Nov. 18, 2003
Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh, C.S.C., president emeritus of the University of Notre Dame, has been named the inaugural recipient of the NCAA President’s Gerald R. Ford Award.
Named in honor of former President Ford, the award honors individuals who have provided significant leadership as advocates for intercollegiate athletics on a continuous basis over the course of their careers. Father Hesburgh will receive the award from NCAA President Myles Brand at the association’s national convention on Sunday, Jan. 11, 2004, in Nashville, Tenn.
“Rev. Hesburgh’s 35-year career as president of one of the most prestigious universities in the country enabled him to be a major influence on the evolution of higher education in the last half of the 20th century,” Brand said. “He also is one of the strongest advocates for the contribution intercollegiate athletics can make to the academy.”
“I am honored to be the first recipient of the Gerald Ford Award,” Father Hesburgh said. “President Ford is one of my dearest friends, and I’m delighted that the NCAA has established this award to honor him as both a distinguished athlete and as a man who served his country in so many ways during difficult times.”
Father Hesburgh, 86, served as Notre Dame’s president from 1953-87, directing the University’s rise to national prominence in research, scholarship and teaching. His many awards include the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest honor awarded by Congress, and the Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor. He has received 150 honorary degrees, the most ever bestowed on one person.
Among his contributions to college sports was service from 1990-96 and again in 2000 as co-chair of the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics.
“The first Knight Commission report was an important impetus to the academic reform movement within intercollegiate athletics that has taken place over the last dozen years,” Brand said.
The Ford Award honors a University of Michigan football player who became the 38th president of the United States. Ford played on the Wolverine national championship teams of 1932 and ’33, and, as a senior, he started every game at center and was voted most valuable player by his teammates.
Ford’s political career began in 1948 when he was elected to the House of Representatives. He rose to become House minority leader in 1965 and was appointed vice president in 1973. He became president in 1974 after Richard Nixon’s resignation, and served until January 1977.
“As both a public servant and an athlete, President Ford embodies the qualities of integrity, achievement and dedication that we aspire to in intercollegiate athletics,” Brand said. Future recipients of the Ford Award will be selected by the NCAA president in consultation with other association leaders.