The End of Sportswriting, Part I

(This is the beginning of a five-part series.)

by Rick Rockwell

At one time, sportswriters were the best writers at a newspaper. Today, mostly, they are just punks.

And although this blog often celebrates punk rock and its aesthetic, to be called a punk in this context is no compliment.

At one time, during the Golden Age of sportswriting, you could read a newspaper and see the writers quoting Ecclesiastes. Today, most of them wouldn’t know Ecclesiastes unless he was starting for the Israeli National Basketball Team.

The reasons for this are numerous. Yes, this is because the oral tradition has swamped the written word. So it is more entertaining to hear Stuart Scott punctuate a sports highlight on ESPN with a “boo-yahhhhh” or to hear Tony Kornheiser attempt to tell one of his lame jokes on his radio sports talk show, rather than reading some insightful analysis of a game that puts the game or the sport in the larger context of society.

Certainly, there are some who still can carry this off. Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated, the dean of sportswriters, also knows how to craft a radio commentary (for NPR). He comes from the classic tradition. He is erudite and witty. If DeFord quoted Ecclesiastes, it would not sound high-brow or like a reach into the stratosphere.

(To see the next part in this series, please click here.)

(Photo of Kiki Cuyler of the Chicago Cubs during spring training on Catalina Island, California, 1928, from The Chicago Daily News collection of the Chicago Historical Society via the Library of Congress. The photo is regarded as public domain, as long as the sources are credited.)

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James said...

could not agree with you more. As a child, my father had Sports Illustrated delivered to our house. Back then, they had great writers and every story was just that, a story and a great one. Used to read it cover to cover. Now everything is like People magazine, just a blip, just a piece of information.

Rick Rockwell said...


You have one of the best sports blogs out there. I hope you noticed you survived my link massacre.

Some may remember that we officially tipped our hat your way as one of our favorites (sports or non-sports) in ”Five Blogs”.

These days, I’d rather read Squib Kick than Sports Illustrated, DeFord excepted. Of course, Squib Kick is a lot better than using Sports Illustrated if you are tracking pro football.

James, you are one of the writers who gets it. Your blog is never one-dimensional. Blog on!

And for those who have not wandered downward, you can find the rest of this essay on sportswriting continued down in Part II.

Anonymous said...

I tend to dismiss the never ending generational discussions that today's generation does not this or todays generation does not do this.... on and on

but I have to say that in terms of sportswriting and journalism in general I really believe it to be true.

That stated perhaps it is our generation that pulls the strings and has sold out.

my personal belief is that American journalism has become so driven by revenue and the need to generate it, that they are imprisioned by it. Journalistic standards be damned, let's sell adverts. That by definition excludes pure journalist integrity, on the playing pitch or much much worse, in situations like the run up to the Iraq war. Every American journalist who ignored the truth during the run up to that war should feel guilt and shame every day that a new release informs us of American soldiers and Iraqi civilians dead in Iraq...

Rick Rockwell said...

I think multiple generations are at fault here. There are sell-outs across the board for this to happen.

And as for stain against U.S. journalism caused by the conformity of the media leading up to the Iraq War, obviously that is such a sin it even raises its head in a discussion of U.S. sportswriting. Will we ever live that down?

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