Cooper: Craig Sager should be honored with Northwestern award in his name

Danny Cooper, Columnist

Craig Sager, the Northwestern alumnus who strutted the sidelines for 40 years and reported on some of the biggest events in sporting history, had a personality as loud as the garish suits for which he was known. Even after he was diagnosed with leukemia in 2014, Sager continued to cover basketball for Turner Sports and won ESPN’s 2016 Jimmy V Perseverance Award. After his death on Dec. 15, NU’s football team affixed decals with his name on a plaid purple background — reminiscent of Sager’s suits — to their Pinstripe Bowl helmets in honor of the late broadcaster. But this small memorial is not sufficient recognition for a man who embodied journalistic tenacity during his time at NU and throughout his life.

To adequately honor Sager’s legacy as an NU alumnus, the University should establish a Craig Sager Award, given out jointly by the university and Sager’s own organization –– the SagerStrong Foundation –– to honor individuals who demonstrate his perseverance in the face of adversity. The University did not respond to a question about the potential status of an honor in Sager’s name.

Sager deserves recognition for his fine journalistic career alone. He met Hank Aaron at home plate following the slugger’s record-breaking 715th home run and worked on broadcasts ranging from the World Cup to the World Series. Perhaps Sager’s most impressive accomplishment was getting longtime San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, a notorious curmudgeon, to open up during an in-game interview. Sager’s consistent presence on Turner Sports’ broadcasts for the final few decades of his life is a testament to his skill, dedication and versatility as a broadcaster.

Even before Sager went on to achieve fame, he created a name for himself at NU. He was a member of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity, the cheer squad and walked on to both the football and basketball teams. If that isn’t testament enough to Sager’s purple pride, he also filled the role of Willie the Wildcat. As Michael Wilbon (Medill ‘80) tweeted after Sager’s death, Sager showed “so many of us the way Wildcat.” An award in Sager’s honor would allow his spirit and attitude to continue to act as an inspiration posthumously.

Sager kept his exuberant spirit throughout his visible and taxing illness. During his treatment, he would leave the hospital to broadcast games only to return directly afterward for treatment. Though he received a terminal diagnosis, he did not let his passion for his career nor his life wane. This past June, he got to cross one final accomplishment off the list: He participated in an NBA Finals broadcast. Sager’s commitment to journalism and to life itself should serve as an inspiration to all NU students.

Northwestern has in the past dedicated awards to late alumni that made an impact in the journalism world. After Medill graduate James Foley was beheaded by ISIS in 2014, the school renamed its annual Medal for Courage in Journalism after him. Foley’s memory continues to serve as a dire but important example of the bravery required for many journalists, and the award has become a yearly reminder of his sacrifice. Though their stories are different, Sager, like Foley, can serve as an example for aspiring journalists of the importance of perseverance and optimism in the darkest of times.

The award could also help the SagerStrong Foundation raise funds for leukemia research. The foundation could establish a partnership with the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center of Northwestern University, which already has a dedicated leukemia research program, and each year’s award presentation could sell tickets to raise money for the venture.

Craig Sager lived with an unyielding commitment to making each day as spectacular as possible, even when times were tough. NU should commemorate Sager’s attitude and perseverance by rewarding examples of his spirit in others and raising money to eradicate the disease that took the life of someone who would not let it go without a fight.

Danny Cooper is a Medill sophomore. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].
The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.