I Am Legend | Trailblazing Sports Broadcaster Fred Hickman Passes Away, Leaving A Legacy Of Firsts

Image Credit: Kelly Mulls/CNN

The landscape of sports broadcast media was changed when trailblazer Fred Hickman entered the scene. Now the world mourns the loss of one of the best-ever sports broadcasters who kickstarted channels and programs on a national scale that are now time-honored.

Hickman had a humble start in his broadcast career, starting first in radio in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, while a college student before heading to another station in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois.

He soon became an anchor, director, and reporter at WICS-TV, also in Springfield. He worked there for two years, soon after college, before moving to CNN.

Hickman, 66, was the definition of a pioneer, having been at CNN from the network’s launch as the host of “Sports Tonight” with Nick Charles on the first day on the air in 1980. Charles passed away in 2011.

Hickman’s tenure at the show was a game-changer, often competing with ESPN’s flagship program, “Sports Center,” where he was the anchor for four years. Hickman spent 21 years with CNN and Turner Broadcasting and even hosted the first version of the classic “Inside the NBA” on TNT during the 1989-90 season.

“Fred truly succeeded at everything he did and was adored by his colleagues in front of the camera and behind the scenes,” said Cory Charles, Nick Charles’ widow.

“Fred and my late husband were known as Nick & Hick. I have so many memories over the past 30 years of him, not only as Nick’s partner, but as a dear friend and brother,” she said. “The two of them were not only incredible on the air but so hysterical off camera together.”

Hickman thrived alongside TNT staple broadcasters like Craig Sager, Hannah Storm, and more.

“Fred was a joy to work with and a joyful person,” Yankees broadcaster Michael Kay said in a statement. “A total pro that you felt comfortable with knowing he would lead you the right way on the air. He was the first voice ever heard on YES and his professionalism put us on the right track, a track we are on all these years later.”

Hickman was also an advocate for culturally polarizing sports figures. When then-Los Angeles Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal was up for MVP in 2000, Hickman was the reason he was not voted unanimously as the lone media member to vote for Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson.

 

His succession of firsts didn’t stop there as Hickman jumped to the YES Network in 2001, helping launch the channel and becoming the first anchor on the air the following year. He could cover anything and eventually landed with Fox as a host for Atlanta Braves broadcasts. More recently, he was the anchor and managing editor at Black News Channel.

“If you are about my age, he was one of the faces on your sports-crazy youth on CNN. He was a true OG in the field,” Pittsburgh sports radio host Colin Dunlap tweeted. He called Hickman, one of his colleagues, that was “our internet before the internet.”

Barrier-breaking, conscientious, and always on time, Fred Hickman laid a foundation that both sports broadcasters and athletes turned commentators are standing on today.

Rhett Butler is a Boxing Writer Association of America Journalist, Play-By-Play Commentator, Combat Sports Insider, and Former Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing Promoter. The New York City native honed his skills at various news outlets including but not limited to: TIME Magazine, Money Magazine, CNN's Wolf Blitzer Reports, and more. Rhett hosts the PRITTY Left Hook podcast, a polarizing combat sports insider's take featuring the world's biggest names.