‘An icon of Alabama sports’: UA community remembers famed sports writer Cecil Hurt

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Sports Editor

The Crimson Tide lost its pen. 

Tuesday afternoon, longtime Tuscaloosa News sports editor and columnist Cecil Hurt died in Birmingham, Alabama, after a brief hospitalization with pneumonia. He was 62 years old. 

Hurt was born in Tuscaloosa but grew up in Huntsville, Alabama. He graduated from Butler High School and then returned to Tuscaloosa to attend The University of Alabama. He graduated from the University in 1981 and joined the Tuscaloosa News as a sports writer the following year. In 1988, became the newspaper’s sports editor and columnist. 

Hurt covered UA Athletics for Tuscaloosa News, including football, baseball and basketball. He won several esteemed awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the 2011 tornado that devastated Tuscaloosa and surrounding areas. 

In 2019, he was awarded the Mel Allen Media Award from the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame, an award that honors media members that have made a lifetime contribution to sports in Alabama.

“The highest professional compliment I can give Cecil Hurt is that he was a writer that other writers always read,” said Tony Barnhart, writer and broadcaster for the SEC Network, on Twitter. 

His knowledge of Alabama sports was a lifeline to readers. Hurt’s ability to connect Alabama fans from around the country was unmatched, and his words were most people’s  first impressions of Alabama Athletics. 

James Ogletree, sports editor at The Crimson White from 2019-2020, is a Virginia native. Ogletree knew about Hurt’s legacy. 

“Being involved in Alabama Twitter, you’d just see his name pop up,” Ogletree said. “He was an absolute icon. He was an icon of Alabama sports.” 

Ogletree’s predecessor Cody Estremera said Hurt’s presence was hard to miss. 

“Everyone would just kind of pay attention to what he would say,” Estremera said. “It was always fun to be in a room with him.” 

Hurt’s words were powerful, but his character is what people love most. He was a role model for students — particularly student journalists — at the University. 

“He’s a big reason why I switched schools and majors. I wanted to have an effect on people like Cecil did,” said Garrett Franks, a junior majoring in news media. 

Despite Hurt’s status as an Alabama icon, his presence was calming to newcomers. Nick Robbins, a junior majoring in news media, shared his first experience covering an Alabama gymnastics meet for The Crimson White. There were two reporters in the stands: Robbins and Hurt. 

Robbins was nervous and reached out for advice. 

“I’m playing Candy Crush. You’ll do fine,” Hurt said to Robbins. 

The two covered that February 2020 gymnastics meet together, wrote their stories and went their separate ways. But Hurt’s dry humor left a lasting impression on Robbins. 

“It was clear that he was a professional,” Robbins said.

Martha Glen Sease, a senior majoring in news media at the University, sat in the same row as Hurt at her first Alabama soccer match for WVUA 90.7. She had followed him on Twitter for years, and working alongside him elevated the experience. 

“I texted my mom, my uncle and my grandparents — all big UA fans and Cecil fans — that he was sitting down the line from me working on covering the game,” Sease said.“He was such a role model for me and many others. His wit, skill and kindness were unmatched.”

Football head coach Nick Saban commended Hurt’s legacy as “one of sports journalism’s best.” 

“He was a man of integrity and a fair-minded journalist blessed with wit, wisdom and an ability to paint a picture with his words that few have possessed,” Saban’s statement read. “Cecil was loved throughout this community and state as an old-school journalist who covered the Alabama beat with class and professionalism. He was a role model for young writers and the most trusted source of news for Alabama fans everywhere.”

Hurt’s story may be complete, but the ink from his pen will never dry up. Now, he’ll be greeted by a friend in plaid twirling a cigar.