Credit: Los Angeles TImes
June 20, 2024

Speech impediment and ‘shadow stories’: Bill Plaschke journey to 2024 Red Smith Award

Matthew Ho

As an eighth grader, Bill Plaschke wanted to share his thoughts with the world. But he ran into one problem. 

“I couldn’t communicate,” Plaschke said. “I couldn’t get a point across.”

Plaschke had a speech disorder when he was a child, which caused him to stutter. 

This led him to start writing because there was “no need to talk.” 

Growing up in Kentucky, Plaschke started writing about sports after he saw the attention it garnered when he would run home to get the score of a Wildcats football game and bring back the news to his friends. 

“Everybody would pay attention,” Plaschke said. 

People have been paying attention to Plaschke for decades. As a columnist at the Los Angeles Times and prior stops as a sports reporter in Fort Lauderdale and Seattle, Plaschke has captured the minds of an audience nationwide and has been named the winner of the 2024 Red Smith Award.

The Red Smith Award, which is given annually by the Associated Press Sports Editors to a writer or editor who has made significant contributions to sports journalism, is regarded as the highest sports journalism honor in the country.

“It blows my mind,” Plaschke said. “I don’t ever see myself on the list that contains Red Smith, Jim Murray and Bill Dwyre. Something is wrong with that list. I don’t belong on that list.”

Plaschke got his start in sports journalism, covering everything from senior citizen's tennis to alligator wrestling.

However, whether he’s covering a local high school softball team or writing a column on the Los Angeles Lakers' current state, his approach is the same. 

“It’s not about the games or the final scores,” Plaschke said. “It’s about the people. It’s about the human condition.”

In a changing media landscape, Plaschke’s emphasis on using sports as a prism into the triumphs and failures of humans is more important than ever.  

“We don’t have to tell (readers) what happened,” he said. “We tell them why it happened.”

But he also pointed out that writing a good story in today’s age can lead to even greater results.  “Back in the day you would just get 100,000 views, which would describe your paper,” Plaschke said. “Now the whole world can see your stuff.”

Plascke’s current editor at the Los Angeles Times, Iliana Limon Romero, called Plaschke “a tremendous talent and a generous colleague.

“It’s been a tremendous opportunity to work with him,” Romero said. “Day to day, it’s just nice. I think we don’t focus on how exceptional he is at his job every day. We just get to talk about journalism and do this.”

According to Romero, every column he has written over the past three decades has the “potential to hit somebody in just the right way.”

Throughout his career, Plaschke has tried to find what he calls “shadow stories,” which are stories that shine a light on what nobody talks about.

“Don’t just cover Dodger games or Angels games,” Plaschke said. “That’s not what’s going to make your career. My career was made off covering people in the shadows.”

Matthew Ho will intern at the Southern California News Group

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