Scoring a Touchdown with Sports Writing

In honor of Super Bowl Sunday it seems appropriate to talk about sports. When I was cutting my teeth as a young reporter I read Sports Illustrated voraciously because the writing was so good.               

Think about it. Each time it’s the same game. Two opponents meet. One wins. One loses. End of story.

But it’s the details that make the game so vivid. I asked veteran sports writer Mike Ashley a few questions. Here’s what he had to say.

What makes good sports writing? “I think good sports writing is like any other good writing; it engages you and tells a story. There is a freedom in telling these stories that one doesn’t often find in the news section but the best reporters – those able to find facts, dig for the truth, ask the right questions, elicit honest answers – are often the best writers.”

“I have always enjoyed the big Sports Illustrated feature or major newspaper pull-out pieces but the longer I’ve been in the business, the more I have come to appreciate the well-crafted, concise game or sports news story hammered out on a deadline (the pray-to-God-let-me-finish kind many other writers never face). To me, the true artists just may be the writers that can file an 18-inch game story on a deadline that requires it be in just at the final horn, and then can five minutes later place in the perfect quotes for the next edition.”

So who are some of your favorite sports writers? “Dan Jenkins was an early hero who could weave a tapestry of southern living and way of life into any football story and all the while make me laugh with outrageous comparisons and quotes you couldn’t believe people actually said.

“I later came to revel in the onslaught of facts and information David Halberstamm could pack into his books. The amount of real reporting overwhelmed me as someone who understood the mechanics of the process.

Other favorite writers include John Feinstein and Brian Hoffman and Mike Ives, both of Roanoke, Va.

Mike Ashley is a Fairfax, Va.-based free-lance writer who covers the University of Maryland for Terrapin Times magazine, and the ACC for several other national publications. He also writes features and a sports-humor column for Play by Play magazine, based in his hometown of Roanoke, Va. His work can also be found in NCAA postseason publications, the Blue Ribbon Yearbooks, and Lindy’s Sports Annuals.