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.
Wednesday when I got "the call" that was my biggest question. Will the Ray Rice piece run? My Undefeated piece? Once a yes, I had peace.
— Jane McManus (@janesports) April 28, 2017
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:
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.
The month in sportswriting news:
- As alluded to above, ESPN laid off dozens of employees, many of them top writers like Jayson Stark, Dana O’Neil, Marc Stein, Henry Abbott and many more.
- After laying off several prominent NBA writers, ESPN is reportedly hiring Adrian Wojnarowski away from Yahoo.
- ESPN gave a new contract to ace investigative reporter Don Van Natta Jr.
- The New York Times’ public editor called out the paper’s sports section for not writing enough straight news, which didn’t go over well.
- Former New York Post sportswriter Bart Hubboch claims Rupert Murdoch personally spiked a negative story about Patriots owner Robert Kraft.
- Yet another case of an online outlet caught plagiarizing, this one by a staffer for The Hockey Writers.
- Georgia football media has been barred from reporting on injuries without approval from the head coach.
- Despite rumors about potential buyers, Time Inc—Sports Illustrated’s parent company—will not be sold.
- An columnist writing on ESPN.com criticized fellow ESPNer Bill Barnwell for secretly consulting for the Browns, which he says he does not do.
Stories of the month
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.
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…
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.