Until former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick became the avatar for athlete activism to the wide public, the demand for players and some media members to “stick to sports” had not been so vocalized as it was implicitly understood. Athletes at all levels of sports – in particular, those of Black and brown descent, as well as female and non-binary athletes – were supposed to be mute, save for clichéd post-game quotes, local commercials and public appearances curated by leagues and teams. Journalists were not to touch the third rail of politics but were often asked to affirm owner-driven narratives of how the business of sports supposedly works – big-market manipulations versus small-market resourcefulness, player and union greed, and the civic duty of keeping a team in town by funding venues with tax dollars. Most of all, the notion that sports were only meant to be distractions from “the real world” has been kept alive by media platforms whose high-volume content caters to an obsessive minority of equally vocal consumers.
Though his athletic peers in the NBA and WNBA had a head start years before following the deaths of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and others, Kaepernick’s public arrival to the ongoing rise of athlete activism in 2015 compelled fans and commentators who were allegedly allergic to politics to make their support or disproval heard. Augmented by controversies surrounding sexual assault, domestic violence, brain trauma and more, the newfound interest in sports and politics dramatically shifted sports coverage, even if it also inspired a new wave of mostly conservative backlash. And though it has become standard to see “sports & more” content alongside hot takes and betting lines, it’s starting to feel as if those stories are being told about the same people over and over again.
It’s almost as if we are all creating and responding to an algorithm, but that issue is not a new one.
Long ago, sports media decided to make money by catering to the lowest common denominator in an eternal competition to be heard first, with lesser regard to accuracy and fairness. Few independent outlets of scale address the intersection of sports with other realms of society very well, leaving a great opportunity for one to emerge alongside ESPN, The Athletic and the like to bring newer, fresher stories to the forefront.
Hopefully, this is where The Whole Game comes in.
Long before I covered my first sporting event in 2005, I had wanted to launch a sports media platform. Never mind that I had no experience as a writer, although four years of internet college radio began what would be a lengthy hands-on education. I found that media was the center of every orbit we created for ourselves as consumers and aspiring participants. (Come on, you had hoop dreams once upon a time thanks to the NBA on NBC.)
Coupled with a formal business education, experience in the business side of media and an insatiable curiosity about the world beyond the field of play, I have been lucky enough to develop my own voice in the cacophony. I’ve not only witnessed incredible moments from the press box and ringside but developed meaningful relationships in an industry where people tend to see life from a transactional point of view. As an editor, I’ve been grateful to call quite a few colleagues my friends. I’m even more grateful to some of those same colleagues who have decided to come along in this new journey.
With respect to other artforms, sports are the greatest social currency in the world. Here at The Whole Game, our aim is to spend some of that currency to dive into the ways the games connect to the wider society besides their roles in entertaining us. With each of us located across the country, we hope to talk about more than those usual suspects in sports by looking at the stories around the way. And we mean that literally as there are incredible local and regional intersections of sports and society that aren’t told enough.
Each of us have previously worked together at The Sports Fan Journal, Yardbarker and various podcasts old and new. You may have seen us with other outlets that gave us opportunities to talk about the sports that we love or sometimes hate. Over the coming days and weeks, my teammates will introduce themselves to explain what they bring to this new collective.
We are a work in progress. Despite our geographic and ethnic diversity, we aim to bring more non-male voices along while being grateful to the women that are a part of this journey. As a new site, we will find our footing by learning from you, dear reader, what works best and doesn’t work at all. And yes, sports and politics/culture/what-have-you seems like a trend, buzzword or branded initiative destined to fade away until the next big thing comes along to change how we talk about athletics. Yet, we love what we do and we’d be damned if we didn’t give this a try.
Besides, it’s tiring for us to keep reacting to that damn algorithm.
Founder and editor-in-chief
Meet some of the team.