2016 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing

Winner

Scott Ellsworth for The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph (Little, Brown and Company /Hachette Book Group) Read an excerpt »

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.

From the Judges' Citation

The Secret Game recounts the tortuous path to the first integrated college basketball game ever played in the South—a locked-door affair between an all-white team from the Duke medical school, and an all-black team from the North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central University). The tale is a reminder that some of the most illuminating histories can be found through the lens of sports. It's a book that forces us to remember how difficult it was to navigate the realities of the Jim Crow South, and reminds us that there were trailblazers who existed years before Dr. King, Rosa Parks, and other familiar Civil Rights narratives. Scott Ellsworth’s exhaustive reporting excavates and preserves this precious moment in American history, one that has the power to illuminate our present. It is sportswriting at its most impactful. May it inspire similar works in the years to come."

Shortlist

Not a Game: The Incredible Rise and Unthinkable Fall of Allen Iverson
Kent Babb
Atria Books/Simon & Schuster
Amazon | Indie Bound

The Domino Diaries: My Decade Boxing with Olympic Champions and Chasing Hemingway's Ghost in the Last Days of Castro's Cuba
Brin-Jonathan Butler
Picador
Amazon | Indie Bound

The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph
Scott Ellsworth
Little, Brown and Company/Hachette Book Group
Amazon | Indie Bound
 

Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty
Bengie Molina with Joan Ryan
Simon & Schuster 
Amazon | Indie Bound
 

The Grind: Inside Baseball's Endless Season
Barry Svrluga
Blue Rider Press
Amazon | Indie Bound 
 

Longlist

Not a Game: The Incredible Rise and Unthinkable Fall of Allen Iverson
Kent Babb
Atria Books/Simon & Schuster
Amazon | Indie Bound

The Domino Diaries: My Decade Boxing with Olympic Champions and Chasing Hemingway's Ghost in the Last Days of Castro's Cuba
Brin-Jonathan Butler
Picador
Amazon | Indie Bound

The Three-Year Swim Club: The Untold Story of Maui's Sugar Ditch Kids and Their Quest for Olympic Glory
Julie Checkoway
Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group
Amazon | Indie Bound

The Secret Game: A Wartime Story of Courage, Change, and Basketball's Lost Triumph
Scott Ellsworth
Little, Brown and Company/Hachette Book Group
Amazon | Indie Bound
 

The Best Team Money Can Buy: The Los Angeles Dodgers' Wild Struggle to Build a Baseball Powerhouse
Molly Knight
Simon & Schuster
Amazon | Indie Bound

Concussion
Jeanne Marie Laskas
Random House
Amazon | Indie Bound

Ty Cobb: A Terrible Beauty
Charles Leerhsen
Simon & Schuster
Amazon | Indie Bound
 

Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty
Bengie Molina with Joan Ryan
Simon & Schuster 
Amazon | Indie Bound
 

Sports and Labor in the United States
Michael Schiavone
SUNY Press
Amazon | Indie Bound
 

The Grind: Inside Baseball's Endless Season
Barry Svrluga
Blue Rider Press
Amazon | Indie Bound 
 

2016 Judges

David Epstein is an author and journalist. Previously a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, Epstein is now an investigative reporter for ProPublica. His science writing has won a number of awards, including the 2010 Society of Professional Journalists prize for science and technology writing. His best-selling book The Sports Gene: Inside the Science of Extraordinary Athletic Performance was a finalist for the 2014 PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing. Epstein’s 2014 sports science TED Talk was among the 20 most viewed of the year.

Ann Killion, an award-winning sports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and a New York Times best-selling author, has provided commentary on sports issues for two decades. Killion co-authored the best-selling memoir Solo: a Story of Hope, with soccer star Hope Solo and co-authored How to Throw Like a Girl, with gold medalist Jenny Finch. Awarded the NSSA California Sports Writer of the Year in 2014, Killion has also worked for the San Jose Mercury News and Los Angeles Times. She and her husband have two children and live in Mill Valley, California.

Dave Zirin is The Nation’s sports editor and the author of eight books on the politics of sports, most recently, Brazil’s Dance with the Devil: The World Cup, The Olympics, and the Fight for Democracy. Named one of UTNE Reader’s “50 Visionaries Who Are Changing Our World,” Zirin is a frequent guest on ESPN, MSNBC, and Democracy Now! He also hosts his own weekly show, Edge of Sports Radio, and co-hosts The Collision: Where Sports and Politics Collide with former NBA player Etan Thomas.

Past winners

Marshall Jon Fisher, George Dohrmann, Dan Barry, Mark Kram, Jr., Mark Fainaru-Wada & Steve Fainaru, and John Branch.

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

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