Search Results for: sports illustrated

An Audience of Athletes: The Rise and Fall of Feminist Sports

womenSports, Bettmann / Getty

Britni de la Cretaz | Longreads | May 2019 | 26 minutes (6,609 words)

The idea for womenSports magazine was born in a car suspended over the San Francisco Bay by beams of steel. Several weeks before she captivated the nation by beating Bobby Riggs in the “Battle of the Sexes” tennis match in the fall of 1973, Billie Jean King sat in the passenger seat of a car and stewed. At the wheel was her then-husband, Larry, driving the couple from Emeryville near Oakland toward San Francisco on the Bay Bridge, and as Billie Jean flipped through an issue of Sports Illustrated, she complained, which is what she always did whenever she picked up an issue of SI. Read more…

Longreads Best of 2018: Sports Writing

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in sports writing.

Mirin Fader
Writer-at-large for Bleacher Report’s B/R Mag.

Most Dominating Athlete of 2018: Simone Biles (Danyel Smith, ESPN the Magazine)

Danyel Smith’s ESPN the Magazine cover story of Simone Biles was one of the most impactful pieces of sports writing I read this year. After I finished it, I felt like I knew Biles. Smith got Biles to open up, to even admit the fear she feels while competing on bars (what Olympic gold-medal winning athlete readily admits fear?), which is a kudos to Smith’s skills as a reporter. Although I don’t know Smith personally, I felt like I could hear her voice throughout the piece. She seamlessly interwove history and culture and context and sport to put together one of the most versatile sports profiles I’ve ever read. My favorite paragraph really sums up Smith’s brilliance as a journalist, and Biles’ genius as a gymnast: “But no matter how sparkly her leotard, she’s a killer as stone cold as David Ortiz or Robert Horry ever was. She creates each time she competes. Plus, Biles will run the score up on you with a red cheer bow on a ponytail pulled higher than J-Lo’s.”


Louisa Thomas
Contributor for The New Yorker.

Juan Martín del Potro Strikes Back (Chloe Cooper Jones, GQ)

Juan Martín del Potro is one of tennis’s most popular — and inspiring and tragic — figures. Del Potro won the U.S. Open in 2009, beating Roger Federer, and then his wrists began to fray. Cooper Jones tells the story of his long journey back. This is a beautifully written profile, an insightful portrait of the player on the court and the person off it — but it is also, most movingly, a meditation on pain.

Drew Brees is Hiding in Plain Sight (Greg Bishop, Sports Illustrated)

Bishop tackles the age-old question of what makes greatness — or even the greatest — and why it can be so easy to overlook. Take Drew Brees, the subject of this piece. At the same time, without being didactic, Bishop reminds us of something else: as seriously as we take all the records, sports are fun. And so is this story.

Everyone Believed Larry Nassar (Kerry Howley, The Cut)

A thoroughly reported, devastating reconstruction of what might be the most important sports story in recent history: how Larry Nassar sexually abused hundreds of young women and not only got away with it, but thrived in the gymnastics community.

Joel Anderson
Senior writer for ESPN the Magazine.

The Search for Jackie Wallace (Ted Jackson, The Times-Picayune)

On the Friday before the Super Bowl, The Times-Picayune dropped this tremendous profile of former NFL player and New Orleans native Jackie Wallace and his heartrending — and apparently ongoing — struggle with homelessness and drug abuse. The story got its start in 1990, when photographer Ted Jackson came across Wallace living in a camp underneath Interstate 10. Jackson photographed him for a story that ran that year, which seemed to lead to Wallace being rescued from the streets and addiction. But this is where the story begins, as Jackson loses touch with Wallace over the years and details his search for him over the next couple of decades. There’s so much to love here, starting with the care Jackson and the Times-Picayune put into showing how drugs can unravel a life and into asserting the fundamental humanity of Wallace. Jackson also subtly shows there’s more to his relationship with Wallace — a reminder that reporting doesn’t have to be merely transactional — and much more to Wallace than his troubles. It’s surprising in all sorts of ways, but especially in how humanizing it is of Wallace.

