November 30, 2023


Buzz The Music

ESPN’s Seth Wickersham Crafts Narratives To Uncover The Human Factor Of Sport

Directing most of his consideration toward the NFL, ESPN’s Seth Wickersham has profiled many of the sport’s luminaries, which include Peyton Manning, John Elway, Monthly bill Walsh and Jim Harbaugh.

Seth Wickersham has recognized himself as just one of the nation’s leading investigative sportswriters. (Courtesy of Seth Wickersham)

On a crisp, early morning in Indianapolis, Seth Wickersham observed himself crouched alongside the lender of a silent river, mobile phone in hand, as he recorded stories of a gentleman who could have been one particular of the finest of all time. Andrew Luck – former quarterback for the Indianapolis Colts – stood a couple of toes away in a pair of waders fraying at the knee, eyes locked on his casted line, patiently ready for a fish to chunk. It had been pretty much 3 decades due to the fact Luck, only 29 at the time, shocked the athletics globe and stepped away from experienced football right after seven seasons. His choice to retire still left coaches, teammates, and followers inquiring the identical question: Why did he decide on to stroll away? Just after yrs of self-reflection and time put in significantly absent from the public eye, Luck was ready to share his tale – and he wanted Wickersham, a senior writer for ESPN, to tell it.

“I did not experience an agenda from him,” Luck stated. “There was a rapport that was designed, most importantly, and I felt comfy.”

Wickersham experienced originally attained out to Luck only a couple months subsequent his retirement. In a letter, Wickersham expressed interest in capturing the untold story that numerous other people wished to hear. He also indicated that he was eager to hold out till Luck was ready to communicate, nevertheless very long it may perhaps get.

“I built it incredibly apparent that I really don’t get paid by the tale,” explained Wickersham. “My lifetime was not likely to modify irrespective of whether he stated of course or no.” It took far more than two years of investing e-mails back and forth, but as soon as Luck was all set to go on the report, Wickersham was all set.

At 47, Wickersham has set up himself as a single of the nation’s leading investigative sportswriters. Directing most of his focus toward the NFL, Wickersham has profiled lots of of the sport’s luminaries, including Peyton Manning, John Elway, Bill Walsh and Jim Harbaugh. In 2021, he produced his to start with reserve: It is Greater to Be Feared: The New England Patriots Dynasty and the Pursuit of Greatness. In it, Wickersham normally takes a deep dive into how Tom Brady and Bill Belichick crafted a single of the most dominant dynasties in NFL background it was named Sports activities Illustrated Nonfiction Book of the Calendar year.

Wickersham is identified for his in-depth reporting and ability to craft narratives that uncover the human ingredient of activity, shedding light-weight on issues that often go unnoticed. He’s been at ESPN for 22 many years. Prior to his career, Wickersham graduated with a degree in Journalism from the College of Missouri in 2000, a area that fueled his journalistic wants. But college was not exactly where Wickersham was initial released to the magnificence of masterful storytelling. To discover where by his crafting voice originated, one particular will have to undertaking all the way back to his childhood property in Anchorage, Alaska.

Wickersham followed the information from a youthful age. His father, Kirk Wickersham, was an avid reader of the nearby newspaper and spent most mornings sipping black coffee with a splash of milk as he study by just about every part of the paper. In spite of his busy program as a lawyer, he would frequently come household after do the job and run routes for his son – nevertheless dressed in his perform outfits. Wickersham at some point produced a enthusiasm for news tales in the sporting activities section and bonded with his father more than article content in Newsweek, TIME, and Sporting activities Illustrated. As a kid, there was no superior emotion than coming residence to see a fresh new stack of journals sitting on the counter. His father would always wait around right up until they had each read the content articles in advance of speaking about them.

