Terry Taylor didn’t set out to be a pioneer. What she wanted most was to run a great sports department.
Taylor did just that for the better part of a quarter century as sports editor for The Associated Press. A woman in what traditionally was a man’s world, she rose from a writer covering figure skating to become one of the most influential people in sports journalism.
Her service was recognized with the 2018 Red Smith Award for outstanding contributions over a lifetime by the Associated Press Sports Editors.
Taylor also was honored with the 2016 Mary Garber Pioneer Award from the Association for Women in Sports Media.
“I’d call this an abundance of riches,” Taylor said Monday. “I’m honored and grateful and, for a split second, I was actually speechless.”
When Taylor was promoted to sports editor in 1992, few sports departments had women on staff even as reporters. By the time she retired in 2014, after directing AP’s worldwide coverage of the Olympics, Super Bowls, World Series, World Cups, Wimbledon, Masters and dozens of other major championships, she had carved out a path for women to follow and changed the face of the business.
That success didn’t come without plenty of struggle and some run-ins with powerful sports figures and leagues. But her editing and managerial skills, coupled with a no-nonsense approach, won her converts soon enough.
“I told her yesterday, ‘I didn’t even think of you as a woman,’” said past APSE president Jeff Wohler, who was sports editor of The Oregonian in Portland when Taylor showed up at her first national APSE event.
“Now it’s not so unusual to see women in sports journalism. But back then, it kind of was.”
If so, Taylor rarely acknowledged that status. She was confident and capable from the moment she took charge and at her best when the stories AP covered were at their most chaotic.
Immediately after the 1993 Super Bowl, rumors began circulating that Marv Levy, the coach of the hard-luck Buffalo Bills at the time, had suffered a heart attack.
As a newsroom full or reporters were calling every fire and police department within a 50-mile radius of the Rose Bowl, Taylor walked in, assessed the situation and asked in a calm, but loud voice, “Did anybody think to try calling his hotel?”
When Levy picked up the phone and assured the AP he was fine, she just laughed and announced, “Enough excitement for the moment. Now everybody get back to the follow-ups.”
Taylor called it “one of those moments when I was more than thrilled to be right.”
The award by APSE, an organization of sports editors whose media organizations are AP members, recognizes lifetime contributions.
Taylor received 22 first-place votes and 144 points. Retired Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Bill Lyon was second with 84 points, followed by ESPN event news editor Sandy Rosenbush (54), Washington Post columnist Sally Jenkins (42) and retired New York Times columnist George Vecsey (39).
Taylor is a graduate of Temple University who grew up in Chester, Pennsylvania, and first worked for The Charlotte News in North Carolina. She was hired by the AP’s Philadelphia bureau in 1977, transferred to the New York Sports department in 1981 and covered figure skating at the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Taylor became assistant sports editor in charge of enterprise coverage in 1985 and deputy sports editor under Darrell Christian in 1987. She left to work as an editor for The New York Times and returned to the AP in 1991 as assistant chief of the New York City bureau. She succeeded Christian as sports editor when he was promoted to managing editor.
“Terry had a good sense of what makes a great story and the lowest tolerance for pretentiousness,” said Tom Curley, past president and CEO of the AP. “”The result was a great editor with indefatigable energy, a devoted staff and a wire full of wonderfully readable stories.”
Taylor currently works for the International Olympic Committee as an adviser to the Olympic Information Service. She lives outside Philadelphia with her husband, Tony Rentschler.
“What’s really a kick in the head is that being a woman in this business is no big deal anymore,” Taylor said. “We’re on the sidelines as reporters, on camera, behind the camera, running the show, calling a game and writing about it.
“We’re also running sports departments,” she added. “May our numbers grow and grow.”
APSE will present Taylor with the award during a luncheon on June 19 at its annual summer meeting in Nashville, Tennessee.