Sports journalism

From New World Encyclopedia

Sports journalism is a form of journalism that reports on sports topics and events. While the sports department within some newspapers has been mockingly called the toy department, because sports journalists do not concern themselves with the 'serious' topics covered by the news desk, sports coverage has grown in importance as sport has grown in wealth, power and influence.

Sports journalism is an essential element of any news media organization. Sports journalism includes organizations devoted entirely to sports reporting–newspapers such as L'Equipe in France, La Gazzetta dello Sport in Italy, and the now defunct Sporting Life in Britain, American magazines such as Sports Illustrated and the Sporting News, all-sports talk radio stations, and television networks like ESPN.

History of Sports Journalism

Since the start of competition, writers have covered sports in one way or another. Sports journalism has been traced all the way back to the time of 850 B.C.E. when the great Greek Homer wrote about the first known draw in Wrestling, as Achilles raised the hands of both Ajax and Odysseus in victory. The sports of wrestling, throwing, boxing, and racing were all wrote on in early Greece.

While sports writing has existed for some time, it did not come prevalent until recently. In the middle 1800s American writers began to write exclusively as sports writers, but they were still few in number. During the time before the 1900s sports writing existed, but was still not widely accepted. It was not until 1914 that sports was written and spread in circulation, and the job of a sports editor was considered an actual job.

The Pioneering Period 1785-1835

Sports journalism during this time was obscure because of the Revolutionary War from 1775 to 1783. In 1790, Benjamin Franklin had several quotes in news publications about swimming, and the The New York Magazine had several articles written on sports.

In the early 1800s, the New York Post, Charleston Courier, and Richmond Enquirer were just some of the publications that were including sports in their papers.

While Boxing was still not accepted as a sport because of its danger, in 1823 a full length story was put into the New York Evening Post, and was marked as the first time this much emphasis was put on its inclusion. English publications such as the Sportsman's Repository and Pierce Egan's Boxiana were in circulation as well.

Growing acceptance

This period was very important in the growth of sports journalism, as the "penny papers" were looking for new, exciting stories to appeal to their readers. Sports began to grow at a quicker pace after 1850 because of the introduction of baseball, and new interest in team sports in general. With the higher interest in sports, came more stories about the topic and several publications like the New York Herald and the Spirit of the Times recorded sports events in their papers.

During the Golden Age, the importance of news increased and thus, the amount of sports covered increased as well. It was during this time that the average amount of sports coverage had its largest increase from the decade before with 10.4 columns being dedicated to it and 14.6 percent of advertising space. "It appears that when the papers doubled in number of pages, they doubled the size of the sports section. This was only reasonable, since reader-interest surveys rated certain features of the sports section higher than anything else except the most striking news story, the comics, and picture pages" (Heath 1951).

It was not until the 1870's that separate departments were set up for sports in newspapers. The first came when Joseph Pulitzer bought the New York World; he was also the first to hire a sports editor–in 1883. Many of the major cities copied Pulitzer over the next few years, and by 1892 every large newspaper had a sports editor. However, during this time sports news was condensed into two or three columns of coverage, but it would soon change.

The birth of basketball in 1891, and the introduction of the American Bowling Congress in 1895 helped build the base of sports coverage. 1890 is often considered as the turning point for sports journalism as many sports were introduced. Baseball became the "national pastime" and its stars began to impact the news world. Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees had tremendous sports coverage during the 1923 World Series and is considered one of the best covered sports events of the time.

Continued Expansion

The 1930's marked the first time newspapers hired executive sports editors to oversee all content produced by the newspaper. As the 1940s came along, sports cartoons became a big part of the sports page with Willard Mullin of the New York World-Telegram and Al Papas of The Sporting News leading the industry.

The creation of the Associated Press sports wire on April 16, 1945 helped put sports into the national scope. It was also around this time that sports became worthy of being front page news.

Perhaps the biggest effect on sports journalism occurred when the television was introduced in the 1950s. Baseball and Football saw a large increase in sports coverage in the television industry, and sportswriters were forced to adapt. Newspapers became the second hand method for receiving sports news, because television offered all the news of a newspaper with pictures.

Sports journalists' access

Sports teams are not always very accommodating to journalists. In the United States, teams tend to be more accommodating. They allow reporters into locker rooms for interviews and some extra information, and provide extensive information support, even if reporting it is unfavorable to them. Elsewhere in the world, particularly in the coverage of soccer, the journalist's role is often barely tolerated by the clubs and players.

Sports journalists, like any other reporters, must do their own reporting to find the story rather than simply relying on information given to them by the sports team, institution or coaching staff. Sports journalists must verify facts given to them by the teams and organizations they are covering. Often, coaches, players or sports organization management rescind sports journalists' access credentials in retaliation for printing accurate yet disparaging information about a team, player, coach or coaches, or organization.

Access for sports journalists is usually easier for professional and intercollegiate sports such as American football, ice hockey, basketball, baseball, and football.

