But the other, bigger problem with treating sports reporters differently from their peers writing on other topics is the harmful idea that the only people qualified to report on sports are the kind of die-hard fans who started scoring games as toddlers. This is one of the biggest hurdles to getting more women into sports writing—when they’re told over and over again that they’re not part of the club, many eventually start to believe it. But many of the best sports stories of the past few years were written by people who specialize in other things. Nobody assumes a young reporter must bring an in-depth knowledge of zoning laws to her first job covering the city council, but the idea that someone could write a baseball feature without expertise in the infield fly rule strikes many as foreign.
There are plenty of sports specialists who don’t get nearly the credit they deserve from non-sportsy audiences for being killer reporters and beautiful writers. Here are a few of the best.
1. Lindsey Adler
Lindsey Adler is the most exciting early-career sports journalist—regardless of gender—out there. Like thousands of other people, I first discovered her through Twitter, where she’s both informative and reliably hilarious. And she’s just as good in more than 140 characters. As Buzzfeed’s only full-time sports reporter, Adler singlehandedly handles a constant stream of breaking news, yet still finds time to write thoughtfully about the intersection of sports and social issues.
2. Candace Buckner
When a team I love wins, I read every word I can find online about the game. But when my team loses, I petulantly refuse to read anything about it. This firm policy meant I didn’t get to read nearly enough Candace Buckner during her one season covering my beloved Portland Trail Blazers (the team went 33-49, losing its last 13 games of the year). But those 33 game write-ups—plus her injury reports, trade rumors and compelling features—were more than enough to convince me that she’s one of the best NBA beat writers in the country. Now the Pacers reporter for The Indianapolis Star, Buckner has continued churning out both big scoops and thoughtful features. And while writing on a tight deadline doesn’t get much respect in today’s #longform-obsessed media culture, Buckner’s gamers show why it should.
3. Eva Holland
Everything I know about long-route rock climbing, dogsledding, and “wilderness competitions,” I learned from Eva Holland. And because she’s such a thorough reporter with an eye for the details others overlook, I now feel like I know a ton about all of those things. While seemingly thousands of reporters fight over the same set of story ideas in Brooklyn, Holland has the run of Canada’s Yukon Territory. Her story ideas are always surprising, and readers can practically taste the drama in each feature.
4. Allison McCann
It’s pretty common for retired athletes to go into TV sports commentary, but Allison McCann may well be the best player-turned-internet journalist on Earth (non-Players’ Tribune category). Once a soccer star at Stanford, McCann, since graduating, has been making some of the most interesting data journalism on the web. Since joining Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, she’s created the first public database of NFL domestic violence cases, built the site’s gorgeous interface for tournament predictions, and helped launch its sports podcast. In a piece about advanced analytics, she even took her own boss to task for ignoring women’s sports.
5. Diana Moskovitz
Some might argue that someone who’s been in the journalism business for a decade doesn’t count as “emerging,” but only since starting at Deadspin last year has Diana Moskovitz gotten the national attention she deserves. She’s one of the best in the business at combining killer reporting with passionate, sometimes furious, writing. Her stories exposing the lack of funding, staff, and true mission behind No More, the NFL’s chosen anti-domestic violence charity, found an important new angle on a story everyone was talking about—one of the best kinds of journalism. Anyone who hears the words “Hi, my name is Diana Moskovitz, and I want to ask you a few questions about your work” should be terrified.
6. & 7. Marin Cogan & Mina Kimes
On one hand, including my own writers feels like cheating. On the other, any list of on-the-rise sports journalists that didn’t include these two would be indefensibly incomplete. So let’s split the difference and consider them together. Neither is new to journalism, but they didn’t have any sports writing experience before joining ESPN the Magazine (Marin Cogan comes from politics, Mina Kimes from business). Now they’ve written some of the most memorable sports stories of the past few years, from a look at the ramifications of Janet Jackson’s nipple slip to a profile of one of the best video gamers in the world.