Neshaminy graduate first female to win sports journalism award
February 14, 2017
Neshaminy alumi Claire Smith was recently named as the 68th recipient of the prestigious JG Spink Taylor Award, the highest honor a baseball writer can receive. Smith was the first female, as well as the first African American, to receive this award. Additionally, she was the first full time African-American female beat writer for major league baseball.
Previous winners of this award include sportswriters Paul Hagen and Dan Shaughnessy. Smith was nominated by her peers for this award, and will be honored during the induction weekend of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and museum in Cooperstown NY this July.
“I just can’t put myself in a sentence with those gentlemen, and yet my peers chose to do so,” she said reflecting upon the honor. “Knowing that some of the most iconic writers in the history of America have this award on their mantels… I still haven’t been able to wrap my head around it.”
Smith initially joined the workforce upon her graduation from Neshaminy High School but later took classes at Temple University when she realized she wanted to be a journalist. After college graduation, she began her journalism career with the Philadelphia Bulletin, Smith stayed with the publication until it ceased publications in 1982.
“I loved the Bulletin, I would have stayed there for the rest of my career,” Smith said. “It’s the only paper I ever really wanted to work for, but stuff happens in life, and you end up on roads that you never dreamed of walking.”
Pursuing a career isn’t always easy at first, and beginnings are often filled with moments of uncertainty. This certainly was the case for Smith, who recalls the events leading up to her first front-page story with the Philadelphia Bulletin. “I was absolutely sure that story would never see the light of day,” she explained. “The next day I went out and bought the paper, and lo and behold, that story led the paper. That was my only front page story at the Bulletin, which folded a year later.”
To Smith, a Neshaminy class of 1971 graduate, high school was a place to begin and to learn a lesson about escaping from one’s comfort zone. “I had wonderful teachers, but maybe it was a school that I had to use as a launching pad,” she said. “…Back in the day, I felt invisible because there were… few people who looked like me, and (no one) seemed to really care about me.”
While her brothers were star athletes and “the life of the party,” Smith’s talents were “more internalized.” “I wish that I could look in the mirror and see where I am now,” she said. “Perhaps I wasn’t ready yet, maybe you have to start the walk before you realize that you can walk at all.”
Smith credits her father with giving her a crucial piece of advice. “He told me, that as an African American, ‘you are going to have to prove what you’re not before you prove what you are,” she said. “Instead of letting that be a doubly difficult task, I take it as a doubly difficult bonus, because it gives me twice the opportunity to show someone… that I belong here.”
As a journalist in a field that is stereotypically dominated by members of the other races and genders, it is crucial to show that anyone can get the job done.“Don’t allow the majority to try to pigeonhole you into a stereotype, especially a stereotype that goes against your beliefs,” Smith said. “Blow them away with what you do know, and show them that you belong.”
Smith is currently a coordinating news editor for ESPN, and received the Law Klein Alumni in the media award from Temple University in 2014, along with multiple other awards for excellence in journalism.