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Layoffs are leaving a void where sports journalists used to tell their stories

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Sports Illustrated, one of the most iconic of all sports magazines, recently announced layoffs for nearly all of its journalists. That could mean the end for the 70-year-old publication. And all this comes alongside major layoffs at the LA Times, including sports reporters covering the Dodgers and Clippers. And none of this is in a vacuum. Instead, many say that similar layoffs across the country are leaving a void where sports journalists used to tell stories of their teams.

Joining us now for more on this is Dave Zirin, sports editor with The Nation and author of more than 10 books on the intersection of sports and politics. So, Dave, what does this mean for the industry as a whole?

DAVE ZIRIN: Well, it means everything for the industry. It's a sign that we are in a very dire place because Sports Illustrated was, is and has always been the standard for sports journalism. It's where generations of sports journalists dreamed of writing. And it's where, for myself, just to use one example, it's where I learned to read for pleasure. I was somebody as a kid who did not like reading in school. And yet, to the confusion of my mother, I would tear through a 4,000-word article by Frank Deford about Indiana coach Bob Knight or some high school coach I never heard of. And I don't think, from what I've heard, I'm alone in that. So to lose that, it's very painful.

MARTÍNEZ: Yeah. LA's sports pages, Dave, taught me how to read and write English. I hadn't done that yet when I was, like, 7 or 8 years old. So, yeah, you know, those sports pages really meant a lot to me.

You know, I mentioned the LA times. Two layoffs were also recently announced there, including some major cuts to its sports reporting. That means that a majority - a majority - of LA's pro sports teams - Los Angeles, a major market - will not have a traveling beat writer. And that's with, you know, some pretty big news happening with the Dodgers - Shohei Ohtani joining the team. So what does a community lose, Dave - and we're talking about my community here in Los Angeles - when they lose the voice of its sports reporters?

ZIRIN: Well, one thing they lose are the stories that really make sports worth watching, 'cause everybody knows that sports is not just about the games; it's about the stories behind the game. And so to lose that, you lose an angle on sports which makes it enriching and something bigger than just normal entertainment.

The second thing we lose is that for a lot of young people, their first lens into understanding issues as they pertain to the world, like racism, sexism, homophobia, certainly the issue of transgender people in sports - these are issues that are covered by these local sports reporters and educate, I think, particularly young people in ways of seeing the world. We lose that.

The other thing we lose - and this is very pertinent to Los Angeles - is that LA is going to be hosting the Olympics in 2028. And let's be honest. The Olympics always bring scandal, always bring corruption, always bring debt, displacement and the militarization of public space. These are all issues in the public interest. And so to lose that reporting means that it's really the public that loses.

MARTÍNEZ: You know, a decline in sports journalism might not rise to the level of a Democracy Dies in Darkness situation. But, Dave, do you think sports fans will care or even notice a lack of sports coverage, of sports reporting?

ZIRIN: The concern is that they won't notice until it's too late - not unlike the cliche about the frog in the water that's not yet boiling, but the heat is turned up slowly - and they could have put a stop to it if the light had shined upon these issues in such a way that could make them informed citizens.

MARTÍNEZ: That's Dave Zirin, sports editor with The Nation. Dave, thanks.

ZIRIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MINDSCAPE'S "WHATNOT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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