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. Smith’s journalistic career spans over five decades and his work influenced an entire generation of writers. Smith became the second sports columnist ever to win the Pulitzer Prize for distinguished commentary in 1976.


Walter Wellesley Smith was born in Green Bay, Wisconsin on September 25, 1905. Smith attended Green Bay East High School, which was site of Packers home games until 1957. Throughout his childhood, Smith enjoyed hiking, hunting, and fishing. After high school, Smith moved on to the University of Notre Dame. Smith graduated from the university in 1927.

After graduation, he worked for the Milwaukee Sentinel as a reporter. Smith then worked for the St. Louis Journal as a sportswriter. This is where Smith developed his humerus and literate style that made his writing so beloved and respected. After his stint at the St. Louis Journal, Smith worked at the Philadelphia Record for nine years, from 1936 to 1945.

After 18 years, Smith joined the New York Herald Tribune in 1945.He cemented his reputation with the Herald-Tribune, as his column, “Views of Sports”, was widely read and often syndicated. Smith wrote three or four columns a week that were printed by 275 newspapers in the United States and 225 in about 30 foreign nations.

When the paper folded, 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 most popular sportswriters in America. Smith worked for the "Times" until his death. He was known for his devotion to his columns, which he sometimes spent 18 hours a day on.

Smith mainly wrote about major spectator sports such as baseball, football, boxing, and horse racing. He often wrote about one of his passions, fly-fishing,for trout. In 1956, one of Smith’s columns earned him the second Grantland Rice Memorial for outstanding sportswriting.

During his time with the New York Times,Smith garnered many awards. In 1976, he was the second 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, which is baseball's highest 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 best known for his famous 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 April 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. This was because 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 lived the last years of his life in New Canaan, Connecticut. The Pulitzer Prize- winning sportswriter died of heart failure at the age of 76 on January 15, 1982 at a hospital in Stamford, Connecticut after a brief illness. 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.

Smith was married twice. His first wife died in 1967. Smith then married Phyllis Warner Weiss in 1968. The couple lived in New Canaan and in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. At the time of his death, Smith had five stepchildren, six grandchildren, and two great- grandchildren

Red's son, Terence Smith, went on to be a journalist at The New York Times, CBS News, PBS, The Huffington Post, and NPR.[7] Smith’s son went on to become a respected journalist, and even went on to win two Emmy Awards. His first Emmy Award was in 1989 for his coverage of people who lived near nuclear power plants. His 2nd Emmy Award was for his coverage of Hurricane Hugo in 1990.

Red Smith died on January 15, 1982 in Stamford, Connecticut of heart failure at Stamford (Conn.) Hospital. Just five days before, he announced he was cutting down on the amount of columns he would do a week.[8]

Smith realized the significance of sports in the American culture. He once stated the following: “Sports is not really a play world. I think it’s the real world. The people we’re writing about in professional sports, they’re suffering and living and dying and loving, and trying to make their way through life just as the bricklayers and politicians are.”

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. 
  8. ^


External links[edit]