Michaelis has worked at Grady College since 2012, and has been the faculty adviser for the AWSM student chapter at the University of Georgia and she regularly participates in conventions as a moderator or panelist.
Before joining UGA, she spent more than two decades as a sports journalist, including at USA Today as the lead Olympics reporter and Denver bureau sportswriter covering professional and college sports. She also was a reporter for The Denver Post and The Palm Beach Post.
“Getting an award named for Ann Miller? Priceless to me,” Michaelis said. “She isn’t just part of AWSM’s foundation. She’s part of its soul. That soul, that community, has meant so much to me and my career — as both a journalist and a professor. I am truly honored.”
Michaelis is a former president and chair of the board who has played a role in several AWSM endeavors. She was a regional coordinator, helping plan and host events in the Denver area, and took on treasurer responsibilities during her time as chair.
“Vicki’s involvement and support of AWSM long after serving on the board embodies what the Ann Miller Service Award is all about,” AWSM president Ashley Colley said. “She has helped so many women at both the student and professional level. I’ve witnessed her contributions on both fronts, working with student chapters and giving advice to many of our members seeking guidance from a veteran woman in this industry. We thank Vicki for always making time to give back to AWSM.”
Established in 2013, AWSM’s service award is named in honor of Ann Miller, a longtime Hawaii-based sports reporter who was the organization’s treasurer for its first 10 years, served as board chair and has attended nearly every convention despite the long travel distance.
Editor’s Note: The above was edited from a feature written by AWSM. An original copy of this feature can be found on the AWSM website.
“The Olympics are a potent mix of everything I love about covering sports,” Michaelis said. “You have an endlessly rich array of athletes and their narratives to explore. You also have the social, political and cultural layers of the athletes and teams competing against each other.”
Michaelis is now rooted in Athens, Georgia, where she is the John Huland Carmical Chair in Sports Journalism & Society and director of the Carmical Sports Media Institute.
Her first visit to UGA’s campus was for the 1996 Olympic Games when soccer was played in Sanford Stadium. Little did she know then that her career would one day be planted steps away from that same stadium.
“It is very special to me now,” Michaelis said. “But, to be honest, my memory of covering that game isn’t vivid or anywhere near complete. More than anything, I remember being deeply grateful for the cold hot dog that UGA sports information legend Claude Felton (ABJ ’70, MA ’71) offered after the game, as I filed my story from the Sanford Stadium press box.”
That small gesture of kindness was received with much gratitude considering Olympics coverage deadlines make sleep scarce and good meals rare. The multi-week grind was always worthwhile for Michaelis because it was a small price to have a first-hand account of athletic history.
In Atlanta in 1996, she covered the U.S. women’s gold-medal games in soccer, basketball and softball.
“I saw and chronicled those watershed moments in U.S. women’s sports,” Michaelis said. “Both soccer and softball were new to the Olympics, and it was the first time Americans — a generation after the 1972 passage of Title IX — really embraced women’s teams and not just individual women’s athletes at an Olympics. The Atlanta Games changed how we view professional women’s sports leagues and women in sports overall. That I was there for those historic Olympic victories is a career highlight.”
Michaelis was part of the ecosystem of professionals around the Olympics. Many of her best memories and connections were created in the shadow of the iconic five-ring logo. Now, she and the Carmical Sports Media Institute create similar opportunities for young journalists.
Students in the Carmical Sports Media Institute began covering the Paralympic Games in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro and will continue in perpetuity thanks to the generosity of the Carmical Foundation. This coverage is in partnership with The Associated Press.
“The Paralympic Games offer all that I love about the Olympics, amplified,” said Michaelis. “Media outlets, though, generally don’t devote resources to amplifying the Paralympic stories. That gives us the opening to give our students the social, cultural and practical experience of covering a Paralympic Games while also giving them the chance to get their stories and photos published by high-profile media outlets.”
With every Olympic Games competition comes new stories from athletes and their home nations. It is where local cultures meld with sporting achievement serving as a common and universal language. For a sports storyteller, the Olympic Games are bountiful garden of meaningful narratives.
“You have the heightened drama and emotion of the competition, because every moment and every result is so consequential when the chance to shine comes only once every four years,” said Michaelis.
The Olympic Games in Toyko will be different for Michaelis. She will enjoy the spectacle as a spectator and through the eyes of the audience she’s long served. It will surely stir up a variety of emotions and memories.
Just as many athletes find themselves coaching the next generation of gold medalists, she now serves as a coach. Some Olympics content she consumes in July and August will be created by students she trained.
“As fulfilling as it was to be an Olympics reporter,” Michaelis said, “the reward of seeing our Sports Media Certificate graduates live their dreams is beyond compare.”
Students in the Sports Media Certificate program profiled athletes from the 1980 U.S. Olympic team, including Bart Conner (gymnastics), Edwin Moses (track and field) and Megan Neyer (diving) in stories published to the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Digital Museum.
The profiles were part of the curriculum in the spring 2020 section of “Multiplatform Storytelling for Sports.” The stories were published for the 40th anniversary of the U.S. boycott of the Moscow 1980 Games.
Zach Miles, one of the profile authors, researched, conducted interviews and wrote about Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas. Miles impressed the U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Digital Museum staff and landed an internship with them over the summer.
“To be able to talk with former athletes and their families while hearing their stories and what representing the United States meant to them truly left me in awe,” said Miles. “It’s so important and valuable for these athletes to be remembered and honored in this way, and I was grateful that I was able to play a role in this by telling their stories.”