Famous Pioneers

Grantland Rice

Grantland Rice was a early innovator for sports journalism and is best known for his work covering college football teams starting in 1925. Rice is also the writer known for naming the Notre Dame backfield of 1924 after the "Four Housemen of the Apocalypse." He covered exceptional athletes like Babe Ruth, Knute Rockne, and Bobby Jones, among others, helping make them into American icons. Rice has a scholarship given in his name by Vanderbilt University for a freshman intending to become a professional sports writer.

Henry Chadwick

Henry Chadwick was known as the father of baseball for his work editing The Beadle Baseball Player, the first guide for sale on baseball. He was one of the first promoters of sports journalism and helped start the National Baseball Club.

Leonard Koppett

Kopett was an established and influential sports writer who wrote for The Sporting News, New York Times, and New York Post among others. His best work was in baseball, writing stories on the game, and the inspirations that come from it. He received the Curt Gowdy media award by the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1994 and the J.G Taylor Spink Award by the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1992.

Socio-political significance

Major League Baseball once gave print journalists a special role in its games; they were named official scorers and kept statistics that were considered part of the official record of the league. Active sportswriters were removed from this role in 1980. Although their statistical judgment calls could not affect the outcome of a game, there was still the perception of a conflict of interest.

Sports stories often transcend the games themselves and take on socio-political significance; Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball is a good example. Modern controversies regarding the compensation of top athletes, the use of anabolic steroids and other, banned performance-enhancing drugs, and the cost to local and national governments to build sports venues and related infrastructure, especially for the Olympic Games, show that sports still can intrude onto the news pages.

Sportswriters face much more deadline pressure than most other reporters, because sporting events tend to occur late in the day and closer to the deadlines many organizations must observe. Yet, they are expected to use the same tools as news journalists, and to uphold the same professional and ethical standards. They must take care not to show bias for any team. Sports journalists usually must also gather and use voluminous performance statistics for teams and individual athletes in most sports.

Many of the most talented and respected print journalists have been sportswriters. (See list of American sports writers.)

Sports journalism in Europe

The tradition of sports reporting attracting some of the finest writers in journalism can be traced to the coverage of sport in Victorian England, where several modern sports—such as association football, cricket, athletics and rugby—were first organized and codified into something resembling what we would recognize today.

Cricket, somewhat like baseball in the United States, has regularly attracted the most elegant of writers due to its esteemed place in society. The Manchester Guardian, in the first half of the twentieth century, employed Neville Cardus as its cricket correspondent as well as its music critic. Cardus was later knighted for his services to journalism. One of his successors, John Arlott, who became a worldwide favorite because of his radio commentaries on the BBC, and was also known for his poetry.

The first London Olympic Games in 1908 attracted such widespread public interest that many newspapers assigned their very best-known writers to the event. The Daily Mail even had Sir Arthur Conan Doyle at the White City Stadium to cover the finish of the first ever 26-mile, 385-yard Marathon.

Such was the drama of that race, in which Dorando Pietri collapsed within sight of the finishing line when leading, that Conan Doyle led a public subscription campaign to see the gallant Italian, having been denied the gold medal through his disqualification, awarded a special silver cup, which was presented by Queen Alexandra. And the public imagination was so well caught by the event that annual races in Boston, Massachusetts, and London, and at future Olympics, were henceforward staged over exactly the same, 26-mile, 385-yard distance, the official length of the event worldwide to this day.

The London race, called the Polytechnic Marathon and originally staged over the 1908 Olympic route from outside the royal residence at Windsor Castle to White City, was first sponsored by the Sporting Life, which in those Edwardian times was a daily newspaper which sought to cover all sporting events, rather than just a betting paper for [horse racing]] and greyhounds that it became in the years after the Second World War.

In France, L'Auto, the predecessor of L'Equipe, had already played an equally influential part in the sporting fabric of society when it announced in 1903 that it would stage an annual bicycle race around the country. The Tour de France was born, and sports journalism's role in its foundation is still reflected today in the leading rider wearing a yellow jersey–the color of the paper on which L'Auto was published (in Italy, the Giro d'Italia established a similar tradition, with the leading rider wearing a jersey the same pink color as the sponsoring newspaper, La Gazetta).

Specialist sports agencies

The 1950s and 1960s saw a rapid growth in sports coverage, both in print and on broadcast media. It also saw the development of specialist sports news and photographic agencies. For example, photographer Tony Duffy founded the picture agency AllSport in south London shortly after the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, and, through some outstanding photography (such as Duffy's iconic image of the American long jumper Bob Beamon flying through the air towards his world record at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics) and the astute marketing of its images, saw the business grow into a multi-million pound, worldwide concern that ultimately would be bought and re-named Getty Images.

