HOUSTON October 29, 2020 – The American Heart Association’s Paul “Bear” Bryant Awards, sponsored by Marathon Oil Corporation, have kicked off their 35th year with an action-packed digital event originating in Houston. Headlining the activity is the announcement that pioneering coach Sylvester Croom will receive the 2021 Paul “Bear” Bryant Heart of a Champion Award at the virtual ceremony on January 13, 2021. Annually, the American Heart Association, the leading voluntary health organization devoted to a world of longer, healthier lives, and the Bryant family are proud to present these awards and raise critical funds for research to eradicate cardiovascular disease and stroke in honor of Bear Bryant’s legacy. The football coaching legend died from a heart attack in 1983.

This year, presented for just the second time, the Heart of a Champion Award recognizes an individual in the world of sports whose notable contributions and positive influence have helped define the ways we enjoy, watch and engage in sports, and whose life is exemplary of a champion through the display of characteristics for which Coach Bryant was known, such as integrity, perseverance, determination and grit. ESPN College GameDay host and former football coach, Lee Corso, received the first award in 2020.

The Heart of a Champion Award will be presented virtually on January 13, 2021 at the 35th Annual Paul “Bear” Bryant Awards ceremonies, along with the college football Coach of the Year Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award.

In addition to naming the 2021 Heart of a Champion Award recipient during the kickoff digital event on October 28, the Bryant Awards are announcing several new initiatives this year in support of the American Heart Association’s mission to be a relentless force for longer, healthier lives. These exclusive volunteer opportunities include:

  • Game Changer elite giving society with VIP access to events and insider information
  • Heart of the Game lecture series hosted by the top names in college football
  • National auction launching on Black Friday, November 27, with exceptional packages and experiences
  • Online fan voting allowing college football fans across the country the chance to weigh in on their favorite coach

The Paul “Bear” Bryant Awards also recognize the country’s top college football coach. The Coach of the Year Award – presented each January – is the only college coaching honor selected after all bowl games and the National Championship conclude.

For the American Heart Association, the Heart of a Champion Award, Coach of the Year Award and Lifetime Achievement Award are opportunities to shine a spotlight on heart disease and stroke – the nation’s No. 1 and No. 5 health threats. Since the adoption of the name, the Paul “Bear” Bryant Awards have raised millions of dollars for the American Heart Association, funding research, education and advocacy efforts, and saving countless lives. The awards offer an opportunity to do just that — to join the American Heart Association in the fight against heart disease and stroke.

Upon hearing that he would receive the 2021 Heart of a Champion Award, Sylvester Croom said, “I am honored to be this year’s recipient of the Paul “Bear” Bryant Heart of a Champion Award. Having witnessed the effects of heart disease and stroke within my own family, I want to thank the American Heart Association for its leadership in the fight against these devastating diseases. To receive an honor bearing the name of my college coach is very special to me. By consistently challenging me to become a better man on the field, Coach Bryant made me a better man in life.”

Croom played football under Coach Bryant at the University of Alabama, winning three SEC championships and a national title in 1973, before returning as a coach. He served as an assistant under Bryant at Alabama for 11 seasons and participated in 10 bowl games and two national championships.

After leaving the University of Alabama, Croom coached for 17 years in the NFL. He was hired as the head coach at Mississippi State University in 2004, becoming the first African American head football coach in the Southeastern Conference. Croom coached the Bulldogs for four seasons and was named SEC Coach of the Year in 2007.

He resigned in 2008 and returned to coach the NFL, ultimately retiring after the 2016 season serving as running backs coach for the Tennessee Titans and ending his more than 40-year coaching career.

Marathon Oil, an independent exploration and production company based in Houston, has served as the presenting sponsor of the Paul “Bear” Bryant Awards for over 10 years, underscoring the company’s commitment to the health and well-being of their employees, families and communities. Marathon Oil works with leading community organizations that share their core values, like the American Heart Association, to advance important public health initiatives that promote the common good and protect the public.   

About the American Heart Association

The American Heart Association is a leading force for a world of longer, healthier lives. With nearly a century of lifesaving work, the Dallas-based association is dedicated to ensuring equitable health for all. We are a trustworthy source empowering people to improve their heart health, brain health and well-being. We collaborate with numerous organizations and millions of volunteers to fund innovative research, advocate for stronger public health policies, and share lifesaving resources and information. Connect with us on heart.org, Facebook, Twitter or by calling 1-800-AHA-USA1.

For Media Inquiries:

Stacy Christian, Senior Director of Community Revenue and Engagement



For Public Inquiries: 1-800-AHA-USA1 (242-8721)

heart.org and stroke.org