Everyone Believed Larry Nassar (Kerry Howley, The Cut)

In excruciating detail, Kerry Howley showed here how Larry Nassar — the unassuming and relentlessly charming USA Gymnastics national team doctor — wormed his way into the homes and hearts of hundreds of young female gymnasts and their families en route to becoming one of the most notorious child sex abusers in modern history. It’d be irresponsible not to credit the herculean investigative efforts of the Indianapolis Star in breaking the case against Nassar and USA Gymnastics — and the many other reporters and media outlets who tracked the developments through Nassar’s sentencing in federal and state court — but Howley’s exhaustive story illuminates exactly how and why Nassar was able to escape detection for so long. It wasn’t because his victims were silent. Far from it, in fact. It wasn’t because Nassar was particularly discreet. No, Howley writes, it was because Nassar “was good at this.” Two scenes from Howley’s story show this best. The first is told from the vantage point of a 9-year-old girl, who was digitally penetrated by Nassar with her mother sitting only a few feet away in his living room in 1990. The second comes near the end of the story, when one of his victims manages to make him cry during his sentencing hearing and she feels briefly triumphant. I won’t spoil the final line for you but it’s an unforgettable close that couldn’t have been more perfect, or haunting.


Natalie Weiner
Staff writer for SB Nation.

The Children of Central City (Jonathan Bullington and Richard A. Webster, The Times-Picayune)

They Are the Champions (Katie Barnes, ESPN the Magazine)

Both of these stories are extraordinary examples of my favorite kind of sportswriting — the kind that uses sports’ near-universal appeal and reach to illuminate social and political issues. “The Children of Central City” uses the lens of one youth football team in New Orleans to examine violence in one of the city’s most dangerous neighborhoods; as its former coach explains early in the multi-part series, he’s had 28 former players be shot and killed over a 14 year span. The football team is a jumping off point through which the authors (and director — there’s a corresponding documentary) can explore how the trauma that comes from growing up surrounded by violence impacts kids’ lives, and how football is an escape, if an imperfect one. It’s a thoughtful, empathetic take on a story that’s too often left unexamined because it’s wrongly perceived as inevitable.

In “They Are the Champions,” two very different kids growing up in very different parts of the country share one thing: they are transgender. Their stories are pressing  not only because LGBTQ perspectives are grossly underrepresented in media as a whole, but also because they show that sports is the battleground where the very core of how we understand gender will be determined — a statement that sounds like hyperbole, but when you’re in the middle of Barnes’ story parsing the various ways people rationalize dividing sports by gender, quickly becomes self-evident. Mack Beggs and Andraya Yearwood just want to compete, and the world is going to have to catch up.


Matt Giles
Editor and head of fact-checking, Longreads.

Alone at Sea (Elizabeth Weil, New York Times Magazine)

Aleksander Doba has kayaked the Atlantic Ocean three times, and each crossing has been more dangerous than the last. Weil’s profile of the Polish native is an engrossing read of his trans-Atlantic trips, and why the 71 year old continues to push his body and psyche to such extreme limits. As he explains his reasoning to Weil, “I do not want to be a little gray man.”

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Read all the categories in our Best of 2018 year-end collection.

How to Cover Native American Sports

Evan Butcher of the Chippewa Tribe plays basketball near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. 2016. Robyn Beck /AFP/Getty Images)

Last week, the New York Times Magazine featured the high school basketball team the Arlee Warriors on its cover. Hailing from the city of Arlee, home to about 600 people on Montanas Flathead Indian Reservation, the Warriors are among the greatest Native American high school squads ever assembled, a group that blends high-octane offense predicated on three-point field goals with a frantic and suffocating pressurized defense.

The feature, written by Abe Streep, doesnt just showcase the Warriors and its players —  including Phillip Malatare, a six-foot guard wholl be a preferred walk-on at the University of Montana next fall — it also profiles the town, the reservation (a sovereign nation comprising the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes), and a wave of recent suicides in the community. It was these suicides that prompted the Warriors transformation: The team wasnt just a winner of back-to-back state titles, but rather a beacon to those that viewed suicide as a solitary option. Read more…

Longreads Best of 2017: Sports Writing

We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in sports writing.

