All of our enterprise reporters, producers and editors from the digital and television sides should be proud of what we’ve accomplished winning this duPont.”
The Emmy and Murrow-award winning Outside the Lines submission contained three television pieces: Donnovan Hill; Pop Warner Bounties; South Florida Gambling update. Emphasis was placed on the broader, cross-platform commitment to the topic, with the entry also including ESPN.com stories as part of the coverage. Primary reporters were Tom Farrey and Paula Lavigne, with producers Greg Amante and Simon Baumgart. (All three pieces are included in the video above.)
“Let’s put it this way: Fifteen years ago, led by Vince Doria and Craig Lazarus, a few of us met every Friday to consider investigative story ideas we might want to pursue,” Farrey said. “There was no ‘Cross Platform News Unit’, no ‘Enterprise Unit’, no full stable of long-form journalists ferreting out the most important stories. It was just a handful of us eating lunch around a small table, thinking ESPN was capable of doing journalism of the very highest caliber while also creating digital companion pieces that would integrate with and enhance the TV reporting.
• Vince Doria – Director of News
• Dwayne Bray – Senior Coordinating Producer
• Chris Buckle – Senior Editor
• Tim Hays, Carolyn Hong – Coordinating Producers
• Tom Farrey, Paula Lavigne – Reporters
• Simon Baumgart, Greg Amante – Producers
• Michael Sciallo – Associate Producer
• Nathan Hogan, Steve McCarthy, Erik Swanson – Editors
• Dan Hardy, Trent Kamerman, Bill Roach, Marc Lustig – Photographers
• Nick Waligorski – Animator
• Nicole Noren – Enterprise Unit Awards Coordinator
“To be honored with the first-ever duPont Award, for our cross-platform reporting on a topic, is recognition that our faith was well-placed,” he said.
“We all worked tremendously hard investigating this story and it means so much to us that the duPont Jury recognized that hard work and the impact our reporting had on this problem,” said Lavigne, who reported the gambling story.
It’s important to note there are no categories, per se, for the duPont Awards, meaning there is no sports-specific grouping. The award is simply for “outstanding work in journalism.”
“That is what our unit does,” said Amante, the producer for Lavigne’s story. “Each person in the Enterprise Unit challenges themselves to do outstanding work in journalism through fair, accurate and compelling storytelling.
“I am honored to be named a winner of this award, however, this work that we are being recognized for is indicative of the work that is done every day and by everyone at OTL.”
“One of the best parts of working as a team member on OTL is being able to investigate and report on topics that affect the everyday person,” Baumgart said. “I can’t think of a more important aspect of sports than the safety of our youth. What happened to Donnovan Hill was a tragedy. A tragedy that could have possibly been prevented by informed and educated coaches and parents.
“The Pop Warner Bounties piece demonstrated how both coaches and parents can take youth sports too far with a dangerous win-at-all-costs attitude,” he said. “The piece that Paula and Greg covered on gambling on youth football opened the nation’s eyes to an underground culture that could prove dangerous to youth sports and to young athletes.”
duPont Award entries are reviewed by a Board of Screeners, many of whom are past duPont Award winners. The Board of Screeners refers the best programs to the duPont Jury, which selects the winners. Those winners are recognized at Columbia University each January.
George Stephanopolous, the anchor of ABC’s “Good Morning America” and “This Week with George Stephanopolous,” and Michel Martin, the host of NPR’s one-hour daily news and talk show “Tell Me More,” will host the duPont Awards ceremony on Tuesday, Jan. 21, 2014, at Columbia University’s Low Memorial Library.
The 14 winning programs appeared on air, online or in theaters between June 30, 2012 and July 1, 2013. For a behind-the-scenes look at the OTL stories, click here.
Find out more about the Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Awards for excellence in broadcast, digital and documentary journalism at www.dupont.org.
Dan Quinn contributed to this post