VILLANOVA, Pa. – On Thursday, February 11, Villanova University’s Office of Disability Services will present the fourth annual Fr. Bill Atkinson, OSA, Humanitarian Award to Tom Rinaldi, a correspondent and feature reporter for ESPN. The award will commemorate the five-year anniversary of Rinaldi profiling then-Villanova Men’s and Women’s basketball managers, Frank Kineavy and Nick Gaynor, both of whom have cerebral palsy, and were featured in the documentary, “Coming off the DL.” Rinaldi’s feature aired Feb. 12, 2011 during ESPN’s College Gameday, which broadcast live from The Pavilion on the campus of Villanova University.
“This year we chose to honor Tom for his commitment to advocacy, awareness and understanding of people living life in the face of adversity through his features often seen on ESPN,” said Greg Hannah, assistant director for disability services at Villanova. “His work in February 2011 that looked at the relationship between Villanova basketball and two managers living with cerebral palsy opened the door for further acceptance, understanding, and inclusion for these students, and also was crucial in our promotion of the student group, LEVEL.”
Since arriving at ESPN in 2002, Rinaldi, a winner of 12 national Sports Emmy Awards and six national Edward R. Murrow Awards, has covered some of the most impactful stories in sports, such as his 2014 piece, “The Man in the Red Bandana,” chronicling the heroism of Boston College’s Welles Crowther during the September 11th attacks. Rinaldi has also interviewed some of the world’s top athletes, including Tiger Woods, Kobe Bryant, Magic Johnson, Derek Jeter and countless others.
“It’s an absolute honor to come back to Villanova to receive this award,” said Rinaldi. “Being a journalist, you get to meet a lot of great people from all facets of life. When I met Frank and Nick five years ago, I was blown away. We should all take time to recognize that individuals, like Frank and Nick, can overcome any challenges and offer our society a wide range of talents and abilities.”
Rinaldi, who completed his undergraduate work at nearby University of Pennsylvania and received his master’s degree from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, also regularly appears on College Gameday during college football season and covers golf and tennis during the sports’ biggest tournaments for ESPN.
Villanova’s Office of Disability Services established the Fr. Bill Atkinson, OSA Humanitarian Award in 2012 to recognize an individual, group or organization that exemplifies the spirit and service that Fr. Atkinson embodied throughout his life. In the history of the Catholic Church, Fr. Atkinson was the first quadriplegic to be ordained as a priest. The 2014 award was presented to former Rutgers University football player Eric LeGrand, who suffered a severe spinal cord injury during a game in 2010 and became a prominent figure in the disability community for helping to raise awareness for people of all abilities.
Fr. Atkinson, who passed away in 2006, is up for canonization to become a saint in the Roman Catholic Church. After being injured in an accident in 1965 that left him a quadriplegic, Atkinson went on to become ordained 1974 and taught at Monsignor Bonner High School in Drexel Hill, Pa. for nearly 30 years.
”The whole idea of our award is to honor Fr. Bill’s memory, create continued awareness of his legacy as an Augustinian and celebrate his amazing spirit and achievements as a person living with a disability,” said Steve McWilliams, Villanova’s Director of Disability Services. “This award honors someone who promotes that spirit, improves disability awareness and the quality of life for people living with disabilities.”
About Villanova University:
About Villanova University: Since 1842, Villanova University’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition has been the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. There are more than 10,000 undergraduate, graduate and law students in the University's six colleges – the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, the Villanova School of Business, the College of Engineering, the College of Nursing, the College of Professional Studies and the Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law. As students grow intellectually, Villanova prepares them to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.