“Hard Knocks,” Newsday’s in-depth look at football helmet safety, has been named winner of the prestigious Award for Excellence in Coverage of Youth Sports, presented by the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State.
It was the third major award for the project in the past week. “Hard Knocks” also received top 10 honors for Explanatory stories and Multimedia presentation last week in The Associated Press Sports Editors competition held in St. Petersburg, Florida.
Reporting and research of the seven-month long high school football helmet ratings and safety project was spearheaded by reporter Jim Baumbach.
“This package is classic watchdog journalism,” said John Affleck, the Knight Chair in Sports Journalism and Society and director of the Curley Center. “Newsday’s work — well-presented and easily understood — served to protect Long Island’s young athletes and prompted positive change.”
The report, which surveyed helmet inventories of 108 Long Island schools, found that 9.3 percent of 9,502 helmets had low-performance ratings, according to the accepted national rating standard developed by researchers at Virginia Tech, that ranges from one to five stars. More than just important and timely work, the Curley Center said, “Hard Knocks” prompted change.
Leading up to publication, 23 of the 60 schools with low-performing helmets said they would take those helmets out of circulation immediately. The Sewanhaka school district, which initially defended its one-star helmets, informed Newsday the day before publication that it was investing nearly $40,000 on new five-star-rated helmets that would be put into use as soon as they arrived.
The Hewlett-Woodmere school district bought 125 new five-star helmets hours after reading the Newsday report.
“A lot of very talented people here pitched in to make this report so exceptional,” said Hank Winnicki, Newsday’s assistant managing editor for sports. “The entire project — the reporting, the videos, the photos, the multimedia and print presentations — was something of which we can all be proud.”