Many times when you speak with Jarrett Bell, the longtime NFL columnist for USA TODAY Sports, he’ll start the conversation with the following: “I got a story for you.”
An hour later, Bell is off the phone and you are always, and I mean always, smarter for talking to him.
The best journalists and storytellers have lots of, well, stories to tell. JB, as many of us call him, excels at showing readers the true nature of professional football, on and off the field.
No writer now, or in history, has told the modern story of the National Football League, in all of its glory, lowness, greatness and power, better than JB.
This fact was reflected in a Wednesday announcement that Bell has won the Bill Nunn Jr. Award, which is awarded yearly by the Professional Football Writers of America in recognition of long and distinguished career contributions to professional football reporting. The award, which originated in 1969, was renamed in 2021 in tribute to Nunn, a longtime writer and editor at the Pittsburgh Courier.
Nunn had a long career in journalism and also worked for some 50 years in the scouting department for the Pittsburgh Steelers. In 2021, he became the first Black person elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the Contributor category.
It’s good to see an award that tells the story of the storytellers recognize JB, who tells them so well.
JB, 62, has covered pro football since 1981. A proud Michigan State Spartan, he has been with USA TODAY Sports since 1993, and before that covered the San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys. He’s served as a contributor for ESPN; won in-house awards for USA TODAY — most recently a first-place honor from the Associated Press Sports Editors in 2020 for project writing, and has received multiple writing awards from the PFWA. He is also a longtime member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee. The accolades and accomplishments go on.
But that’s the strict bio.
Here is, as JB might say, the real story.
This award isn’t just a recognition of JB’s considerable skillset. It’s more than that. It’s immensely difficult in this business to be both remarkable at what you do, and maintain the respect of both the people you cover and the colleagues in your business. Along the way, journalists anger people and make enemies; we become petty and are subject to pettiness.
None of this applies to JB. He’s been able to successfully walk that line of being tenacious, journalistic and creative, while simultaneously being human and empathetic.
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I say the following not as his friend but as a fact: He is one of the most respected people to ever cover the NFL, and this award is a recognition of that.
What now separates JB is his longevity. It’s difficult to be good at this job for a short period of time, but he’s done it for decades, and at the highest of levels. Super Bowl after Super Bowl, feature story after feature story, training camp after training camp, draft after draft. Always bringing exuberance and originality, and never succumbing to the allure of extreme cynicism.
So, to JB, I’ve got a story for you:
You’ve long been one of the best in our business, and it’s good to see that fact acknowledged with this award. Because no one deserves it more.