ESPN’s Ashley Fox (R) interviews Alejandro Villanueva. (Scott Harves/ESPN)
Mohammad Arif Azimiand (L) and Alejandro Villanueva were happy to be together for the first time since 2012.
Pittsburgh Steelers OT Alejandro Villanueva is a former Army Ranger. (Pittsburgh Steelers / Karl Roser)
The new season of SC Featured, the award-winning storytelling brand of SportsCenter, begins Saturday night with the story of the bond between former Army Ranger Alejandro Villanueva of the Pittsburgh Steelers and a man who served as his interpreter in Afghanistan.
The story, which debuts in the 11 p.m. ET edition of SportsCenter tomorrow night, came together quickly for Ashley Fox, an NFL reporter/analyst for SportsCenter. She and producer Scott Harves traveled to Houston last week after Villanueva agreed to share his story.
While in Afghanistan, Villanueva forged a bond with Mohammad Arif Azimi, and after U.S. troops left the country, Azimi’s life was in danger as Taliban forces were seeking retribution for his role in assisting Americans. Villanueva helped Azimi immigrate to the United States 16 months ago.
“He turned out to have this incredibly fascinating story about how he’s the son of Spanish-born parents, he went to West Point, he served three tours in Afghanistan, and he received the Bronze Star Medal of Valor for having pulled one of his wounded soldiers out of a gunfight,” she said.
Two years later, after Villanueva became starting left tackle for the Steelers, Fox tried to get him to do a television piece in the fall of 2016 but he declined.
“And then last week, on Wednesday morning out of the blue, he sent me a very long text message,” she said. “It was telling me the story of his Afghan translator and how Villanueva and his wife were getting on a plane the next morning for the Super Bowl and it just so happened that Azimi lives in Houston. He was going to see him for the first time since they were together in Afghanistan and he asked me if I wanted to go. It was a total no-brainer to say yes.”
Though she’s been a reporter for 20 years, including the last six at ESPN, “Brothers in Arms” is Fox’ first SC Featured piece, and she was grateful for the expertise of Harves.
“Obviously I couldn’t have done it without him,” she said. “He whipped up a skeleton of a script faster than I could have typed a 10-word email and he was the one who carried the load on all of the logistics.
“The first time we talked, I broke the news to him that I had never worked on or written a feature for television,” Fox said. “He didn’t blink. He said, ‘That’s O.K. The journalism is still the journalism.’ He was right, but that sure did make me feel a lot better.”
Below is a trailer for the upcoming SC Featured season.
ESPN The Magazine wins ASME Awards
ESPN The Magazine has won the highly-coveted ASME award for General Excellence for News, Sports and Entertainment announced Tuesday at the 2017 “Ellies,” the National Magazine Awards. Fellow finalists included Business Week, GQ, New York and The New Yorker. The Magazine has previously won in the General Excellence category in 2006 and in 2003.
It was a package of three issues that earned The Magazine the honor — Analytics of the NBA Body (Kawhi Leonard cover); Fame (Tiger Woods) and Great Debates (Bill Belichick/Einstein).
ESPN The Magazine Editor-in-Chief, Alison Overholt said: “This General Excellence award is particularly special because it recognizes every aspect of what our team does, coming together in a magical way: deep reporting, lyrical writing, beautiful original photography, unique and unifying design, meticulous research and care for both the copy and every visual element in the book, and top-notch production and packaging. The definition of team.”
To see the complete list of Ellies 2017 winners and finalists, click here.
The Magazine received additional accolades on Wednesday when ASME announced the Best Cover finalists and winners featuring finalists in three categories and a win for Best Sports Cover:
Karl Anthony Towns wins for Best Sports & Fitness Cover
WNBA20 Finalist for Best Sports & Fitness Cover
Genius of Bill Belichick Finalist for “Brainiest” Cover
Muhammad Ali Finalist for Best Entertainment and Celebrity Cover
– By Carrie Kreiswirth
Journalism on Display
Alysa Auriemma, the daughter of UCONN women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma, writes an exclusive story for espnW voices about growing up around female athletes. In a first-person essay, Auriemma describes how her unique upbringing as the coach’s daughter molded her into the woman she is today, a proud feminist who hopes to create a legacy of her own. The Huskies will play for their 100th straight win on Monday, Feb. 13 vs. South Carolina (9 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Ohio State’s Greg Oden was the top pick in the 2007 NBA draft, ahead of Kevin Durant. Oden enjoyed instant celebrity status. But just a decade later, he’s back in school – his future now uncertain. In his first extensive television interview, Oden opens up about everything from his knee injuries to his alcohol abuse and domestic violence charge. Now he’s starting over again at Ohio State. Plus, Durant explains why he thinks it’s unfair that some consider Oden the league’s biggest bust. Jeff Goodman reports on this Sunday’s Outside the Lines (9 a.m., ESPN).
Writer Marc Spears sheds light on a side of the Golden State Warriors star Steph Curry that many people
don’t know, the athlete activist. The Undefeated story takes readers through the recent events that Curry went through with Under Armour’s Kevin Plank and how he’s become a voice that people heed.
Panelists on Sunday morning’s The Sports Reporters (9:30 a.m., ESPN) will be Mike Lupica (host), Manish Mehta, Bob Ryan and Gene Wojciechowski.