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APSE honors late Courier sports editor

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Friday, June 27, 2014, 7:03 p.m.

ARLINGTON, Va. — Wendell Smith, the celebrated African-American columnist and sports editor of the Pittsburgh Courier in the 1940s who campaigned passionately for years to persuade Major League Baseball owners to open their game to black players, was posthumously recognized Friday for his journalistic efforts by the Associated Press Sports Editors.

Smith, who introduced the late Jackie Robinson to Branch Rickey and helped open the doors for Negro League baseball players to compete in the previously all-white major leagues, was named the 2014 recipient of the Red Smith Award for his “major contribution to sports journalism.”

On what would have been his 100th birthday on March 23, Wendell Smith was celebrated by Larry Lester, cofounder of the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, who accepted the award on behalf of Smith's niece, Ann Brockenborough.

After Smith helped Robinson get his break with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, becoming the first black player in the major leagues, Smith moved on to Chicago.

There, he became the first black reporter for the Chicago Herald-American, a sports anchor for WGN-TV and later a columnist for the Chicago Sun Times.

Smith, who died at age 58 in November 1972, one month after Jackie Robinson's death, was praised as a “humble and modest man” by Lester, who said Smith was “serious about his work but never took himself seriously.”

Starting at age 17, he worked tirelessly to right social wrongs. Because of his persistence and perseverance, Smith, Lester said, “was to sports as Martin Luther King was to civil rights.”

The Red Smith Award is named for Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith, one of the nation's more popular sports columnists in the 1970s and the first sports journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Red Smith received APSE's annual award, named for himself, in 1981. Wendell Smith is the 34th recipient of the award, determined by a vote of members.

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