His words helped a generation of University of Alabama students and sports fans understand, process, or cope with the drama that unfolded on the field.
Now, his legacy will help dozens of future sportswriters help their audiences do the same.
The Cecil Hurt Endowed Support Fund for Excellence in Sports Media, established by friends and family of the late sports columnist, will prioritize support for AU students and initiatives related to the field of sports media.
Having already raised more than $15,000 since Hurt, who for The Tuscaloosa News from 1982 until his death in November at the age of 62, those who helped create the fund said they hoped he would not only perpetuate Hurt’s memory, but would make a difference in the lives of students who choose to follow career paths similar to Hurt’s.
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Among the students who benefited from Hurt’s knowledge and patience was Hannah Saad, who in 2019 was on staff at The Crimson White, the student-run news publication at the University of Alabama, and student at AU College of Communication & Information Sciences.
In a bustling ballroom that became a media center as Crimson Tide’s national championship tilt approached Clemson University, a game that ultimately saw then No. 2 Clemson defeat Alabama, the better ranked, 44-16, Saad found herself sitting opposite a table from the legend based in Tuscaloosa.
“We are here in a room full of national personalities and national media and here is Cecil, taking the time to talk one-on-one with a student journalist,” Saad recalls. “He supported a lot of student journalists. It struck me that he took the time to speak with me, not only for journalism, but also for travel advice and even advice on how to take care of dogs.
“After that, a lot of times our conversations weren’t even about sports or journalism. He’s just a great guy.
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A portion of the fund will be designated to provide discretionary support to the Department of Journalism and Creative Media at the AU College of Communication and Information Sciences, or JCM.
With this support, CWY will deliver programming to current students and industry professionals that reinforces the program’s mission and propels education and innovation in sports media and sports communication.
Additionally, the fund will bring visibility to Hurt’s legacy through the establishment of an annual Cecil Hurt Award. This award will be given to an outstanding rising senior at UA whose studies are focused in the field of sports communication.
“This endowment will recognize and support the exact kind of excellence that has characterized Cecil’s life and work,” said Mark Nelson, Dean of the College of Communication and Information Sciences. “He was an inspiring member of our community, and this fund will inspire and support future journalists for many years to come.”
Beyond the students, Hurt has also freely shared the knowledge he’s accumulated over his three decades of reporting on Alabama football – he’s interviewed every head coach, from Paul W. “Bear” Bryant to Nick Saban – to his colleagues.
Among them was radio and talk show host Paul Finebaum, who said he witnessed that 2019 exchange between Hurt and Saad.
Finebaum, who traveled to Tuscaloosa to speak at Hurt’s memorial service, said that after he and Hurt developed a relationship of trust, they often shared story ideas and material with each other, which is almost unheard of in a business where having the most important information first can make or break a career.
“He knew that being at The Tuscaloosa News there was a certain status. But I don’t think he ever appreciated how important and influential he was,” Finebaum said. course but felt compelled to give it back to the students.
“It’s a gift to be able to share this kind of information with young people who often seem too busy to listen. In his case, they wanted to hear valuable information. »
Tony Tsoukalas, a graduate of the College of Communication and Information Sciences at the University of Alabama, is one of them.
Now covering Alabama sports for Sports Illustrated’s BamaCentral, Tsoukalas worked with Hurt as a college intern and then, after graduation, as a full-time sports editor at The Tuscaloosa News.
“He was the guy who didn’t hesitate to help young writers. He wouldn’t leave out young writers who were often left out of conversations,” Tsoukalas said. “As a young writer, you don’t always understand that, especially on big beats like Alabama football. We used to fight over who should edit their stuff.
“It usually fell to the higher ranks to read it because it was almost like a privilege to read it first.”
One of those top brass was Tommy Deas, the former executive sportswriter of The Tuscaloosa News.
Like Tsoukalas, Deas was a student at Central High School in Tuscaloosa when he met Hurt – who was just starting out – and was mentored by him. Over the years, Deas said he spent more time in a car and on the phone with Hurt than anyone else. He shared Hurt’s love of food, and they sought out far-flung places to eat local cuisine in each city, like Texas beef brisket, Carolina-style barbecue, or Hawaiian steak.
Hurt, who was also a “junior” – he shared a name with his father who played football for Alabama on the first team Bryant coached at Capstone – took an interest in the sport but knew he was not not destined to become an athlete, Deas said.
Rather, his initial interest was in wrestling because of a local student who became one.
“These things aren’t as far off as you might think,” Deas said. “Wrestling is a story. That’s what it’s about. He probably loved and appreciated that more than anything else.
“It’s not just a physical action. Wrestlers are storytellers.
Over the course of his career, Hurt’s deliberate and thorough manner earned him the respect of those working both in the sports media industry and those at its center.
On that list is Saban himself, who also acknowledged Hurt’s work with students.
“Cecil Hurt was a good friend and one of the best sportswriters I’ve had the privilege of working with, not just in Alabama but at all of our practice stops,” Saban said after Hurt’s death. “He was a man of integrity and an impartial journalist endowed with wit, wisdom and an ability to paint a picture with his words that few have possessed. …
“He was a role model for young writers and the most trusted source of information for Alabama fans everywhere.”
And now, with the Cecil Hurt Endowed Support Fund for Excellence in Sports Media, others will have the chance to follow that path.
“Cecil Hurt has many legacies,” said Andrew Billings, endowed professor and director of the Alabama program in sports communication. “One, of course, was his own contribution to sports writing and reporting, which is legendary.
“However, another relates to his role as a mentor to students and young professionals who aspire to succeed in a competitive field. I am delighted that this endowment will help future young sports media professionals for many years to come.
Contact Jason Morton at [email protected].