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Mary Pilon
Contributor to The New Yorker, Esquire, and Vice. Previously on staff at The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. Author of The Monopolists and The Kevin Show (March 2018)

Is This the NFL’s First Female Player? (Lars Anderson, B/R Mag)

I’m a sucker for high school sports stories, but Anderson’s examination of Becca Longo isn’t just a showcase of a plucky talent, it also challenges long-held assumptions about the league’s recruitment pipeline. Longo is the first woman to earn a football scholarship to a Division I or Division II school, and Anderson offers a fascinating window into the training and psyche required to become be an ace-level kicker. In lesser hands, the story could have been mawkish or puffy, but Anderson’s prose is sharp, layered, and will likely be reread when we see Longo in the Super Bowl one day.

Read more…

Longreads Best of 2016: Sports Writing

We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here, the best in sports writing.

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Erik Malinowski
NBA/features writer at Bleacher Report.

The Art of Letting Go (Mina Kimes, ESPN The Magazine)

Whereas another writer might’ve taken this story’s central question—how (and why) Koreans have elevated bat flips in baseball to an art form that deserves celebration—and answered it with condescension or (at best) superficiality, Kimes goes above and beyond, taking readers on a swirling journey across South Korea, through stadium dugouts and Seoul’s inner-city neighborhoods, to produce a compelling narrative that is part sports, part travelogue, and as illuminating a culture piece as you’ve read all year. Between Kimes’ words (which are a masterclass in scene-setting) and the wondrous illustrations of Mickey Duzyj (who was along for the reporting), this was a story I kept seeing in my head all year long.

The Official Coming-Out Party (Kevin Arnovitz, ESPN The Magazine)

Bill Kennedy was living his childhood dream of being an NBA referee when his world was upended last December: A star player yelled two anti-gay slurs at him during a televised game. Kennedy’s open secret—that he was, in fact, gay—was now quite public and on its way to becoming a national story.
With empathy and a deft touch, Arnovitz details what happened that night, what preceded it, and (perhaps most importantly) what followed in the months ahead, as Kennedy’s coming out became a national story and sent the veteran referee on a personal journey that was decades in the making. (The kicker, which takes place at New York’s LGBT Pride March, is stirring and sensational.) When this new season tipped off, Kennedy became the first openly gay player or referee to appear in an NBA game. What Arnovitz so brilliantly conveys is the scope of all that had to happen for that moment to finally become real. Read more…

Longreads Best of 2015: Sports Writing

We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here, the best in sports writing.

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Mina Kimes
Senior Writer at ESPN the Magazine and espn.com.

This is Why NFL Star Greg Hardy was Arrested for Assaulting his Girlfriend (Diana Moskovitz, Deadspin)

Last year, the NFL was rocked by several incidents of domestic violence, starting in September with the release of a video of Ray Rice’s assault of his then-fiancee and peaking in February, when charges against star defensive end Greg Hardy were dismissed after his accuser disappeared. By November, most football fans had moved on. Diana Moskovitz did not. She continued to tirelessly report on the issue, and in November, Deadspin published a devastating scoop: pictures that showed exactly what happened between Hardy and his ex-girlfriend, Nicole Holder, that night in Charlotte. Moskovitz’s piece, which laid out the facts of the case in meticulous detail, forced many to confront what had happened. It also pushed readers to ask why it took photographic evidence to make the world care.

Broke (Spencer Hall, EDSBS)

A common criticism of longform writing, especially on the internet, is that it’s too self-centered; too many features rely on the first person, and too many writers insert themselves into their pieces. This is often true. But sometimes, as with the case of this stunning Spencer Hall essay, it’s an incredibly effective technique.

