We’ll be reading some but not all of these stories and books (we’ll also read plenty of work not on this list). Consider this list as sampler, inspiration, roadmap, and perspective. Most are examples of the craft or form. Some offer unique voices. You’ll find work recommended by your classmates (and I hope you recommend more). You’ll find classics and cautionary tales. And, in Section III, you’ll find a purposefully wide and extensive array of the type of “sports overlap” stories available to you. The goal: provide a sense of all the places we can go using sports as a hook/lens.
A Most American Terrorist, GQ, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah (recommended by Haley)
“What kind of subhuman miscreant could commit such evil?… What happened to you, Dylann?” An amazing piece of reporting and writing.
He Got Into College The Old-Fashioned Way, LA Times, Steve Lopez
A modern, simple example of short-form writing: take a news event (the admissions scandal) and humanize the other side of it. Lopez uses details, dialogue, and quotes to make his point. A story that can be done in a day.
The American Man at Age Ten, Esquire, Susan Orlean
From 1992, the classic Orlean story about finding depth in the ordinary. Told to profile Macaulay Culkin, she instead wrote about an average ten-year-old. A master class in using humor, perspective, and tone.
Beginnings, New York, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
“That was the lesson: the winner is the person who keeps asking questions.”
My Family’s Slave, Atlantic, Alex Tizon
A Filipino-American writer and Pulitzer-winner wrestles with his family’s history.
“I Have No Choice But to Keep Looking“, New York Times Magazine, Jennifer Percy
A heart-breaking story about love, using the frame of the Japanese tsunami. Written with a novelist’s eye for language and perspective (Percy won a Pushcart Prize).
13, Right Now: This is what it’s like to grow up in the age of likes, lols and longing, Washington Post, Jessica Contrera
How to explain the hold of digital devices on a new generation? Embed and use dialogue, details, and empathy. A story that requires no big-name access, only industry.
Guns R’ Us, GQ, Jeanne Marie Laskas
Laskas challenges her assumptions by working at a gun store, then draws readers in using the first-person. Laskas employed a similar strategy for a piece on coal mining in Underworld.
The Really Big One, New Yorker, Kathryn Schulz,
How do you take a complicated subject, and an event that has yet to happen (and may not), and make it a unputdownable story? Read on.
Searching for Sugar Daddy, GQ, Taffy Brodesser-Akner
“Thurston Von Moneybags (not his real name) was scammed once by a girl in Houston.” Later in the semester, we’ll talk about voice and tone and finding yours. Taffy is a writer with a singular voice, full of wit and fire and self-doubt, forever taking the reader into her confidence. Want to read more of Taffy’s work? She’s compiled it here (It’s worth noting how even really successful writers curate personal sites; Michael Pollan also has an excellent one, for example).
The White Darkness, New Yorker, David Grann
Or choose any other David Grann story. A master of deep reporting and effortless storytelling, forever proving that any subject can be fascinating if approached the right way.
The Body That Understands What Fullness Is, Medium, Roxane Gay
This could stand in for many of Gay’s essays. Beyond her talent and cultural sway, both considerable, she writes with a mixture of candor and confidence that is rare. If you do try personal essays, she serves as a model.
II. Selected Books
Forty Million Dollar Slaves, by William C. Rhoden (recommended by Ashlea)
The Three Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui’s Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory, by Julie Checkoway (recommended by Julie)
Generation Kill, Evan Wright (recommended by Brian)
American Prison, Shane Bauer (recommended by Daniel)
Dreamland, by Sam Quinones
Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates
Massacre in Mexico, Elena Poniatowska (recommended by Sarah)
Hiroshima, John Hersey
III. Sports Overlap Stories
Death of a Racehorse, The Sun, by W.C. Heinz
Written in an hour on deadline, this short, spare news story from 1949 is an enduring example of the power of perspective, dialogue, details, and concise writing.
Privileged, Player’s Tribune, Kyle Korver (recommended by Skyler)
An NBA veteran struggles with class and race in this first-person essay
Runs in the Family, ESPN, Sarah Spain
A wonderful example of narrative patience: it’s how Sarah tells this story that gives it such power.
‘Still Can’t Believe it Worked‘, New York Times, By Hannah Beech, Richard C. Paddock and Muktita Suhartono
The soccer team is the only tie needed to make this story about the cave rescue in Thailand “sports”. Elegant (and well-illustrated) example of a tick-tock.
About Winning, The Sun, Henley O’Brien
Written under a pseudonym, this story – nominally about rowing – was published in 2016 but the author clearly carried it with her for years. Funny, wise, searing, with a creative structure. An example of using a sports background to your advantage.
The Boxer and the Batterer, Grantland, Louisa Thomas
Thoughtful commentary, using embedded images to devastating effect.
The Meaning of Serena Williams, New York Times Magazine, by Claudia Rankine
Reported commentary. A new perspective on a familiar subject.
String Theory, Esquire, by David Foster Wallace
Sports writing at its most lyrical. A testament to depth, observation, and prose being more important than a star subject.
Just Cheer, Baby, ESPN, by Amanda Hess
‘Fed up with working long hours for meager wages, a Raiderette named Lacy T. recently filed a lawsuit in search of fair pay. She might just end up changing the system.’
What the Arlee Warriors Were Playing For, New York Times Magazine, Abe Streep
A basketball team on the Flathead Indian Reservation plays in hopes of combating a suicide “cluster”
Deliverance from 27,000 Feet, New York Times, John Branch
Branch, a visitor to the class in past years, is exceptional at taking stories and turning them on their heads to find new angles. Here, he investigates not those who succeed at climbing Nepal’s highest peaks but those who fail, and what happens to their bodies.
