June 27, 2011


Nick Charles Remembered

By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder


Nick Charles didn't know me from a hole in the wall.

And I, like most, know Charles from afar - his career on CNN's Sports Tonight and later the boxing aficionado. I paused Sunday when I read that Charles had lost his battle with bladder cancer, passing away at home on Saturday. Later in the day, my brother called and to ask if I had heard the news: One of our childhood heroes was gone.

I'm not really sure why I feel compelled to write, but I think it's that Nick Charles - and his longtime partner in sports crime Fred Hickman - was a huge part of me wanting to become a journalist.

To say that I was addicted to Sports Tonight wouldn't do justice to the word.

Not only did I watch practically every night (not quite sure how I managed to let my parents let me stay up late enough to watch while in elementary school), but my brother Mike and I religiously taped Nick and Fred's "Play of the Day." When we couldn't tape, we had taught our mom how to use the VCR so she could pinch-hit for us and record the plays so we could watch them the next day. From Mitch "Blood" Green to Nick and Fred playing a game of baseball with staffers and wadded up piece of paper - and legends like Bird and Magic in between - Charles and Hickman were a daily part of our lives. To this day, I'm pretty sure there are three or four videotapes sitting around my parents' house.

In high school, it was an obvious choice to try to land a one-week internship at CNN in the sports department for Career Week. There, I spent a week learning the ropes, taping the games, making notes of key plays. I got a chance to very briefly meet some of the on-air talent, Hannah Storm and Dan Hicks and even Nick and Fred. One night, I was responsible for watching and recording an NBA game - I think the Bucks were involved - that ended right as Sports Tonight was starting. I remember running down the hall with a producer, my notes in hand, telling him the key plays of the game and where they were on the tape. After the commercial break and a couple other NBA highlights, there was my game, with my chosen highlights, being broadcast by Nick and Fred.

Growing up, I always wanted to either play baseball or write about baseball for a living. Looking back, the journalism side of things came from Guy Curtright, the longtime Atlanta Journal Constitution reporter turned sports editor, who gave our elementary school class a tour of the paper, and Nick Charles and Fred Hickman. A journalism degree is the only one I considered when I started college. After baseball ended and the real world began, sports writing turned to business writing, which turned to public relations - CollegeBaseballInsider.com is a hobby that scratches that itch of writing about baseball, even if it's not for a living.

I have Nick to thank for that. And because of a small-world kind of thing, I had a chance to tell him so last year when I first heard he was battling cancer. Through my job in PR, I had come into contact with Cory Charles, a producer at CNN International, never putting together that she was married to Nick. When I learned of the connection, I dropped her a quick note telling my tale. She copied him on the response, saying he'd love to see the note.

Nick made a huge impact on some of sport's biggest names, but he also made an impact on countless little guys along the way.