By juxtaposing the story of his own family’s financial struggles with the larger story of the systematic impoverishment of college athletes, Hall compels readers to look at the issue in a new way: through the lens of personal pain. He shows us that the controversy over whether college athletes should be paid for their services isn’t an intellectual or economic debate, but an ethical one. By denying athletes the right to earn a living, the NCAA forces them to live with the looming threat of financial insecurity—an ache that Hall himself knows all too well. Read more…

1964: A Sidelong View of Sports

Below is a guest reading list from Daniel A. Gross, a journalist and public radio producer who lives in Boston.

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Fifty years ago, a champion boxer picked up his son from school, a literary critic was tackled by NFL players, and a famed NASCAR racer tended to his chicken farm. Such was the sidelong view of sports presented by Gay Talese, George Plimpton, and Tom Wolfe. Sports in the 1960s proved a rich arena for writers looking to flex their literary muscle, and Talese and Wolfe tried out unconventional sports writing while still kicking off their careers. You won’t find much reference here to the sweeping political developments that tend to dominate our narratives of 1964. Instead, you’ll get some sense for the texture of the time. Read more…

Five Stories About Sports for People Who Hate Sports

OK, “hate” is too strong a word. But I fundamentally do not get sports. Playing them, yes, fine. But knowing players’ names, arguing that this one guy is better than that other guy, keeping a little Excel sheet of strikes and yards and rebounds in my head? Baffling.

But that doesn’t mean, as it turns out, that stories about sports can’t be fascinating. The economics! The moral gray areas! The egos! It’s like a reality show in there.

I’m not going to start watching sports anytime soon, but thanks to these stories, I’m starting to see why other people do.

Does Football Have A Future? The N.F.L. and The Concussion Crisis

Ben McGrath | The New Yorker | Jan. 31, 2011

This story has moved on quite a bit since 2011—there is now a book, a movie and something called The Concussion Blog—but McGrath’s story is a good primer on the issue of football players suffering severe mental damage in old age, and foreshadows both the huge pressure on the NFL and its head-in-the-sand response.

Read more…

Sex Work and Workers: A Reading List to Get You Beyond Law & Order SVU and Pretty Woman

A group of sex workers and supporters are seen holding a banner during a demonstration in the Netherlands (Photo by Ana Fernandez / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

Sara Benincasa is a quadruple threat: she writes, she acts, she’s funny, and she has truly exceptional hair. She also reads, a lot, and joins us to share some of her favorite stories

The world’s oldest profession remains the most stigmatized, and it recently occurred to me that I still don’t actually know much about it. I have some friends who are very public about their sex work, but perhaps because I still have a certain post-Catholic prudishess, I’ve never watched any of their films or webcam stuff — I figure I’d either get squeamish seeing my friends in a sexual situation, or I’d ask a million very basic questions after, like, “So is there somebody to touch up your hair and makeup on set?” and “Do you get craft services and is it good?” and “How do you keep your nails that long and still do that?”

In addition to my out-and-proud pals who work in the adult film industry, I probably have some friends who do sex work and have never told anybody other than their clients. And I understand — they might face harsh criticism and even shunning by family and friends, the loss of their other jobs, eviction from their homes, and more.

You probably have some friends like that, too. The umbrella term “sex work” encompasses a wide variety of occupations. Dancing in strip clubs. Sugar daddy relationships. Street prostitution. Traditional, fully produced porn films. Personalized private images and videos in exchange for Amazon wish list fulfillment. Webcam sessions, old-school peep shows, erotic ASMR videos, and more. None of these things is exactly like the other.

The portraits of sex workers in popular film and television are typically idealized and sanitized or irrevocably grim and sex-negative. In researching this column, I wanted to focus on first-person accounts by sex workers from a variety of ethnic and cultural backgrounds. And I was fortunate to find a relatively rare example of good reporting on sex workers.

1. “We Are Kinda Unbreakable” (Raye Weigel, Baltimore City Paper, September 2017)

Street prostitution, while loosely categorized under the same “sex work” umbrella as mainstream porn, is clearly more dangerous, more stigmatized, and potentially more punishing than most other professions. It is not glamorous. It is not highly lucrative. It is certainly not Pretty Woman.

