Welcome to The Week in Sportswriting, where Chris Dunn outlines the top sports stories of the past week.
ESPN, Mechelle Voepel
With the Minnesota Lynx winning their record-tying fourth WNBA title on Wednesday night, Voepel traces the history of the team that won only one playoff game in its first 12 seasons. Now the premier team in the league with players like household-name Maya Moore, it is easy to forget the struggles that the Lynx had in their early days. Voepel traces the team’s current success back to 2009, when the team hired head coach Cheryl Reeve and signed Rebekkah Brunson and Lindsay Whalen, whose 17 points and eight assists in the final helped push Minnesota over the top. An inspiring story for fans of any team in the much-used but never quite satisfactory ‘rebuilding phase,’ Voepel shows how smart front office deals and once in a generation talent formed to create a dynasty.
Dan Steinberg, The Washington Post
I have to admit that I might be a little bit biased in picking this article, but I couldn’t resist the idea of a Georgetown grad putting off the life of federal consulting for a year of Division I football. Steinberg tells the story of Henry Darmstadter, the former kicker for the Georgetown football team who walked on at Maryland for his final year of eligibility and is now the starter. From the anecdote of Maryland players not even knowing that Georgetown has a football team (they do, although it isn’t pretty) to the expectations of Darmstadter’s father to see him employed upon graduation, this story will give fellow Hoyas much to appreciate. Still, this story shows the power of the general interest profile as a method in sports writing, and almost anyone can enjoy the story of the 5-foot-7 kicker who is now living the dream.
Marc Tracy, The New York Times
When LSU fired their head coach Les Miles, he had a career that fans of almost any other team would kill for their coach to have. Miles won a National Championship with the tigers and posted a .770 win percentage in Baton Rouge. Still, Miles was ousted last year, and replaced by Ed Orgeron, a native Louisianian who went 6-2 in his stint as an interim coach in 2016 and was hired on for the full time position. Tracy tells the story of how LSU fans have created an unrealistic expectation for the program, and leads this creation back to the team’s former coach Nick Saban, now the head of their archrival Alabama. Telling the story through the idiosyncratic voices of some of the team’s, and the sport’s, dedicated fans, Tracy outlines the reality of an historic program in the middle of a down year, just two states over from what could have been.
Marc Tracy and Adam Zagoria, The New York Times
The elaborate conspiratorial scandal that brought down Louisville’s Rick Pitino and a number of other coaches, agents, and athletic brand representatives, has the potential to forever alter college basketball. This is the story of just one part of this vast web: the plan to funnel $100,000 to the family of Brian Bowen in order to get the high school recruit to play for Pitino’s Cardinals. For followers of the sport, Bowen’s June decision to commit to Louisville came as a surprise. After all, the team was not one of his final five that he announced in February, and the fact that such a highly touted recruit was unsigned by the McDonald’s All American Game seemed bizarre. With the FBI’s bombshell announcement, we now know why. This piece tells the story of corrupt officials, greedy coaches, and an 18 year old caught up in the mix.
David Gardner, Bleacher Report
As the news of the last few weeks has focused on the way players still in the NFL are demonstrating, Gardner tells the story of Anquan Boldin, the longtime wide receiver who left football this preseason to focus, among other things, on activism towards criminal and racial justice issues in America. At parts personal, Boldin’s cousin was killed by police in Florida, and impressive, Boldin still works out most days in an attempt to stay in NFL shape, Gardner has written an excellent profile of a man who left the sport by his own volition. The genre of profiling former NFL wide receivers is one that is usually played out: broke, arrogant, and trying to get popularity, the receivers rarely leave the reader with a sympathetic view. With this piece, Gardner displays a complex, passion-driven player who is willing to focus on what matters to him, in all of the manifestations of that phrase.