Here at Awful Announcing, and across the sports media world, we spent a lot of time talking about TV. And while TV is a fun and dynamic medium (and, more importantly, pays the bills) we sometimes forget the less-heralded heroes of sports media: the writers. So with that in mind, we’ve launched a feature in which we recap the highlights of the past month in of sportswriting, including some recommendations for stories you may have missed.

Quick disclaimer: Obviously I have not read all sportswriting of the past month or even all notable sportswriting. If I were to read every piece that was recommended in my Twitter feed, I’d never sleep, so it’s not only possible but also likely that I’m missing some really good stuff. With that in mind, don’t treat this feature as a comprehensive documentation of the month’s sportswriting. Think of it as a series of recommendations from a regular guy who likes to read.

If you’re interested in finding the best writing on a week-to-week basis (on sports and non-sports topics), stop what you’re doing and subscribe to the Sunday Long Read, a newsletter compiled by Don Van Natta and Jacob Feldman. I also get great recommendations from Jared Diamond and Mike Vorkunov’s weekly newsletter and from Richard Deitsch’s weekly column on SI.com. 

OK, with that out of the way, let’s recap April in sportswriting.

Sportswriter of the Month: Jane McManus, ESPN

Last Wednesday, Jane McManus was laid off from ESPN, along with dozens of others.

That same day, The Undefeated published a piece she wrote alongside NFL writer Jason Reid, in which they went in depth on why so many NFL positions often seem segregated by race. Two days later, ESPNW published her feature on Ray and Jenay Rice, in which she handled a complicated issue with characteristic grace and humanized the face of domestic violence in the NFL without apologizing for him.

Both pieces were deeply insightful, and both pieces reflect why McManus, like many others who are no longer at ESPN, did not deserve to lose her job.

Q&A of the Month:

Dwyane Wade Q&A: Anything But Basketball; by Rohan Nadkarni, Sports Illustrated

D-Wade talks about competing with his friends in who could dress most sharply, about his son’s school play, about his favorite rap lyric mentioning him (it’s, uh, about drugs) and more. This is a lot of fun.

Columns of the Month:

NORTH ATTLEBORO, MA – AUGUST 22: Aaron Hernandez sits in the courtroom of the Attleboro District Court during his hearing on August 22, 2013 in North Attleboro, Massachusetts. Former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez has been indicted on a first-degree murder charge for the death of Odin Lloyd. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

Aaron Hernandez trial: Heartbreaking scene as 4-year-old daughter shows up to court; by Dan Wetzel, Yahoo

Aaron Hernandez exhibited the slightest change in his final days; by Dan Wetzel, Yahoo

Dan Wetzel covered the Aaron Hernandez saga as well as anyone (and is reportedly now working on a documentary about it). His column after Hernandez killed himself got a lot of attention, but the one he wrote a week earlier after Hernandez’s daughter visited her father’s trial might have been even better. Both are highly worth reading.

Oral Histories of the Month

Oral History: The Wire’s East-West Showdown; by Stanley Kay, Sports Illustrated

This is a profoundly fun read for anyone who has watched The Wire (and if you haven’t watched The Wire, you should probably go watch The Wire).

When the Sonics Boomed; by Jonathan Abrams, Bleacher Report Mag

The 1990s Seattle Supersonics were one of the most exciting and excitable teams in NBA history. There’s also a tantalizing aspect of “what could have been” to their story. This oral history has loads of great details about their abbreviated run.

9 Feb 1997: Seattle Supersonics forward Shawn Kemp (right) and guard Gary Payton confer during the NBA All-Star game in Cleveland, Ohio. Mandatory Credit: Brian Bahr/Allsport

The month in sportswriting news:

Stories of the month

WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 28: Pat Riley looks on during the East Regional Round of the 2013 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament at Verizon Center on March 28, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Shohei Ohtani—Japan’s Babe Ruth—is about to change the face of baseball; by Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated

Soon, every baseball fan will know all about Shohei Ohtani. If you currently don’t, let this well-done profile be your introduction.