Weigel introduces us to Rhue Cook, at her own desk in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore (GLCCB), ready to start her evening as leader of the Transgender Action Group community outreach night. According to Weigel, “The Human Rights Campaign compiled statistics about 53 known transgender homicide victims from 2013 to 2015. The number may be higher, however, due to a lack of accurate data collection on the subject or misgendering in reports. Forty-six of the victims were people of color, and at least 34 percent were likely engaged in survival sex work at the time of their deaths.”

Weigel, Cook, and a sex worker walk the streets, handing out condoms, support, and advice. The writer does a journalist’s most important job in a story like this: turning these community figures into living, breathing humans, and making them real to strangers who may read this article five minutes or 5,000 miles away from GLCCB HQ. 

2. “The Massage Parlor Means Survival Here: Red Canary Song On Robert Kraft(Red Canary Song, Tits and Sass, April 2019)

The sex work blog Tits and Sass was far and away the outlet most cited when I asked friends and Twitter followers for their favorite sex work essays. This author, Red Canary Song, is not an individual person but “a New York City based collective that supports Asian migrant massage and sex worker organizing in Flushing, Queens.”

The opinion piece addresses, in part, the high-profile arrest of Robert Kraft in early 2019. Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, was charged with solicitation at a Florida massage parlor in a case law enforcement called a landmark human trafficking sting meant to rescue women victimized by an international criminal ring.

Like Charlotte Shane in Sports Illustrated, Red Canary Song calls bullshit, writing, “If this case was such a dire example of human trafficking, why [did the sting operation take] eight months? Why entrap and arrest ‘victims?’ This demonstrates either a lack of regard for the suffering of Chinese massage workers, or disingenuous targeting of high profile men through false claims of immigrant exploitation.” As usual, the sex workers face greater consequences than the clientele.

Red Canary Song advocates for “the funding of affordable housing, affirming healthcare, and food and cash assistance,” rather than throwing money at agents of what it sees as a sexist, white supremacist state and expecting said agents to treat migrant sex workers with decency. 

3. “What Mother’s Day is Like When You’re a Sex Worker & a Mom” (Maxine Holloway, Broke-Ass Stuart, May 2019)

Holloway, a new mom, is pretty happy to be a mother. But she faces particular stressors as a sex worker. She writes, “As I schedule appointments with pediatricians, talk with child care providers, and meet other parents at postpartum groups, I realize how grateful I am to be surrounded by people who love and support sex workers — and how difficult it is to open up.” She convenes a panel of sorts, interviewing three other moms who are also sex workers about everything from how to tell their kids about their profession to how to deal with parents who might judge their careers.

It’s really illuminating and I want you to read all the great quotes for yourself! But here’s one from adult performer Lotus Lain, whose daughter is in middle school:

“My friend Ana, who is also in the industry, is like a real sister, aunt, family member, and has seen my kid grow up since she was five. She has a cute nickname for my kid, helps with child care, and takes us to the beach when we are sad. I just didn’t expect that kind of depth and friendship out of this industry when I first started. “

Ckiara Rose, an environmental activist, sex worker, and mother to a 25-year-old son, speaks openly about a history that includes being stalked, enduring assault, suffering from drug addiction, and more trauma. But the temporary loss of her son to foster care looms larger than any of these struggles — which makes her current healthy relationship with him shine even brighter.

Gia DiMarco actually found her way to porn and other sex work because she was a mother who needed to provide for two small kids. She tells Holloway, “For me, being a sex worker has made me a better mom because it’s given me the ability to almost be a stay-at-home mom and still earn a good income.” Like Rose, DiMarco has experienced a custody battle in which her work in porn was used against her. She speaks about the extra need for privacy online, her self-conscious effort to never appear “too sexy” when picking her kids up at school, and the division of her personal life and her professional life.

