Tom Siler's love of sports began when he managed his high school football team in Jellico. Every game day he would mow the grass, mark the field with lime and nail boards over the holes in the fence to keep nonpaying spectators from seeing the game. Later, as sports editor for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, he continued to follow the game, writing three books and countless articles and columns on University of Tennessee football.
But Siler's interest in sports extended beyond the gridiron, and during his 48-year journalism career he covered every sport imaginable. His picture hangs in the press box at Churchill Downs near a plaque bearing the inscription, "Many of the finest journalists in the United States covered the Kentucky Derby during their lifetime."
Born in Jellico in 1909, Siler later attended the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. After graduating in 1931, he went to work as a $10-a-week reporter for the Knoxville News-Sentinel, and later for the Associated Press in 1935. He worked in AP bureaus in Nashville and Chicago before joining the Chicago Sun as a sports reporter in 1942.
World War II interrupted Siler's career briefly in 1943 when he joined the U.S. Air Corps as a liaison officer. He served in Europe and attained the rank of Captain.
After the war Siler returned to Chicago, covering golf and baseball for the Chicago Sun-Times. In 1949 he returned to his native Tennessee as a columnist and sportswriter for the Knoxville News-Sentinel. In 1957 he became sports editor of the newspaper.
Siler was known for in-depth, insightful writing, and in no area was this more evident than in his coverage of the Tennessee Volunteers.
Siler noted the passion Vol fans had for their team when he wrote in Tennessee: Football's Dazzling Decade, published in 1970, "50,000 Tennessee alumni know where Neyland Stadium is. Ask the same 50,000 where the . . . library is and they might panic or break up entirely."
Siler's other books on UT football include Through the Years with the Volunteers, published in 1950, and Tennessee: Football's Greatest Dynasty, published in 1960. He also wrote Tennessee Towns: From Adams to Yorktown, a collection of facts about Tennessee cities and villages.
In addition to book and newspaper writing, Siler published articles in the Saturday Evening Post, Collier's, Sports Illustrated, Look, and Parade. He covered the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome, and was inducted into the National Sports Hall of Fame in 1972, the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in 1976, and the Knoxville Sports Hall of Fame in 1984.
Siler was president of "The Football Writers," and received the Jack Wade Award from the College Sports Information Directors Association in 1975. He was a member of Sigma Delta Chi (Society of Professional Journalists), and an SPJ scholarship at UTK was later set up in his name.
Active in the community, Siler was involved with the Boy Scouts, Boys Club, the Special Olympics, and the World Games for the Deaf. He was a two-time president of the UT Alumni Association. Siler retired from the News-Sentinel in 1979, but continued to remain active. In 1981 he was sports consultant for the World's Fair in Knoxville.
When Siler died on September 18, 1988, colleagues remembered him as a champion of non-partisan coverage, and as an editor and reporter who prized clear, factual reporting.