Mark Fainaru-Wada & Steve Fainaru, League of Denial (Crown Archetype)

The $5,000 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing honors a nonfiction book about sports. Eligible titles should be of a biographical, investigative, historical, or analytical nature and of the strongest literary character.

2014 Judges

Joel Drucker, Chad Harbach, and Jackie MacMullan

From the Judges’ Citation

League of Denial is such a compelling and important book—one the National Football League fervently hopes you never read—because it so meticulously and convincingly connects serious brain injuries to the game of football. Authors Steve Fainaru and Mark Fainaru-Wada unveil the manner in which the NFL, America’s most powerful and profitable professional sports league, consistently failed to acknowledge their role in minimizing the serious health risks their players have been exposed to for decades.

With exhaustive reporting and brilliant prose, the authors also expose the unseemly tactics of competing medical entities who jockey for the right to study the brains of deceased NFL players, often within hours of their passing.

There was a time when concussions were merely dismissed as temporary and harmless setbacks, a case of football players “having their bell rung.’’ League of Denial has shredded that myth, and serves as a cautionary tale for all football players, professional and amateur alike.


Collision Low Crossers (Little, Brown and Company), Nicholas Dawidoff
The Sports Gene (Current), David Epstein
League of Denial (Crown Archetype), Mark Fainaru-Wada & Steve Fainaru
The Emerald Mile (Scribner), Kevin Fedarko
Their Life’s Work (Simon & Schuster), Gary M. Pomerantz


Mickey and Willie (Crown Archetype), Allen Barra
Monsters (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), Rich Cohen
Collision Low Crossers (Little, Brown and Company), Nicholas Dawidoff
The Sports Gene (Current), David Epstein
League of Denial (Crown Archetype), Mark Fainaru-Wada & Steve Fainaru
The Emerald Mile (Scribner), Kevin Fedarko
Francona (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), Terry Francona & Dan Shaughnessy
Their Life’s Work (Simon & Schuster), Gary M. Pomerantz
Game Over (The New Press), Dave Zirin

Past winners

Marshall Jon Fisher, George Dohrmann, Dan Barry, and Mark Kram, Jr.

Click here for additional information, including submission guidelines, for the award.