4. “Sex Workers Are Not A Life Hack for ‘Helping’ Sexual Predators” (Alana Massey, Self, November 2017)

In an essay tagged to the then-recent New York Times article on Louis C.K.’s history of masturbating in front of women without their consent, Massey issues a powerful reminder that sex workers don’t exist to manage the hurtful impulses of men who want to violate boundaries. As a comedy writer, I found this line most poignant: “Sex workers are some of comedy’s most disposable people, which is made even worse by the fact that it’s a reflection of reality.” Massey’s own history of sex work puts her opinion into the grounded reality of her lived experience.

5. “Stoya: I Thought Female Sexuality Was An Okay Thing?” (James Reith, The Guardian, June 2018)

While I wasn’t on the phone when Reith interviewed the actress, author, producer, director, dancer, essayist, and activist known as Stoya, I know how difficult it is to distill the insights of a talkative, brilliant person into a finite number of words! And having worked with Stoya as well as having read some of her writing, I do believe she is both those things. This is a very good introduction to her philosophy and approach when tackling fraught subjects like sexism and sex work. She’s self-deprecating, thoughtful, funny, and accessible. She’s an intellectual, but she’s not a snob.

6. “What I Want to Know Is Why You Hate Porn Stars” (Conner Habib, The Stranger, March 2014)

Conner Habib is my friend, so there’s your full disclosure. He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, and I’ve been fortunate to meet a lot of them. In fact, he’s currently pursuing a Ph.D. program in sunny Ireland. A life in academia does not necessarily denote intelligence, emotional or otherwise, but Conner is deeply intelligent in many ways. He’s also been an award-winning gay adult performer.

In this essay for The Stranger, he writes movingly of lost love and of the seemingly fruitless effort to convince a boyfriend that porn is not inherently evil: “To him, me being in porn seemed out of place in the rest of my life. I’m a spiritual person and I went to grad school. I taught college English courses and studied science. The porn, for him, didn’t match up with all of that. I started to grow quiet. I didn’t like that I was growing quiet; after all, it was my big chance to talk about my job and my choices. But framed this way, in the form of contradictions, it didn’t seem right. ‘Contradictions’ was a word that meant I’d already lost the battle.

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Years ago, I was invited to co-host an adult film awards ceremony with Stoya. She was an absolute delight, which always makes a job more pleasant. But I had never done comedy in front of a crowd of 400 sex workers (or any out sex workers, so far as I knew) so I asked her if she had any thoughts on what might suit this particular audience.

She gave me a great piece of advice, which I can summarize as follows: Never assume anything about sex workers — not their politics, not their family structure, not their religion or lack thereof, not their history with or without trauma, not their income, nothing.

From a hosting perspective, the show went brilliantly. The room was warm, friendly, smart, and silly. The sponsor, the blog and news website Fleshbot, made everything fun and good-hearted (thanks in no small part to then-site owner Lux Alptraum, a gifted writer and editor.) But I didn’t go on to learn much more about sex work afterward, not really. Not until now.

This particular column was an excellent reminder to me that if I say I respect someone or I say that I’m their friend, I ought to learn more about what they do, why they do it, and how it makes them feel. But that’s not just true for folks I’ve met and personally like — it is true for anyone from a community that I purport to regard with dignity and decency.

The work of unpacking one’s prejudices and fears never really ends, unless you end it. It can be tiring, annoying, and inconvenient. That’s good. Growth is often uncomfortable, physically and otherwise. But if it makes one a better friend or happier human, I’d say it’s more than worth it.

For more on sex work, more than I could possibly provide here, please become a reader of Tits and Sass.

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Sara Benincasa is a stand-up comedian, actress, college speaker on mental health awareness, and the author of Real Artists Have Day JobsDC TripGreat, and Agorafabulous!: Dispatches From My Bedroom. She also wrote a very silly joke book called Tim Kaine Is Your Nice Dad. Recent roles include “Corporate” on Comedy Central, “Bill Nye Saves The World” on Netflix, “The Jim Gaffigan Show” on TVLand and critically-acclaimed short film “The Focus Group,” which she also wrote. She also hosts the podcast “Where Ya From?”

Editor: Michelle Weber