Mina came to sports from an investigative reporting background, first covering business. In the first story, she returns to Korea – where her mother lived – to write about bat flips, and what they represent. In the second, she writes about Faker, an esports star, and does so with such style and rigor that it’s interesting even to people (like me) who neither know nor care about esports.
Her peer at ESPN, Don Van Natta Jr., provides another good look at what happens when an investigative reporter – Van Natta was on two New York Times Pulitzer teams – heads to sports.
The Courage of Jill Costello, Sports Illustrated, Chris Ballard
Written by your professor. An example of a local story that found a national audience.
Our Call is to Save Them, Washington Post, Kent Babb
Football as a way to discuss gun violence. Babb is now expanding this 2018 piece into a book. The kind of story you can find in your backyard.
Gracie Gold’s Battle for Olympic Glory Ended in a Fight to Save Herself, New York Times, Karen Crouse
A powerful story about mental health in figure skating. Crouse, a pioneering female sportswriter, will be visiting our class later this month.
The Shahid Afridi of Kansas, Cricket Monthly, Jarrod Kimber
Mohebullah Archiwal’s story of how cricket took him from war-torn Afghanistan to middle America
Why Him? Why Me?, ESPN, Eli Saslow
Anyone interested in feature writing should read everything Saslow writes (most of which isn’t about sports). His story about Newtown, for The Washington Post, will rip you apart. He uses embedded reporting, empathy, and a barrage of telling details to humanize, tackling everything from addiction to white supremacists. A second example in the sports realm: this charming story, about a baseball player living out of a van.
The Greatest Bowling Story Ever Told, D Magazine, by Michael Mooney,
Simple narrative, told very well, on a topic any of you could report. It lives up to the title. If you’re looking to model a simple feature story, from reporting to structure, this would be an excellent choice.
The Blind Faith of Juan Jose Padilla, the One-Eyed Matador, GQ, Karen Russell
Is this a sports story? Who cares. Like so many others, it’s an excuse to use the hook to tell us about a fascinating person, and culture. Written by a novelist, the prose shines.
Why Former 49ers Chris Borland is the Most Dangerous Man in Football, ESPN, by Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada
The Fainaru brothers have been hammering the NFL for the past half-decade, bringing a relentless approach to investigative reporting in sports (Steve was a Pulitzer winner when he was a war reporter with The Washington Post)
American Hustle, Harper’s, Alexandra Starr
A look at how African athletes are exploited by the youth basketball machine.
The Tragic Extent of Monique and Milton Bradley’s Violent Relationship, Sports Illustrated, by Jon Wertheim and Michael McKnight
A powerful, disturbing feature told entirely through public records.
Still Life, Texas Monthly, by Skip Hollandsworth
Sometimes the most affecting stories are about what happens after the crowd moves on. An off-the-beaten-path story idea.
Split Image, ESPNW, by Kate Fagan
Fagan uses sports to get at a myriad of topics: depression, suicide, and our obsession with online image.
Colin Kaepernick Has a Job, Bleacher Report, Rembert Browne
A sprawling, personal perspective on Kaepernick and race
A good look back at history
The Official Coming-Out Party, ESPN, Kevin Arnovitz
On Bill Kennedy, an NBA ref who came out. Yet another example of how you can get the sports masses to read about just about any topic if you stick it on ESPN.
IV. On the Business
Jimmy’s World, Washington Post, Janet Cooke (recommended by Clara)
The cautionary tale, from 1980, of fake news and fabulism
My Life in the Locker Room, Deadspin (reprint), Jennifer Briggs
On being a woman covering pro sports in 1992.
Chilly Hot-Rodding on the Ice, Sports Illustrated, Hugh Whall (recommended by Michaela)
A 1965 profile of ice boat champion Jane Pegel displays the (cringe-inducing) manner in which female athletes were covered at the time. Here is one of the first sentences: “Mrs. Robert Pegel of Chicago and Williams Bay, Wis. looks and talks like a comfortable Midwest housewife, and one might reasonably guess that her favorite sport is baking apple strudel.”
Spurned by ESPN, Barstool Sports is Staying on Offense, New York Times, Jay Caspian Kang
The dark underbelly of sports fandom is big business.
Deep Six: Jemele Hill and the Fight for the Future of ESPN, Ringer, Bryan Curtis
The Stick to Sports battle and its eloquent lightning rod, Hill.
Distant Thunder, Grantland, by Bryan Curtis
A look at how players and teams try to control the message.
V. Student Work in the Sports Realm
Rickey Henderson’s Career Comes Full Circle, Oakland North, Ryan Lindsay
But one of many examples from Ryan, who used her time at the J School to hustle her way into many publications.
Goodbye Warriors, hello Roots, The Guardian, Simon Campbell and Max Brimelow
Great example from Simon and Max of a local angle taken internationally.
U.S. losing soccer prospects as California talent head back to Mexico in search of opportunity, Los Angeles Times, Lauren Hepler and Liliana Michelena
Lauren and Liliana traveled to Mexico, took countless trips to Salinas, and collaborated their way into the LA Times with this flip on the American dream.
#LaneyBuilt, East Bay Express, by Spencer Silva
Spencer spent months on this, weaving in characters and local culture and tying it to a news peg
Post-Soviet Co-Ops: Mongolian Herders Borrow a Tool From the Recent Past, YES!, by Sarah Trent
Not sports but awesome, and written by your trusty tutor!