THE MOST INFLUENTIAL SPORTS JOURNALISTS OF THE 20th and 21st CENTURY! MOVE OVER GENTLEMEN — HAROLD BELL HAS A SEAT AT THE TABLE
Sam Lacey, Wendell Smith and Harold Bell
By Black Men In America.com
Publisher’s Note: He may not be nationally known, but when you look at his body of work, Washington, DC area sports talk show host Harold Bell is a trailblazer clearly deserving of wider recognition. Trailblazing sports writers Sam Lacey and Wendell Smith made their mark in print. A credible argument can be made that Harold Bell is one of the top sports talk show personalities who ever sat in front of a microphone.
It is often said, “sports and politics don’t mix.” Someone forgot to tell the late sports journalist Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier Newspaper, the late Sam Lacey of the Afro-American Newspaper and Inside Sports talk show host, Harold Bell. These three pioneers and trailblazers are considered the greatest black sports journalist of the 20th and 21st Century. Their common thread is that all three could write great stories, were great athletes and were groundbreaking journalist, in radio and television. They blazed trails for others to follow.
Here is one element that Bell has over the others. Harold Bell’s “Inside Sports” format changed the way America talked about and approached sports. Bell was then, and is now, unique and a man of his own convictions. There are imitators. Some of them have no idea who they are imitating because “they don’t know what they don’t know.” Social media platforms, such as this website and others have widen Bell’s reach. Without the large salaries of his students on ESPN, FOX Sports, CNN, etc.), Harold Bell is recognized in countries far beyond the borders of the United States.
Wendell Smith was born in Detroit and he is a HBCU graduate, West Virginia State. He encountered racism in the early stages of his athletic career. He was an outstanding pitcher on the baseball team. One day after winning a game, a major league scout approached him and said that he wished that he could sign him, but couldn’t due to baseball’s color barrier, and instead signed the opposing player a white pitcher. It was there Smith promised himself that he’d do whatever he could to see an African-American play major league baseball. He became the sports editor for the college’s newspaper his junior year.
He began his professional writing career in 1937 with The Pittsburgh Courier, then the most popular paper within the black community in the country. He started as a sports writer and then was selected the sports editor the year after. He covered the Homestead Grays and Pittsburgh Crawfords of baseball’s Negro leagues for the Courier. Smith also petitioned the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (BBWAA) for membership but was turned down because he was with the Courier and not one of the white-owned papers. Little has changed in 2021 a segregated newspaper press room is second only to a church on Sunday.
Smith is credited with recommending Jackie Robinson to the Brooklyn Dodgers general manager, Branch Rickey was searching for a individual with strong character to successfully execute the integration of MLB. In April 1947 Rickey made it happen. The Pittsburgh Courier offered to pay for Smith to travel with Robinson, who had to stay in separate hotels from his teammates due to segregation policies prevalent at the time. Smith traveled with Robinson in the minors in 1946 and with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. In 1948, Smith released his book, Jackie Robinson: My Own Story.
Harold and Gary Johnson at the Black Men In America.com office.