McIlvanney and Wooldridge, who died in March 2007[1] aged 75, both enjoyed careers that saw them frequently work in television. During his career, Wooldridge became so famous that, like the sports stars he reported upon, he hired the services of IMG, the agency founded by the American businessman, Mark McCormack, to manage his affairs. And Glanville wrote several books, including novels, as well as scripting the memorable official film to the 1966 World Cup staged in England.

Investigative journalism and sport

Since the 1990s, the growing importance of sport, its impact as a global business and the huge amounts of money involved from sponsorship and in the staging of the Olympic Games and football World Cups, has also attracted the attention of well-known investigative journalists. The sensitive nature of the relationships between sports journalists and the subjects of their reporting, as well as declining budgets experienced by most Fleet Street newspapers, has meant that such long-term projects have often emanated from television documentary makers.

Tom Bower, with his 2003 sports book of the year Broken Dreams, which analyzed British football (soccer), followed in the tradition established a decade earlier by Andrew Jennings and Vyv Simson with their controversial investigation of corruption within the International Olympic Committee. Jennings and Simson's The Lords of the Rings in many ways predicted the scandals that were to emerge around the staging of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City; Jennings would follow-up with two further books on the Olympics and one on FIFA, the world football body. Likewise, award-winning writers Duncan Mackay, of The Guardian, and Steven Downes unraveled many scandals involving doping, fixed races and bribery in international athletics in their 1996 book, Running Scared, which offered an account of the threats by a senior track official that led to the suicide of their sports journalist colleague, Cliff Temple.

But the writing of such exposes—referred to as "spitting in the soup" by Paul Kimmage, the former Tour de France professional cyclist, who now writes for the Sunday Times—often requires the view of an outsider who is not compromised by the need of day-to-day dealings with sportsmen and officials, as required by "beat" correspondents.

The stakes can be high when upsetting sport's powers: when in 2007, the English FA opted to switch its multi-million pound contract for UK coverage rights of the FA Cup and England international matches from the BBC to rival broadcasters ITV, one of the reasons cited was that the BBC had been too critical[2] of the performances of the England football team.

Some leaders in Sports Journalism


ESPN or the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network launched in 1979 as a sports channel that covered low-awareness sports. Its signature show, Sportscenter, originated to show a larger package of sports highlights than local news programming. Since its inception, ESPN has grown into one of the largest players in the sports media industry. They currently offer sports television channels of ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNews, ESPNClassic, ESPNU, ESPN Deportes, ESPN International, ESPN Brazil, and ESPN also covers sports with their magazine, ESPN sports radio, and their streaming website,

ESPN fills their sports television stations with coverage and live broadcasting of sporting events from the NBA, NFL, MLB, college football, college basketball, PGA, PTA, PBA, Nascar, WNBA, and others.

Sports Illustrated

Sports Illustrated is a well-known weekly sports magazine that has been covering sports since its inception on August 16, 1954. What started out as a magazine that covered yachting and polo has grown into a news source for all kinds of sports.

The early times of Sports Illustrated were anchored by the outstanding sports journalist of Dan Jenkins, Tex Maule, and Robert Creamer. More recently the great work of writers such as Rick Reilly have helped keep Sports Illustrated as a popular source for sports news.

Fox Sports

Fox broadcasting company entered the world of sports journalism in 1993 when in bid 1.58 billion dollars to be the NFC conference television carrier in 1993 for the NFL. Since then, Fox Sports has become a large part of the sports journalism world with its regional television networks for many parts of the United States, and with its Fox Sports World channel. Fox Sports carries the rights to the Bowl Championship Series for college football, and also broadcasts NBA, NFL, Nascar, and other major sports leagues.


  1. Ian Wooldridge has died, aged 75, Sports Journalists' Association, 2007. Retrieved March 17, 2008.
  2. Barwick at centre of BBC row over TV deal, Sports Journalists' Association, 2007. Retrieved March 17, 2008.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Andrews, P. Sports Journalism: A Practical Introduction. Sage Publications. 2005. ISBN 1412902711
  • Heath, Harry E. How to Cover, Write, and Edit Sports. The Iowa State College Press 1951. OCLC 1402415
  • MacCambridge, M. The Franchise: A history of Sports Illustrated Magazine. Hyperion Books. 1997. ISBN 0786862165
  • Schultz, B. Sports Media: Reporting, Producing, and Planning. Focal Press. 2005. ISBN 0240807316

External links

All links retrieved February 7, 2023.


New World Encyclopedia writers and editors rewrote and completed the Wikipedia article in accordance with New World Encyclopedia standards. This article abides by terms of the Creative Commons CC-by-sa 3.0 License (CC-by-sa), which may be used and disseminated with proper attribution. Credit is due under the terms of this license that can reference both the New World Encyclopedia contributors and the selfless volunteer contributors of the Wikimedia Foundation. To cite this article click here for a list of acceptable citing formats.The history of earlier contributions by wikipedians is accessible to researchers here:

The history of this article since it was imported to New World Encyclopedia:

Note: Some restrictions may apply to use of individual images which are separately licensed.