Darrell Christian, former AP managing editor and sports editor, dies at 75

Darrell L. Christian, a former managing editor and sports editor of The Associated Press known for a demanding demeanor and insistence on excellence during more than four decades with the news agency, died Monday. He was 75.

Christian died of Parkinson’s disease at Elegant Senior Living in Encino, California, according to his wife, Lissa Morrow Christian. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease around 2015, his wife said.

“Darrell was the finest story editor I ever saw, with an unerring instinct for the lead and shape of copy and zero tolerance for anything but the best,” said Mike Silverman, the AP’s managing editor from 2000 to 2007 and senior managing editor through 2009. ”I had the great good fortune to be his deputy for several years when he was managing editor and much of what I later brought to the job I owed to him.”

A no-nonsense editor known for directness and rigor, Christian modernized AP’s sports coverage during seven years in charge, emphasizing breaking news and in-depth reporting on issues as the sports business, academics and high school safety standards. That coverage earned him a promotion to managing editor under William E. Ahearn, then the executive editor.

“Sports is just an extension of hard news with a slightly different flavor,” Christian told the National Press Club in 2007.

Born on Dec. 26, 1948, Christian was a native of Henderson, Kentucky. He began his newspaper career as a sports writer and sports editor at the Henderson Gleaner in 1964, worked two summers in the AP’s bureau at Charleston, West Virginia, and received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky in 1969. After serving in the Navy from 1969-1972, Christian joined the AP in Indianapolis in 1972. He became news editor in 1975, moved to the Washington bureau in 1980 and became deputy sports editor in New York the following year.

Christian was promoted to sports editor in 1985, coordinating coverage of the 1988 and 1992 Winter and Summer Olympics and overseeing the addition of featurized approaches to game stories on all major sports events — something he brought to news stories as managing editor.

“When Jackie Robinson came along, sports began to develop a social consciousness,” Christian said at the National Press Club. “It really exploded in the 1970 and early ’80s with television coverage, which brought sports events into the living room and the proliferation of money in sports, the free agency where you suddenly created a whole generation of instant millionaires. And what happened between the lines was no longer enough. That created a public appetite for everything you could possibly want to know about these athletes.”

Known through the AP as “DLC,” Christian was known for his sharp, concise critiques sent to reporters, left in mailboxes in blue envelopes in the pre-digital era. The “blue notes” were feared among the staff.

Christian said the top story he covered as sports editor was Ben Johnson testing positive for a banned steroid at the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea, which caused him to work for 48 consecutive hours. His top story as managing editor was the trial of O.J. Simpson.

“It was indeed the circus of the century and it was one wild ride to cover it on a day-in, day-out basis,” Christian said.

Christian replaced Martin C. Thompson as managing editor in 1992 and chaired the Pulitzer Prize investigative jury in 1995 and 1996. Among the major stories he oversaw as managing editor: the O.J. Simpson saga, whose coverage he led with aplomb.

“Darrell was an old-school competitive newsman who valued creative stories delivered quickly to readers,” said Kathleen Carroll, the AP’s executive editor from 2002 to 2016. Those values infused every decision he made leading state, national and sports coverage: Make it interesting, write cleanly and get it out the door. His crusty exterior and droll sense of humor barely disguised his deep devotion to fast, accurate, interesting stories and the people who wrote them.”

After six years as managing editor, Christian was succeeded by Jonathan P. Wolman and became director of MegaSports, the AP’s multimedia sports service for newspaper and broadcast members and commercial online services and Web sites.

“Darrell combined old-school editing skill with a hunger to stay on top of the latest and innovation that would help keep AP competitive at the very beginning of the internet news age,” said Michael Giarrusso, AP’s deputy for newsgathering-global beats, who worked under Christian. “He was as comfortable editing the lead on a story as he was meeting with tech startups that wanted access to AP news or photos.”

Christian became business editor in 2000, and in 2003 was appointed to the newly created position of director of sports data, combining AP Digital’s MegaSports service with the AP’s newspaper sports agate service. He became editor at large in 2006, then created the AP’s Top Stories Desk in 2008 and managed it until his retirement, when he moved to California.

“Darrell never really stopped doing what he loved, which was to edit and illustrate,” AP golf writer Doug Ferguson said. “He put an emphasis on letting details do the work of adjectives. And he had this terrific ability of knowing what the story was and how to get there. He made us better.”

Christian had been living at home in Encino and still going to a gym and playing golf and softball before he entered Encino Hospital Medical Center on May 24. He was transferred to a rehabilitation facility a few weeks later and moved to the senior living facility on June 25.

Christian’s first marriage ended in divorce. He met Lissa Morrow when he was supervising AP’s coverage at the 1984 Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida, where she was covering for a radio station. In addition to his wife, he is survived by a brother, Scott, and niece Erika Whitman.

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