Red Smith (sportswriter)

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Walter Wellesley "Red" Smith (September 25, 1905 – January 15, 1982) was an American sportswriter who rose to become one of America's most widely read sports columnists.


Walter Wellesley Smith was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin. After graduating from Green Bay East High School, site of Packers home games until 1957, Smith moved on to the University of Notre Dame. After graduation, he worked for the Milwaukee Sentinel, St. Louis Journal, and Philadelphia Record.

After 18 years, Smith joined the New York Herald Tribune. He cemented his reputation with the Herald-Trib, as his column was widely read and often syndicated. When the paper folded in 1966, he became a freelance writer. He joined The New York Times in 1971 as a contract writer. By this time, his reputation was secured as one of the foremost sportswriters in America.

During his time with the Times, Smith garnered many awards. In 1976, he was the first sportswriter to win the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary, citing "his commentary on sports in 1975 and for many other years".[1] He also received the J. G. Taylor Spink Award from the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1976, baseball's greatest honor for print journalists. Furthermore, the Associated Press awarded him the first Red Smith Award for "outstanding contributions to sports journalism".

"Open a vein and bleed"[edit]

Smith is one plausible source for the quotation, "Writing is easy. You just open a vein and bleed." In 1946, sportswriter Paul Gallico wrote, "It is only when you open your veins and bleed onto the page a little that you establish contact with your reader." In 1949, columnist Walter Winchell wrote, "Red Smith was asked if turning out a daily column wasn't quite a chore. ... 'Why, no', dead-panned Red. 'You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.'"[2]

Criticism of Muhammad Ali[edit]

Smith was a strong critic of former world heavyweight boxing champion Muhammad Ali until late in Ali's career. When Ali refused to serve during the Vietnam War, claiming his case as a conscientious objector, Smith (who had never entered military service) wrote: "Squealing over the possibility that the military may call him up, Cassius makes himself as sorry a spectacle as those unwashed punks who picket and demonstrate against the war",[3] and berated Ali for being a "draft dodger" and a "slacker".[4]

Later Smith famously commented on Ali's first professional defeat in 32 bouts, against Joe Frazier: "If they fought a dozen times, Joe Frazier would whip Muhammad Ali a dozen times; and it would get easier as it went along".[5] Ali went on to fight Frazier twice more, winning both times, once by unanimous decision and once by TKO. Before their final match, the 1975 Thrilla in Manila, Smith admitted Ali was both a great fighter and a great man.[6]

Later life and family[edit]

Smith died of heart failure at the age 76 in Stamford, Connecticut. Smith is buried in Stamford's Long Ridge Union Cemetery.

Red Smith School (4K through 8th grades) in Green Bay, Wisconsin is named in his honor. Also named in his honor is the Red Smith Handicap, a thoroughbred horse race annually run at Aqueduct Racetrack in Queens, New York.

Red's son, Terence Smith, went on to be a journalist at The New York Times, CBS News, PBS, and NPR.[7]

Selected works[edit]

  • Smith, Walter W. (1963). Red Smith on Fishing. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company. 
  • The Best of Red Smith
  • Red Smith's Sports Annual
  • Views of Sport
  • Out of the Red
  • "Absent Friends"
  • " Strawberries in Winter"

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Commentary". The Pulitzer Prizes. Retrieved 2013-10-31.
  2. ^
  3. ^ New York Herald Tribune, February 22, 1966.
  4. ^ New York World Journal Tribune, April 23, 1967.
  5. ^ Smith, Red; Anderson, Dave (1983). The Red Smith Reader. New York: Vintage. p. 271. ISBN 0-394-71750-3. 
  6. ^ "It's Only a Game", National Public Radio, July 20, 2013.
  7. ^ "Sports People; Red Smith Honor". The New York Times. March 23, 1988. Retrieved 2011-11-04. 

External links[edit]