NSMA to Honor Leifer with Roone Arledge Award for Innovation

Neil Leifer (Photo provided by Neil Leifer)
Neil Leifer (Photo provided by Neil Leifer)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (February 5, 2020) -- The National Sports Media Association (NSMA) will present the sixth annual Roone Arledge Award for Innovation to legendary photographer Neil Leifer, NSMA executive director Dave Goren said. Leifer will receive the award in honor of his six-plus decades of iconic photographs, many shots while working as a staff photographer at Sports Illustrated. In addition to SI, his photos have appeared in many major national magazines, including Time, Life, Newsweek, and People. The Arledge Award presentation will be the centerpiece of the NSMA’s Legacy Night on Sunday, June 28, 2020 at Bridger Fieldhouse at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem.

Leifer’s career began as a 16-year-old photographer who first sold photos of the 1959 NFL Championship Game between the Baltimore and Colts and New York Giants, to Sports Illustrated. In 1965, Leifer took what is regarded as one of the most famous photographs of all time: a victorious Muhammad Ali standing over Sonny Liston, after knocking out Liston in their heavyweight title fight in Lewiston, Maine.

For the next 25 years, Leifer would become one of the most-prolific sports photographers in the world. When he left Time, Inc. in 1990, his photographs had appeared on more than 200 Sports Illustrated, Time, and People covers -- at the time, the most work to ever be published by one photographer in company history. “Neil’s innovative approach to sports photography has inspired our cameramen at many events,” said Roone Arledge, in the foreword to Leifer’s book, Sports Stars.

Since the late 1970s, Leifer has produced and directed a variety of documentary and narrative films, receiving Emmy nominations and appearing on the Academy Awards shortlist. In 2015, his documentary, Keepers of the Streak, aired in primetime, on both ESPN and ABC, before the Super Bowl. Arledge said, “For this reason, Neil’s success cannot be measured entirely by his collection of photographs.” His films have since been distributed by HBO and appeared at festivals across the globe.

Neil leifer on the job (Photo provided by Neil Leifer)
Neil leifer on the job (Photo provided by Neil Leifer)

Leifer has also published 17 books, nine of which have been collections of his sports photographs. In 2004, Leifer was one of two principal photographers for the book, G.O.A.T., an “epic tribute to Muhammad Ali.” His memoir, Relentless, was published by the University of Texas Press in the spring of 2016.

“In some instances, I, like you, have simply had the pleasure of viewing photographs in a magazine or watching the event on television. In all cases, I am indebted to Neil for preserving these memories,” said Arledge. In the late summer of 2020, Taschen will publish Leifer’s next book, which will include a collection of his boxing photography from the past 60 years.

In 2006, Leifer received the prestigious Lucie Award for Achievement in Sports Photography, as well as The Briton

Hadden Lifetime Achievement Award in 2008 for his contribution to Time Inc. In 2014, he became the only photographer to be inducted into the Boxing Hall of Fame.

Tickets to the Legacy Night event are available at nationalsportsmedia.org.


Roone Arledge was the textbook definition of an innovator. As a producer who worked his way up through the ranks to become President of both the Sports and News divisions of ABC, Arledge created -- or had a hand in creating -- many of the shows, techniques and elements which we now take for granted. Among those innovations: Monday Night Football, Up Close and Personal, Wide World of Sports, sideline cameras, and slow-motion instant replay.

Arledge was a groundbreaker in many ways, and for that, we memorialize him with the Roone Arledge Award for Innovation, a pocket watch that symbolizes the timelessness of sports, especially the way in which its stories are told by our sportscasters and sportswriters. Each year, the NSMA names a person or entity deserving of the Roone Arledge Award and celebrates his, her or its legacy.


Headquartered in Winston-Salem, N.C., the National Sports Media Association is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, which seeks to develop educational opportunities for those who are interested in pursuing a career in sports media, through networking, interning, mentoring and scholarship programs.

The NSMA also honors, preserves and celebrates the diverse legacy of sports media in the United States.

Each June, the NSMA holds an awards weekend, during which it honors Hall of Famers, a National Sportscaster of the Year, a National Sportswriter of the Year, and Sportscasters of the Year and Sportswriters of the Year from 49 states, plus the District of Columbia.


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