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 take some time every month to recap the highlights of the past few weeks of sportswriting, including some recommendations for stories you may have missed.
Without further ado, here’s the best in sportswriting from the month of May.
Sportswriter of the month: Juliet Macur, New York Times
Stories have trickled out for a while about the mistreatment of NFL cheerleaders, but it took some blockbuster reporting from Juliet Macur of the New York Times for America to take note. Macur first revealed the tawdry details of the Washington cheerleaders’ 2013 trip to Costa Rica. She then reported on a lawsuit filed by a Texans cheerleader who claimed she was underpaid, verbally harassed and exposed to abusive fans. Finally, she filed a story on alternate cheerleaders, who don’t actually cheer and instead merely mingle with (often inappropriate) fans.
When she wasn’t owning the cheerleading beat, Macur was reporting on the fallout from the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. She always writes great stuff (we especially liked her piece earlier this year on football in a demoralized Indiana town), but she particularly brought it in May.
Oral history of the month:
Kerry Wood and ‘the greatest game ever pitched’: The oral history of May 6, 1998, at Wrigley Field; by Dan Wiederer, Chicago Tribune
Kerry Wood’s historic 20-strikeout game turned 20 years old in May, and the Tribune pulled together all the relevant parties for this thorough and compelling oral history.
Q&A of the month:
The radicalization of American football; by Louisa Thomas, The Atlantic
Eagles defensive back Malcolm Jenkins is one of the sharpest players in the NBA, and here he speaks candidly about protests during the national anthem, division among athlete activists and America’s urgent need for criminal justice reform — plus the risk of concussions and why he plays football.
Blog post of the month:
Sprout God, Porcelain Mamba, and Six-Step LeBron: The stories behind China’s best NBA nicknames; by Nick Kapur, Deadspin
What began as a Twitter thread turned into this wildly entertaining list. From Gaffe God to Pancake Emperor to Coffin Mamba, these nicknames are clever, insightful and hilarious.
The month in sportswriting news:
- After 29 years at Sports Illustrated, Peter King left to join NBC, explaining that he’s excited to try something different.
- The Athletic launched a soccer hub managed by former Howler editor George Quraishi.
- The Athletic also brought in former Sports Illustrated standout (and later ESPN punching bag) Rick Reilly.
- And former ESPN/Fox Sports/Sports Illustrated college football reporter Bruce Feldman.
- SI replaced Feldman with Ross Dellenger, formerly of The Advocate.
- Veteran MMA journalist Ariel Helwani is leaving the SB Nation-affiliated MMA Fighting to join ESPN.
- Longtime baseball writer Rob Neyer took a cool-sounding gig as commissioner of a college-baseball circuit called the West Coast League.
- ESPN discontinued its public editor position, saying it had “outlived its usefulness.”
- Cox Media shut down its three sports verticals — Land of 10, SEC Country and DieHards — leaving some talented writers jobless.
- Illustrious ESPN writer Wright Thompson was involved in a car wreck in Athens, Georgia. Thankfully, Thompson seems to have been all right.
- After Bo Churney’s suicide, the NBA blogger’s friends in the online basketball community raised more than $20,000 for an Atlanta-based non-profit geared toward at-risk LGBT youth.
- NFL writer Mike Renner is a contestant on the current season of The Bachelorette.
Stories of the month:
The curious case of Bryan Colangelo and the secret Twitter account; by Ben Detrick, The RingerYou’ve probably already read this one — or at least heard about. It’s the story that launched the Jerry Colangelo burner-account scandal and rocked the NBA.
Project 34: Cory Hahn is in the big leagues, though not in the way he once expected; by Ken Rosenthal, The Athletic
In an alternate universe, Cory Hahn is current an MLB all-star. In this one, he’s a Diamondbacks scout and subject of this touching profile.
Same warrior, new battle: Brian Grant won’t back down from Parkinson’s disease; by Chris Ballard, Sports Illustrated
Former NBA forward Brian Grant has fought a well-publicized battle with Parkinson’s. This story reveals how difficult that fight has been, not only physically but also emotionally.
The hidden queer history behind “A League of Their Own;” by Britni de la Cretaz, Narratively
This piece tackles a subject that “A League of Their Own” failed to cover: the lives of lesbian women in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League and elsewhere in women’s baseball history.
Washington Redskins cheerleaders describe topless photo shoot and uneasy night out; by Juliet Macur, New York Times
This story got Americans to notice and care about the plight of NFL cheerleaders, specifically those who work for Washington and found themselves involuntarily enlisted as escorts for team sponsors on a trip to Costa Rica.
“If I’m going to fail, I’d rather fail my way.” The untold story behind the rise of Aaron Judge; by Marc Carig, The Athletic
Aaron Judge had remained largely mum on how he went from hitting .179 to finishing second in AL MVP voting. Marc Carig got him (and those close to him) to open up.
Inside the tension between Kawhi Leonard and the Spurs; by Ramona Shelburne and Michael C. Wright, ESPN
No one has quite figured out what’s up with Kawhi Leonard’s mysterious quad injury, but here Ramona Shelburne and Michael C. Wright get as close as anyone has.
Space City: How faith fuels the Rockets’ explosive offense; by Lee Jenkins, Sports Illustrated
It feels a bit silly to share a piece about the Houston Rockets after they have been bounced from the playoffs, but this account of how Mike D’Antoni and James Harden turned the team into a powerhouse is worth a read anyway.
Ground for return; by Wayne Drehs, ESPN
This is as strong a piece as you’ll find about the remarkable story of Nevest Coleman, the White Sox groundskeeper who was exonerated after spending nearly 24 years in prison on murder charges.
In search of the real Mike Tomlin; by Tom Junod, ESPN
Mike Tomlin is one of the longest tenured head coaches in the NFL and one of the most successful black coaches of all-time. People in the league consider him an open book, but he rarely speaks about himself publicly. Compelling profile here.
The end of normal: Todd Blyleven was a hero during the Las Vegas mass shooting. That was only the beginning; by Yaron Weitzman, The Athletic
This powerful story traces not only Todd Blyleven’s heroism during a mass shooting but also the toll it took on him afterward.
Bomani Jones has a funny joke for you; by Eve Ewing, GQ
The brilliant Eve Ewing slips incisive commentary about race, sports and media into a profile of ESPN’s Bomani Jones.
Stay Messi, my friend; by Sam Borden, ESPN
It’s borderline cliché at this point to build a profile around the subject’s unwillingness to speak on the record, but Sam Borden more than pulls it off thanks to crisp writing, thorough reporting and a willingness to pose poignant questions.