Pat Riley’s final test; by Wright Thompson, ESPN

Wright Thompson has truly never written a bad story. This one is a little slow but just as insightful and beautifully written as ever.

Steve Kerr Is the King of Cool: Drama x Joy x Defeat = Destiny on Repeat; by Erik Malinowski, Bleacher Report Mag

Steve Kerr is one of the most interesting people in sports, and Erik Malinowski does a good job conveying what makes him tick.

The Ghost of the GOAT: Why There Isn’t a ‘Next Michael Jordan’ Anymore; by Howard Beck, Bleacher Report Mag

For years every top perimeter player in the NBA was christened “the next Michael Jordan.” Howard Beck takes a creative look at how that trend has died out and what influence the GOAT still has on the NBA.

Behind Kevin Durant’s Jersey Number, a Cold-Blooded Murder; by John Branch, New York Times

This story came out right around when the Times’ public editor was criticizing the sports section for abandoning game stories. Trust me, this piece is better than any game story.

The NFL’s racial divide; by Jane McManus and Jason Reid, The Undefeated

We know all about the dynamics of the black quarterback, but what about the white cornerback? Or the black center? This is a fascinating look at how stereotypes shape NFL rosters.

INDIANAPOLIS, IN – MARCH 03: Running back Christian McCaffrey of Stanford runs the 40-yard dash during the NFL Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 3, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

Sin City or Bust; by Seth Wickersham and Don Van Natta Jr., ESPN

This is behind-the-scenes reporting at its best, a thorough and revelatory account of how the Raiders ended up in Los Angeles.

If not the player, Ray Rice asks you to forgive the man; by Jane McManus, ESPNW

Before Jane McManus left ESPN, she delivered this thoughtful, nuanced feature on Ray and Jenay Rice, who are trying to move forward nearly three years after Ray’s domestic violence scandal changed their lives.

Friends swore he would be the next Derek Jeter, but Brandon Martin is now charged in three killings; by Nathan Fenno, Los Angeles Times

This is a harrowing and well-told story about a former top baseball prospect’s descent into drugs, mental illness and, allegedly, murder.

Dalvin Cook and the Stories Behind the Red Flags; by Robert Klemko, The MMQB

Around the NFL Draft, we spend a lot of time discussing players with “character concerns” and “red flags” and considerably less time figuring out what those terms actually refer to. This profile of Dalvin Cook goes beyond those trite buzzwords.

And my three favorite pieces of sportswriting from the month of April…

HOUSTON, TX – JANUARY 02: Monty Williams, head coach of the New Orleans Hornets, calls a time-out against the Houston Rockets at Toyota Center on January 2, 2013 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)

Hunter Greene is the star baseball needs. First he has to finish high school; by Lee Jenkins, Sports Illustrated

High school baseball phenom Hunter Greene’s persona and backstory are so compelling that almost anyone could bring them to life. But not just anyone (maybe no one) could do so as well as Lee Jenkins, who tugs all the right strings to make this piece not just interesting but also affecting and memorable.

The great Super Bowl jersey caper; by Robert Klemko and Jenny Vrentas, The MMQB

This piece will grab your attention and hold onto it all the way through, in the way the best crime procedural stories do. It’s so good you’ll forget that it’s all about a lost football jersey.

‘You Can’t Give In’: Monty Williams on Life After Tragedy; by Chris Ballard, Sports Illustrated

This is another gem from Chris Ballard, one of the best magazine writers in the country. It’s a heart-wrenching story about a man, NBA coach Monty Williams, who is trying to put his life back together after his wife’s death. A terrible story, powerfully told.

About Alex Putterman

Alex is a writer and editor for The Comeback and Awful Announcing. He has written for The Atlantic, VICE Sports, MLB.com, SI.com and more. He is a proud alum of Northwestern University and The Daily Northwestern. You can find him on Twitter @AlexPutterman.

  • I wasn’t aware of the controversy about the NY Times sports section. But I also haven’t really been reading its content of late. For every really well written story, there are five or six that are really quite poorly conceived. And I really miss the Times’ actual coverage of sports. They do hard news better than anyone, regardless of subject. That should still include sports.