The National Sports Media Association announced its national and state awards for 2020 Monday, as well as its next slate of Hall of Fame inductees, and there are plenty of notable selections. To start with, college football reporter and writer Nicole Auerbach of The Athletic was named the national sportswriter of the year, becoming (at 31) the youngest writer to win that award in the NSMA’s 61-year history, and the first woman. Meanwhile, Mike “Doc” Emrick, who retired at 74 in October after calling the resumption of the NHL’s season and the Stanley Cup playoffs from home, was named the national sportscaster of the year; he had been calling the NHL professionally since 1973 and full-time for NBC since 2011, and this was his fourth national NSMA sportscaster of the year selection (the others came in 2013, 2014 and 2015). The organization also announced seven inductees to their Hall of Fame: sportscasters Bill King, Jim Nantz, and Dick Stockton, and sportswriters Larry Merchant, William Nack, William C. Rhoden, and Rick Telander.
Auerbach becomes the 16th different winner of the NSMA national sportswriter of the year award, and the first from a digital-only site. The past decade’s winners are Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN (three times from 2017 through 2019), Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated (three times from 2014 through 2016), Peter King (then with SI, in 2010, 2011, and 2013) and Joe Posnanski (then with SI, in 2012). And the winners before that all come from either SI, the AP or various newspapers, so this selection’s quite a shift for the award. But it’s one that makes sense; college football’s attempts to play during the COVID-19 pandemic were a big story of 2020, and Auerbach broke a lot of important news there throughout the season.
On the sportscaster side, this is a good sendoff for Emrick, and it helps reflect the job he did under difficult conditions. Emrick called the NHL’s resumption from his home studio in Michigan, and did a solid job of that despite being away from the rink and from his analysts. As he said in September, too, that also posed challenges in terms of having much less access to players than he normally would have. The NHL on NBC will be quite different without Emrick this year, and giving him this award again is a nice tribute to the importance he had as a hockey broadcaster.
The group inducted into the Hall of Fame is also interesting. Nantz and Stockton are well-known for their work on national telecasts across sports for CBS and Fox; antz has been with national CBS since 1985, while Stockton has been with Fox since its start in 1994 following 17 years at CBS, and has also worked for Turner. Meanwhile, King (who passed away in 2005) had a remarkable local career in the Bay Area, calling games for the Raiders, A’s, Giants, Warriors, and Cal Golden Bears.
On the sportswriting side, Merchant started with Army publication Stars and Stripes, then worked at The Wilmington News in North Carolina, at The Associated Press, at The Philadelphia Daily News, and at The New York Post. He was also known for his work as a boxing analyst for HBO from 1978-2012. Nack, who passed away in 2018, was particularly prominent for his long coverage of horse racing at Sports Illustrated, where he spent 24 years; he also worked for Newsday for 11 years before that. Rhoden, who currently contributes to ESPN’s The Undefeated, spent 34 years at The New York Times, including more than a decade writing the “Sports of the Times” column. And Telander has spent the last 26 years with The Chicago Sun-Times; he’s also known for his work for SI and for his book “Heaven Is A Playground.”