Marc Spears to Receive SJSU’s William Randolph Hearst Foundation Award
Marc Spears will be honored with the 2023 William Randolph Hearst Award for excellence in professional journalism Saturday, September 30 at 11 a.m. at the Hammer Theater.
Marc Spears’ Spartan story is one that comes with an interesting twist or two.
The first: the Hall of Fame sportswriter didn’t come to San José State to train to become an award-winning journalist, even though that’s what he became. He came to SJSU to play basketball.
Spears, ‘95 Journalism, had already played two years of college basketball at Foothill College in Los Altos and one year at the University of the District of Columbia before turning down scholarship opportunities to play at Sacramento State and Biola University. Instead he decided to walk-on at SJSU, his hometown school and the place where he’d attended basketball camps as a kid.
“I grew up as a fan of SJSU Athletics, of [SJSU quarterbacks] Steve Clarkson and Mike Perez and [basketball star] Ricky Berry,” Spears said.
That’s where the story veers off course. Spears suffered a knee injury that kept him off the court. He struggled with his relationship with then-head coach Stan Morrison. Ultimately, Spears never took the court for the Spartans, a turn of events that he found “devastating” at the time.
But he found a home in Dwight Bentel Hall at The Spartan Daily, building the foundation of an extraordinary journalism career, in which he has given voice to the experience of Black athletes and coaches.
“And thank goodness for that,” said Professor Emeritus Bob Rucker, who was Spears’ mentor at SJSU and now is a close friend. “He is very good at drawing that experience out of players, to talk about their very real experiences as Black athletes.”
Rucker said he has told students through the years that Spears is an example of someone who came in “determined, focused and clear about his mission in life. You rarely see that and he was there from day one,” Rucker said.
“I don’t get here if players don’t trust me with their stories.”
Spears, currently a senior writer for ESPN and Andscape, will be honored with the 2023 William Randolph Hearst Award for excellence in professional journalism in a ceremony to be held at the Hammer Theater on Saturday, September 30 at 11 a.m. The event is free, and there are currently opportunities to RSVP to attend in person or via livestream.
In August, Spears was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as the 2023 Curt Gowdy Media Award recipient. The honor is given to members of the print and electronic media whose efforts have made a significant contribution to the game.
“This isn’t something I even dreamed about as a writer,” Spears said. “I got here because of my writing, because my game surely wouldn’t have gotten me here. To be in the same Hall of Fame as Jordan and Bill Russell and Kobe, it’s very surreal to me.”
Early in his career, Spears covered college basketball, and he’s covered the NBA since 1999.
His ability to get players to open up and tell their stories has been his journalistic calling card.
“I’ve been told that’s a really hard thing to do, to get these guys to put their guard down and tell you about their lives and their pain,” Spears said. “And then to get them to say that I can talk to their mom or their grandmother.
“I don’t get here if players don’t trust me with their stories. I’ve been covering the league for a long time.”
Spears has written about the lack of Black athletic professionals, including in the front office, ownership, or serving as head coaches. He has written about LGBTQ+ issues. He has written about women finding their way into leadership positions in the league. He said he feels like has been willing to write about things that other people are “uncomfortable writing.”
Spears said his own experiences with racism shape both his worldview and his approach to his work.
“I feel like I can bring awareness, raise some education on issues people didn’t know otherwise, or change their minds about something,” Spears said. “It makes me feel good to know I’ve had an impact on the game. I take a lot of pride in spotlighting things that need to be talked about. I’m not going to stop.”
Spears now calls men’s and women’s basketball games on television for San José State. Last winter, he was acknowledged on the big screen during a timeout for his Hall of Fame honor.
“I got a warm round of applause and it meant a lot to me,” Spears said. “I finally got my cheer from the fans, after all of these years.”