Museum communications professionals helped students refine their writing and provided feedback on their stories.
“The Museum is committed to education and working with future generations to instill the Olympic and Paralympic values,” Museum Chief Executive Officer Christopher Liedel said. “We are proud to work with a program with such a strong track record and the University of Georgia. Allowing students to learn about and tell the stories of these incredible athletes is just a terrific opportunity for us.”
The partnership builds on half a decade of coverage by sports media students for the Olympic Games, Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Games.
For 12 years, Vicki Michaelis, John Huland Carmical Chair in Sports Journalism & Society, was the USA Today lead Olympics reporter. She now teaches students the cultural influence of the Olympic Games as an international athletic showcase and the importance of documenting the athletes who perform on the global stage.
“Finding the stories worth telling is at the core of everything we teach, and, in my mind, no sports event offers up more of those stories than the Olympic and Paralympic Games,” said Michaelis. “They provide seemingly limitless opportunities for our students to hone their storytelling skills, whether they’re covering the Games as they happen or peeling back the pages of history.”
Sports media students have covered the 2016 and 2018 Olympic Games as credentialed journalists. A team of the college’s sports media and visual journalism students also covered the 2016 Paralympic Games in Brazil, with their stories and photos distributed globally by The Associated Press. Thanks to a gift from the John Huland Carmical Foundation, the AP partnership will continue at the Paralympic Games in Tokyo next summer.
You can read the profiles of the following 1980 U.S. Olympians:
Vicki Michaelis, John Huland Carmical Chair in Sports Journalism & Society in Grady College, spent more than 20 years as a sports journalist, the last 12 as the lead Olympics reporter for USA Today.
Since 2012 she has taught at the University of Georgia and she leads Grady’s innovative sports media certificate program. With sporting events all over the world shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the implications stretch far beyond the playing fields. Without sports an essential part of our culture has been shut down. And the economic impact of the multibillion-dollar industry is only now just being felt.
We spoke with her about how sports leagues led the way in responding to the virus; what the shutdown means to sports leagues, broadcasters, athletes and fans; what sports might be like when they come back; and much more.
It’s hard to overstate the importance of all these sporting events being canceled, isn’t it?
If you look back in history, sporting events have been canceled. And the events that precipitated that, those events are life-changing, even world-changing things, whether it’s war or natural disasters or other tragedies. But in those times, you usually didn’t see all sports canceled. You can go back to World War II and President Franklin Delano Roosevelt asked baseball to keep playing.
So, when you look at all sports – literally every single sporting event canceled—I think you see the level we’ve risen to. It’s unprecedented.
A good argument could be made that sports led the way to the awakening to how serious this was. On March 11, Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz was diagnosed with COVID-19 and the NBA postponed its season, the NHL followed and all sports seemed to fall like dominoes.
That’s a great reading. It didn’t seem real until we knew someone who had it. It humanized it in a way that not even Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson could. They were in Australia. But here Gobert was literally on the court ready to play a game for our entertainment. The NBA, by doing what it did, woke everyone up to the importance of thinking about this differently and approaching it differently.
What is the impact of the calendar being wiped out—from a media standpoint?
The economic impact is going to be deep and broad, no question. You are looking at major broadcasters who won’t be making any money on advertising. How will they pay their bills? And they make a lot of money off events like the Masters and March Madness. Readership is drawn to their websites because of the coverage of these events, so they are losing audience.
What might conversations be like in those board rooms as executives try to figure out what to do next?
I assume that they are approaching things with cautious optimism. Some of these things you just aren’t going to get back. The Final Four you’re not going to get back. The Kentucky Derby will probably have to go up against college football. Good luck with that.
What this is going to make people realize, if they don’t already know, is how we use sports to come together. Live sports is one of the last remaining places where you can watch something in real time and have the same experience as another person in another place. As human beings, we need that common experience. When sports come back, I expect the audience will be more fervent and more loyal than ever.
Sports history is as old as history itself. The Olympics, which were postponed, have been canceled before. The 1964 Tokyo Olympics was moved from 1940 because of the Second World War, for example.
Exactly. Think about how many stories you can do around that. My students are working on some new projects. There is a new U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Museum opening this year. We already were working with the people who produce the museum’s digital site. We had decided to do something about the 1980 U.S. Summer Olympics team, which did not compete because of the boycott.
We have two things we tell our students that make a story: Why now? And why should we care?
Our “why now” and “why should we care” of the 1980 project been boosted in an incredible way. An exploration of what the 1980 coaches and athletes experienced can help us understand what some of these current Olympic and Paralympic athletes and coaches might be going through.
How are you addressing some of these issues as UGA classes return online?
The one thing we are going to emphasize to the students—and we do this throughout the sports media certificate program—is that 85 percent of sports stories happen off the field. We obviously teach them how to cover events and finish stories on deadline, but we also teach them how to find stories away from that. This is a teachable moment. “Remember what we’ve told you. Let’s start brainstorming stories that are there to be told.”
When you look through the rosters of the UGA spring sports, I guarantee you that every person on those rosters has a great story to tell: what they were hoping for this season, how their lives have been affected, what their training looks like, what their outlook looks like.
They all have compelling stories and that’s what we are here to do. Those kinds of stories can help people relate to these athletes and put it in perspective—the challenges they may be going through in their lives. That’s why we love sports. That inspires us.
Once all this is over, could sports be one of the things that brings us back to normal?
I think it’s served that role in the past. When you think about post-9/11, some of the first baseball games that were held, especially in New York, did that. Take that time and multiply it by 100.