On June 21, 2016, veteran ESPN sports broadcaster Chris Berman received the 2016 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media during a celebration held at the Newseum.
The annual award was presented by the Newseum Institute during the weeklong Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference. It was the first time since the award’s inception that the ceremony took place outside of the University of South Dakota.
The invitation-only evening kicked off with a reception, followed by a dinner in the New York Times Great Hall of News. Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute and senior vice president of the Newseum’s First Amendment Center, welcomed guests and spoke about the annual award’s history. The 2016 Free Spirit class was joined by fellow program alumni; two alumni — Cyrus Moussavi, class of 2005, and Mary Pilon, class of 2004 — talked about their personal accomplishments. James W. Abbott, president of the University of South Dakota and chair of the Newseum Institute’s board of trustees, gave opening remarks that were followed by a video highlighting Berman’s successful career.
Jan Neuharth, Chair and Chief Executive Officer, Freedom Forum, and Neuharth’s daughter, drew comparisons between her father’s sports journalism career and Berman’s, which spans nearly four decades.
Berman, who joined the start-up sports cable network in 1979, has served as host of a variety of ESPN programs, including “SportsCenter,” “Sunday NFL Countdown,” “NFL PrimeTime” and “Baseball Tonight.” He has covered 34 Super Bowls, 30 MLB All-Star Games and Home Run Derbys, and 29 World Series. The host of ESPN’s NFL Draft telecast since 1987, Berman has served as emcee for the Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremony 16 times. He also covered golf’s U.S. Open for 29 years, serving as both host and play-by-play announcer from 2003 to 2014.
The award is named for the late USA TODAY and Freedom Forum/Newseum founder Al Neuharth, and is co-sponsored by the University of South Dakota. Neuharth, a South Dakota native, was a 1950 graduate of USD, which is home to the Al Neuharth Media Center. Berman is the first sports journalist to receive the lifetime achievement honor, which was first presented to legendary CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite in 1989.