By Nader Issa

The Asian American Journalists Association’s Sports Task Force is pleased to announce Cora Hall and Pranav Iyer as the recipients of the 2021 Jimmie & Suey Fong Yee Fellowship, generously funded by prominent sports agent Don Yee.

The $1,000 awards will go toward registration for the 2021 AAJA national convention later this year, and for the first time will cover expenses associated with reporting a story about Asians or Asian Americans in sports that the two recipients pitched as part of their applications. Hall and Iyer are the 10th and 11th overall recipients of the award.

“Thank you to the STF panel for their work on the 2021 Jimmy & Suey Fong Yee Fellowship,” Yee said. “Our family is very appreciative of STF’s efforts in going through each applicant’s pitch – and we had more applicants than ever to this point.” 

“There were many applicants who proved to be qualified,” STF chairman Josh Tolentino said. “AAJA Sports Task Force is extremely grateful for Don Yee’s continued support and his commitment in helping better diversify the sports journalism industry and also advocate for more Asian Americans in sports.”

The fellowship was established with Yee’s support to honor his parents. Yee is one of the NFL’s most respected talent agents, representing several star players and coaches, including Tom Brady, Jimmy Garappolo, Julian Edelman and Sean Payton. Yee said he was excited about both recipients after learning more about their backgrounds, scholarly accomplishments and story pitches.

“Cora’s application asked excellent questions; questions that typically go unanswered or ignored. Cora’s voice and perspective is one that I am excited to support,” Yee said.

“Pranav’s self-initiative shined through in his application. The website, AmaznHQ.com, founded by Pranav, is one-of-a-kind, and I am honored to help him further his career with this fellowship.”

In addition to attending the AAJA national convention toward the end of the summer, Hall and Iyer will work over the next few months — with the help and guidance of the Sports Task Force — to report and pursue the stories they pitched for the fellowship. 

Hall is set to graduate later this spring from Ferris State University in Michigan, where she serves as the editor-in-chief of her student newspaper, the Ferris State Torch. She’s interested in investigative sports reporting and said she enjoys the research that goes into those in-depth stories. Hall is also part of this year’s Sports Journalism Institute.

She will attend SJI, a journalism program created to help women and minorities into newsrooms, later this summer and intern at the Kansas City Star as part of the program.

For her story, Hall plans to examine the reasons behind the disproportionate lack of Asian Americans in collegiate sports. Her pitch was heavy on well-researched statistics that show a dramatic rise in Asian American populations in the United States hasn’t led to much increase in Asian American college athletes.

“It’s going to be a really valuable opportunity for me, more than I could really even say,” Hall said of the fellowship. “Because I came out of a really small school, and being able to have an opportunity this big and being able to work to get a story published in probably a bigger publication than I could have done on my own, having that connection is going to do a lot for me.

“It definitely means a lot to me because I come from a high school and a college that are not super diverse or don’t have a very big Asian community. So to find other people from the same culture, from the same background pursuing the same things as me, and to have mentors like that, it’s just another level of encouragement, mentorship that I’ve been looking for.”

Iyer is due to earn a master’s degree in journalism this spring at the University of Southern California. He graduated in May 2020 from Chapman University in California, where he played Division-III football.

While still in school in December 2019, Iyer launched AMAZN HQ, a publication dedicated to covering Asian American athletes, which he called his biggest reporting passion. Iyer said his identity and race play a big part in his work because, while he grew up in a predominantly Asian American community, not many around him dreamt of playing football or being a journalist. Then when he went to pursue his dream of playing football, he was not only the first Indian American teammate his peers ever had, but for some, he was the first Indian they’d ever met. That’s why Iyer was inspired by Yee’s work as an agent in the sports industry.

Jimmie and Suey Fong Yee illustration by Sally Deng

“Just hearing his story is inspirational,” Iyer said. “And he talks about the Asian American community and his passion for uplifting the community too, that is something that aligns directly with what I hope to do with my career.

“Those are really the types of stories that can help to inspire the community, can help to inspire that change — to give the younger generation inspiration but also to teach society that this change can happen and to see Asian American athletes in a different light.”

Iyer plans to report on an incoming wave of Asians and Asian Americans in professional sports that, while maybe not huge in numbers, looks as promising as ever and could shift the perception of Asian athletes.

Hall and Iyer both believe their introduction into the AAJA community will give them the support and connection they need to survive and grow in their profession.

Don Yee

“My identity plays a lot in the way I do my work and the way I view the industry as a whole,” Hall said. “That status quo as it is, reporters aren’t always thinking about these things. And it’s always the same people getting the same coverage and same voices being uplifted. And I’ve seen a lot of change in that and it’s really inspiring to me and influenced me over the last couple years and how I approach my work.”

“Seeing that representation and being able to connect with them and relate on certain struggles, certain upbringings and how to navigate through some of those, I think that is super important,” Iyer said. “Having that opportunity to form that community, to build these relationships, it’s so much bigger than just networking. I’m hoping it’s in a sense creating a family. …It’s organizations like these that allow people like me to pursue this past the dream.”

2021 Jimmie and Suey Fong Yee Fellowship judging panel
– Josh Tolentino, The Athletic
– Joon Lee, ESPN
– Nicole Yang, Boston Globe
– Michael Huang, ESPN
– Shehan Jeyarajah, Dave Campbell’s Texas Football