The Impact of Sports Writing: Insights from Sports Illustrated and the LA Times

There is a lamentable situation in the world of journalism, which was once regarded as the “Fourth Estate” of American democracy. In these troubling times, it seems there are only two kinds of journalists, those who have been laid off and those who will be. Each day many of us wake up wondering which group we’ll find ourselves in. The more experience you have, the more likely you are to find yourself escorted to the exit by security, in favor of someone who costs less to employ.

Last week, Sports Illustrated laid off its staff — some immediately, while others were given a 90-day window. Yesterday, the LA Times laid off 115 journalists, including their Dodgers’ beat reporter, Jack Harris—indicating nothing new is happening concerning the Dodgers in 2024. Notably, a Google search related to “SI layoffs” also led to stories on significant layoffs at SI in 2016 and 2019. In July, the New York Times disbanded its entire sports desk, rendering 35 journalists and editors unemployed in a hopeless media economy. That same month, ESPN laid off 20 experienced on-air talents, including sideline reporter Suzy Kolber. The Chicago Tribune, where I briefly worked, witnessed continuous layoffs, leaving almost everyone I knew jobless in the end.

The decline of media, especially in sports media, has largely gone unnoticed by the public. Once a good, stable, middle-class job, being a journalist has now been attacked and dismantled over the years, resulting in an unstable, low-paid, and insecure lifestyle. Many Americans are indifferent to the loss of journalists covering crucial topics, like climate change and extremism, making it difficult to argue they should care about sports writing. Yet sports in America often address social and racial issues sooner than the rest of society.

Jackie Robinson integrated baseball in 1947 when much of the American South was still segregated. Black sportswriters played a role in pressuring baseball to desegregate alongside Robinson’s MLB debut, which also led to changes in local school districts. In 1973, SI covered The Battle of the Sexes, a national discussion about women’s rights and sexism in the workplace. Sports writers were crucial in covering the events of 2020, when athletes across the country stood up for racial justice and the WNBA’s Atlanta Dream banded together to advocate for change.

Sport has always been political, addressing issues which concern us all. The battle for independent journalism and impactful sports coverage is vital to the nation, as we can not sacrifice the essence of journalism for financial gain. Sadly, we are already heading in that direction.