Sports Capital Journalism Program Staff
TAMPA, Fla. – Jason Kersey, a reporter for the website SEC Country, was awarded the Steve Ellis/Football Writers Association of America Beat Writer of the Year award at the organization’s annual breakfast on Monday. Kersey was recognized for his work at The Oklahoman in 2015.
Kersey, a 2009 University of Oklahoma graduate, became the seventh reporter recognized for his outstanding coverage of a college football beat. He joins Doug Lesmerises of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, Mark Blaudschun of the Boston Globe, Steve Wieberg of USA Today, Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News, Tim May of the Columbus Dispatch and Chris Dufresne of the Los Angeles Times.
Kersey was previously honored by the Associated Press Sports Editors, the Tulsa Press Club, and the Society of Professional Journalists. His coverage on the University of Oklahoma football beat included reporting on a Title IX sexual assault investigation and the suspension and return of Joe Mixon after punching a woman in a highly-publicized off-campus incident.
For the first time, the award was presented in memory of Steve Ellis, a reporter for the Tallahassee Democrat from 1990 until his death in 2009 at the age of 54. Ellis’ widow, Karen, was part of the presentation.
Michael Whitlow of the Sports Capital Journalism Program asked Kersey about the award, the achievements on the Oklahoma beat, his career advice and the College Football Playoff National Championship.
Q: How does it feel to win this award?
“It’s incredible. I would have never in a million years guessed that I’d be winning something like this. I looked out and saw Dennis Dodd (CBSSports.com), George Schroeder (USA Today), Jon Solomon (CBSSports.com), those kind of guys, and those are all guys that I look up to, so it was kinda surreal.”
Q: When you were at The Oklahoman covering Joe Mixon and Baker Mayfield’s rise, were there any difficulties, any challenges along the way?
“It’s a tough beat to cover. It’s not the most open program in the country, so there were a lot of challenges when it came to that … the access, those sorts of things. Those are tough subjects to write about. Joe Mixon … everybody knows what happened. That’s a very difficult subject to write about. Frank Shannon and the Title IX investigation, those aren’t easy subjects to tackle and to write about as a sportswriter. But, I think those experiences made me better. They made me more well-rounded, so I’m grateful for them in a way. I’m not grateful that those things happened, but I learned a lot.”
Q: You were at The Oklahoman previously, now you’re with SEC Country covering Arkansas, how that’s been going?
“Great. It’s different. It’s a whole different vibe being in the SEC. Getting to see some of those venues, those road venues. Bret Bielema is a trip. He’s much different than what I was used to with Bob Stoops (laughs), just personality-wise, which is weird because they both went to Iowa, so you’d think they’d be similar, but they couldn’t be more different. But it’s been really good. I felt like it was important for me, you know, I grew up in Oklahoma, so I felt like for my career that it was important to try something different, so when this opportunity came up, I was very excited.”
Q: What advice would you give a young reporter covering on his or her first beat?
“It sounds cliché, but just work really hard. Never be above doing anything or ever think you’re above doing anything. Talk to everyone. But also, remember to always be ethical and treat people with respect. Don’t burn anybody. I mean, these all seem like general, basic things, but they’re really important, especially when you’re young and trying to establish yourself. You want people to take you seriously, and when you’re young, sometimes that’s hard. So I would say, be a professional and never for a second feel like you don’t belong there. I think that’s one thing that was when I first started on the OU beat it was so very intimidating because I was around guys who had been covering OU for years. They couldn’t have been nicer and better to me. They’re some of my best friends now, but it was intimidating. But I think that it was important that I tried to act like I belong, even when maybe I felt like I didn’t.”
Q: Who are you taking tonight, Clemson or Alabama?
“You know, it’s hard to pick against Alabama (laughs). It’s really hard to pick against Alabama, but I think I’m going to. I think I’m gonna say Clemson. I think the Lane Kiffin thing might throw them off a bit. I’m gonna go with Clemson.”
Q: Do you have a score?
“Oh gosh, off the top of my head? Let’s say 35-31.”