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The Communicator


Alumni drive grassroots effort to bolster sports journalism diversity fund

Students conducting an interview
Students from the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism covered the Paralympics in Brazil in 2016. (Photo by Will Yurman)

So much has changed during Dana O’Neil’s career as a sports journalist — altered conference and league memberships, competition and rules tweaks, reporting technology, venues and more.

Because of all that’s different, what remains unchanged seems striking.

“I still walk into press rooms at the Final Four and major events, or really any event I’m covering, and the people there look the same as they have my whole career. Not a lot of them look like me,” O’Neil said. “When I was at The Daily Collegian, there were women on staff and I assumed that’s the way it would be in the real world. It just made sense there would be more Black and Latino writers out there, too.”

O’Neil, a senior writer for The Athletic who focuses on college basketball, has covered everything from Little League to Major League Baseball and the NFL, NHL and NBA during an award-winning career. She has covered the last 14 Final Fours, the Super Bowl, the World Series and the Kentucky Derby, and she also is a past president of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association.

O’Neil, who earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism at Penn State in 1990, has written game stories, features and investigative pieces. She has completed one book, about Villanova basketball, with another in the works, focusing on the history of Big East Conference basketball.

Dana O'Neil headshot

Dana O'Neil

She’s also the driving force of a grassroots funding effort for a diversity and inclusion fund in John Curley Center for Sports Journalism at Penn State. O'Neil made an initial gift for the fund and the recently launched effort has already reached more than 10% of its goal.

The fund will help support students whose gender, race, ethnic, cultural and/or national background contribute to the diversity of the student body. Funds will be used for needs such as student research projects; national and international travel; and honoraria for speakers who visit to discuss issues that enhance diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.

“I’m incredibly grateful to Dana for this effort,” said John Affleck, director of the Curley Center. “Having the ability to provide opportunities to students from underrepresented groups is critical for our program, of course, but more importantly, it will also have a big impact on the lives of individual students as it helps us transform the sports industry.”

The talented and quick-witted O’Neil sees the effort as a service to the craft of journalism and scores of people who could use the support the fund will provide. She believes diversity leads to better stories.

“I recognize that people helped me and now it’s my turn, and has been my turn for quite some time, to do that for someone else."

Dana O'Neil ('90), senior writer, The Athletic

“I recognize that people helped me and now it’s my turn, and has been my turn for quite some time, to do that for someone else. I love my job. I’m still challenged by it and the nuts and bolts of writing stories,” she said. “But if you’re doing it right there’s more. It’s providing advice and direction to young journalists.

“And, in terms of diversity, people who are different from me will look at stories differently," she added. "Having them out there makes us all better.”

As a champion for both the craft of journalism and the University, O’Neil brings a determined mindset to the effort.

She said she knows she has changed during her career, as well — “I’m a mom. That certainly impacts how I look at stories, and who I want to hear from in those stories" — and she embraces how her growth and experience have made her better.

She’s hopeful to provide those same opportunities to others.

“I know there are a thousand reasons to be pessimistic, but I have to operate from an optimistic standpoint,” she said. “I want to help cultivate the next generation of responsible sports journalists.”

Gifts to the fund will advance "A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence," a focused campaign that seeks to elevate Penn State’s position as a leading public university in a world defined by rapid change and global connections. With the support of alumni and friends, “A Greater Penn State” seeks to fulfill the three key imperatives of a 21st-century public university: keeping the doors to higher education open to hardworking students regardless of financial well-being; creating transformative experiences that go beyond the classroom; and impacting the world by fueling discovery, innovation and entrepreneurship. To learn more about “A Greater Penn State for 21st Century Excellence,” visit greaterpennstate.psu.edu.