September 9, 2022
M.A. Voepel is the gold standard
Essential chronicler of women's basketball to receive Curt Gowdy Media Award
Heading into Naismith Hall of Fame weekend, with the end of the WNBA season closing fast, and the college season getting closer by the day, it’s a moment to take stock.
The women’s game will be well-represented with the inductions of Lindsay Whalen, Swin Cash, Marianne Stanley and Theresa Shank-Grentz. But there is one recognition that will take place on Friday night on national television that has much personal significance for many of us who have covered the game.
M.A. Voepel, who has been the essential chronicler of women’s basketball for more than three decades will be honored with the Curt Gowdy Media Award.
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The list of Gowdy Award winners is long and luminous, some of the most well-known sports media figures ever are on it. But it wasn’t until last year, 31 years after the Hall started giving it out, that someone who spent their career documenting the women’s game was honored. That was the legendary Mel Greenberg, founder of the AP women’s poll and game historian extraordinaire.
Voepel will be the second. For women’s basketball fans, Voepel has always been a luminary: their connection to a growing game, a storyteller who made sense of the ways the game has changed and evolved and the person who most often gave you a window into the experiences of the people playing and coaching it.
He is the gold standard for covering the women’s game, not just because of his longevity, but because of the depth, quality and consistency with which he has done it.
For me, M.A. is my friend and colleague, the person I can call for perspective, commiseration and a balance check on covering a sport that shifts beneath the feet of many of us who have been doing it for a long time.
We have walked our journeys together in many ways for three decades. Both of us broke ground as national women’s basketball writers for new online publications that needed someone to convince them that there might be an audience for them in women’s basketball.
Both of us have sat courtside at games, many big and others less big, lobbed questions at press conferences, stood in crowded locker rooms and analyzed what it all meant in media dining rooms across this country.
M.A. is the barometer of women’s basketball, the constant in this era of growth, innovation and activism. His stories about breaking news and meaningful games are the essential reads of fans across this country because they are well-written, thoughtful and thorough. And sometimes precisely because of what they are not – speculative, judgmental or hyperbolic. M.A. does not trade in the hot takes, only the real ones.
His attention to detail is matched only by his work ethic.
His thoughtful questions to coaches and players elicit the response that help you truly see the process behind the product on the floor.
His penchant for developing relationships in the game allow him access that no one else can get. Who gets to go to Kim Mulkey’s home and sit on the couch while she plays with her grandkids, for crying out loud?
He is simply one of the ethical and respected people in women’s basketball.
And so much more than that. In the years we spent working together at ESPN, he was my writing partner and traveling companion. The introvert and the extrovert. The Midwesterner and the Californian. The slow crafter of words (Voepel) and the crank-it-out so we can get a cocktail one (me).
The St. Louis Cardinals sticker that adorned his laptop for years makes no bones about his allegiances. The Blackberry he kept long past its useful (though not operational) life, speaks to the fact that he has never needed anything extravagant or fancy to do the work.
His deep love of animals, and his ability to always ask how you are – and mean it – is a testament to a huge and compassionate heart.
I have never been more proud of my friend than when he announced so eloquently and elegantly a few weeks ago that he was transitioning. It was his humility and grace that struck so many people, and there was never a doubt in my mind of the embrace that he would receive.
When I saw his new headshot appear in my Twitter feed, I cried. It was the person I knew, with a smile that I recognized as pure contentment.
M.A. is going to be honored in Springfield on Friday night for a body of work that has done nothing less than pushed an entire sport forward.
I could not be prouder of him, or more excited to see him on press row at the next big game.
Written by Michelle Smith
Michelle Smith has covered women's basketball nationally for nearly three decades. Smith has worked for ESPN.com, The Athletic, the San Francisco Chronicle, as well as Pac-12.com and WNBA.com. She was named to the Alameda County Women's Hall of Fame in 2015, is the 2017 recipient of the Jake Wade Media Award from the Collegiate Sports Information Directors Association (CoSIDA) and was named the Mel Greenberg Media Award winner by the WBCA in 2019.