By Meri-Jo Borzilleri
AWSM Pioneer Award Coordinator
AWSM congratulates Lisa Olson, the 2013 winner of the Mary Garber Pioneer Award, AWSM’s highest honor.
“I had no idea and was obviously incredibly, incredibly honored,” said Olson, who was coping with the after-effects of colossal storm Sandy when notified. “I emailed (my mom) to tell her not that I didn’t have power or anything, but to tell her I won the Pioneer Award.”
Olson last worked for Sporting News on AOL, joining in 2009. Prior to AOL, she worked as a columnist for 10 years at the N.Y. Daily News. Before that, she lived in Australia for six years, working first for the Daily Telegraph, then the Sydney Morning Herald, where she was the paper’s first female sports columnist.
While working as a Boston Herald sports reporter in 1990, Olson was the victim of a sexual harassment incident in the New England Patriots locker room that was considered a watershed moment for women in sports journalism. The incident and aftermath — Olson received death threats, her car tires were slashed and her apartment burglarized — underscored prevailing attitudes among athletes, owners and fans.
The fallout from the incident prompted Olson’s move to Australia, where she wrote about sports she knew little about — cricket, Australian Rules Football, rugby. She returned to the U.S. when the Daily News hired her in 1998.
“The way Olson responded and persevered,” wrote a Pioneer award voter, “hastened change in attitudes and policies.”
Olson said the news that she won the Garber Pioneer Award brought an emotional response.
“It would have been easy and obvious for me to leave this business” after 1990, Olson said. “And I didn’t, because I still love it in so many ways. And just knowing not just where I started and where I am now, but in a broader sense where women sit and where all of us are now … Just thinking of that brought me to tears.”
Olson will be presented with the award during AWSM’s convention celebrating its 25th year. The convention is set for June 20-23, 2013 in Phoenix, Olson’s hometown.
A ground-breaking and award-winning journalist, Olson is a member of the Baseball Writers Association of America and a Hall of Fame voter. A 25-year sports journalist, Olson’s work has appeared in The Best American Sportswriting.
“Few people in the world have resumes as illustrious and international as the one Lisa Olson has compiled over the course of her career,” said Stef Loh, AWSM president. “Lisa started her career at a time when sports media was a very different, much less welcoming environment for women, and her longevity in the industry and body of work is testament to the impact she’s had in the field of sports journalism. As all our past winners have done, she paved the way for women in sports, and for that, we say thank you. The sports world would be a different place without her.”
Olson’s worldwide travels to cover sports have given her a broad perspective on people and sport’s role in and affect on society. She has written stories from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Japan, China, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. She also has written stories everywhere from the Staples Center to Madison Square Garden.
A resident of New York City and a 1985 journalism graduate from Northern Arizona University, Olson has been active in a public school mentoring program for girls hoping to study journalism and is an occasional guest speaker at colleges.
“Lisa’s body of work speaks for itself,” said one AWSM member who nominated her, “and her battle for access in the locker room to cover the Patriots forced the … NFL to make changes. Her life changed because of what she had to go through. Mary Garber has been honored with APSE’s highest lifetime achievement, the Red Smith Award. I can’t think of another print/web journalist who would be deserving of being honored with an award named after Mary Garber.”