Sports Writing as a Form of Creative Nonfiction

Rick Reilly at the ESPN The Magazine 'Revenge Of The Jocks' party presented by Sony held at The X Bar on June 4, 2008 in Century City, California.
Sports writer Rick Reilly.

Alexandra Wyman/Getty Images

Sports writing is a form of journalism or creative nonfiction in which a sporting event, individual athlete, or sports-related issue serves as the dominant subject.

A journalist who reports on sports is a sportswriter (or sports writer).

In his foreword to The Best American Sports Writing 2015, series editor Glenn Stout says that a "really good" sports story "provides an experience that approaches the book experience—it takes you from one place you've never been before and by the end leaves you in another place, changed."

Examples and Observations:

  • "The best sports stories are based not on interviews but on conversations—conversations with people who are sometimes reluctant, sometimes in the orneriest mood, often not the most glib or polished conversationalists."
    (Michael Wilbon, Introduction to The Best American Sports Writing 2012. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012)
  • W.C. Heinz on Bummy Davis
    "It's a funny thing about people. People will hate a guy all his life for what he is, but the minute he dies for it they make him out a hero and they go around saying that maybe he wasn't such a bad guy after all because he sure was willing to go the distance for whatever he believed or whatever he was.
    "That's the way it was with Bummy Davis. The night Bummy fought Fritzie Zivic in the Garden and Zivic started giving him the business and Bummy hit Zivic low maybe 30 times and kicked the referee, they wanted to hang him for it. The night those four guys came into Dudy's bar and tried the same thing, only with rods, Bummy went nuts again. He flattened the first one and then they shot him, and when everybody read about it, and how Bummy fought guns with only his left hook and died lying in the rain in front of the place, they all said he was really something and you sure had to give him credit at that. ..."
    (W.C. Heinz, "Brownsville Bum." True, 1951. Rpt. in What A Time It Was: The Best of W.C. Heinz on Sports. Da Capo Press, 2001)
  • Gary Smith on Muhammad Ali
    "Around Muhammad Ali, all was decay. Mildewed tongues of insulation poked through gaps in the ceiling; flaking cankers pocked the painted walls. On the floor lay rotting scraps of carpet.
    "He was cloaked in black. Black street shoes, black socks, black pants, black short-sleeved shirt. He threw a punch, and in the small town's abandoned boxing gym, the rusting chain between the heavy bag and the ceiling rocked and creaked.
    "Slowly, at first, his feet began to dance around the bag. His left hand flicked a pair of jabs, and then a right cross and a left hook, too, recalled the ritual of butterfly and bee. The dance quickened. Black sunglasses flew from his pocket as he gathered speed, black shirttail flapped free, black heavy bag rocked and creaked. Black street shoes scuffed faster and faster across black moldering tiles: Yeah, Lawd, champ can still float, champ can still sting! He whirled, jabbed, feinted, let his feet fly into a shuffle. 'How's that for a sick man?' he shouted. ..."
    (Gary Smith, "Ali and His Entourage." Sports Illustrated, April 25, 1988)
  • Roger Angell on the Business of Caring
    "I am not enough of a social geographer to know if the faith of the Red Sox fan is deeper or hardier than that of a Reds rooter (although I secretly believe that it may be, because of his longer and more bitter disappointments down the years). What I do know is that this belonging and caring is what our games are all about; this is what we come for. It is foolish and childish, on the face of it, to affiliate ourselves with anything so insignificant and patently contrived and commercially exploitative as a professional sports team, and the amused superiority and icy scorn that the non-fan directs at the sports nut (I know this look—I know it by heart) is understandable and almost unanswerable. Almost. What is left out of this calculation, it seems to me, is the business of caring—caring deeply and passionately, really caringwhich is a capacity or an emotion that has almost gone out of our lives. And so it seems possible that we have come to a time when it no longer matters so much what the caring is about, how frail or foolish is the object of that concern, as long as the feeling itself can be saved. Naïveté—the infantile and ignoble joy that sends a grown man or woman to dancing and shouting with joy in the middle of the night over the haphazardous flight of a distant ball—seems a small price to pay for such a gift."
    (Roger Angell, "Agincourt and After." Five Seasons: A Baseball Companion. Fireside, 1988)
  • Rick Reilly on the Pace of Play in Baseball
    "Things that nobody reads in America today:
    "The online legal mumbo jumbo before you check the little 'I Agree' box.
    "Kate Upton's resume.
    "Major League Baseball's 'Pace of Play Procedures.'
    "Not that baseball games don't have a pace. They do: Snails escaping a freezer.
    "It's clear no MLB player or umpire has ever read the procedures or else how do you explain what I witnessed Sunday, when I sat down to do something really stupid—watch an entire televised MLB game without the aid of a DVR?
    "Cincinnati at San Francisco was a three-hour-and-14-minute can-somebody-please-stick-two-forks-in-my-eyes snore-a-palooza. Like a Swedish movie, it might have been decent if somebody had cut 90 minutes out of it. I'd rather have watched eyebrows grow. And I should have known better.
    "Consider: There were 280 pitches thrown and, after 170 of them, the hitter got out of the batter's box and did ... absolutely nothing.
    "Mostly, hitters delayed the proceedings to kick imaginary dirt off their cleats, meditate, and un-Velcro and re-Velcro their batting gloves, despite the fact that most of the time, they hadn't even swung. ..."
    (Rick Reilly, "Play Ball! Really, Play Ball!", July 11, 2012)
  • Research and Sports Writing
    "Athletes will tell you that games are won or lost in practice. Sports writers will tell you the same thing about stories—the key work is doing research before a game. The reporter tries to find out all she can about the teams, the coaches, and the issues he'll be covering. Sports writer Steve Sipple comments, 'Background is the one time I don't have to worry about asking the right questions. It's the one time when I'm able to relax and have fun while I familiarize myself with an athlete or issue.'"
    (Kathryn T. Stofer, James R. Schaffer, and Brian A. Rosenthal, Sports Journalism: An Introduction to Reporting and Writing. Rowman & Littlefield, 2010)
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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Sports Writing as a Form of Creative Nonfiction." ThoughtCo, Sep. 3, 2021, Nordquist, Richard. (2021, September 3). Sports Writing as a Form of Creative Nonfiction. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Sports Writing as a Form of Creative Nonfiction." ThoughtCo. (accessed February 4, 2023).