Wickersham looks back at people days fondly. It was a time in advance of media turned digital one particular would have to wait right until the next working day to check out scores from their favorite groups. Regrettably for Wickersham, he and his father have been pressured to be a very little a lot more patient. For the reason that of its distance from the states, Alaska was relatively disconnected in its mail shipping and delivery company. By the time the weekly sports activities magazine created it to their house, the match stories have been outdated by just about two months.

“Their information price was type of done at that issue,” Wickersham explained.

This resulted in him gravitating towards stories that delved deeper into the underlying themes and feelings of events. He sought operate that would stay applicable, even if it was browse weeks, months, or even many years immediately after its original release. This childhood inclination formed Wickersham into the author he is right now. “I normally sort of wished to be writing the deeper profiles, the further investigative parts,” he explained.

The process of revealing the truth powering Luck’s retirement was no small ambition. It demanded Wickersham to spend generous quantities of time with Luck, and early mornings down by the river furnished a modest glimpse into a much much larger story. Through several visits around the span of 5 months, Wickersham and Luck shared many cappuccinos, brewed to perfection. He watched as Luck explained goodbye to his daughter, Lucy, as she obtained prepared to depart for preschool. They spent evenings sitting out on Luck’s deck, chatting as if they ended up outdated pals. Luck did most of the conversing.

“When you are writing profiles, you are dwelling in that person’s head,” Wickersham spelled out. “Sometimes, that is an exhausting spot to live.”

129,000 words and phrases: A book’s size of notes and transcripts that strived to capture the feelings, inner thoughts, and thoughts of a man who walked absent from a recreation he the moment cherished. Luck advised tales of heartbreak and resilience, damaged bones and broken data, crippling anxiousness and too much to handle pleasure. Wickersham gathered it all, and as all fantastic reporters do, he listened.

“Honestly, the approach of talking to Seth,” Luck reported, “ was a person way that I could integrate my tales a tiny otherwise, by means of a various vehicle.”

For significantly of his life, Luck felt his path experienced by now been created. As Wickersham discussed it, “He received on a pair of American teach tracks and could not get off.” As the crafting system began, Wickersham committed himself to conveying the story that Luck wished to share. Wickersham would serve only as a guideline, taking the reader by means of distinct moments of Luck’s journey, the similar way Luck did for him.

A man standing in the river.
ESPN’s Seth Wickersham put in a great number of several hours interviewing former NFL quarterback Andrew Luck about why he retired. (Courtesy of Seth Wickersham)

In his ESPN write-up revealed in December 2022, Wickersham wrote the adhering to excerpt: “The sporting activities entire world was surprised. This was a generational quarterback. A quarterback on track for the Corridor of Fame. A quarterback who’d just received the Related Press NFL Comeback Participant of the Yr Award. A scarce quarterback who seemed born to do what he was executing. This was Andrew Luck.

How could he walk absent?

He sent his speech, with trembling conviction. And the following working day, at home, he could not choose an emotion. They had been all tangled collectively, relief blended with mourning, guilt mixed with a profound unburdening, a dozen feelings and thoughts that he could not title or even seriously describe. He had no plan what came up coming, or how tricky it would be to uncover out. All he knew was that he did not have to faux any more. He stepped into the shower and stood under the drinking water, and with the steam mounting started off to cry.”

On completion of the story, which totaled 8,703 phrases, it was posted to ESPN+ as an exclusive. The feedback from audience was overwhelmingly beneficial. Wright Thompson, a revered ESPN sportswriter acknowledged for his lengthy-type options on the intersection of sports, politics, and social difficulties, also occurs to be a single of Wickersham’s closest pals.

“The tale was a common Seth story, in that it was considerate, meticulously observed, and it acquired at the really heart of the NFL,” mentioned Thompson.

Wickersham and Thompson are continually mastering from each and every other’s perform. Thompson commented when at his most effective, Wickersham “makes a tale feel as though it wasn’t created so much as it was just born that way.” The Luck piece was no exception. “I can choose out one particular of his tales with out a byline,” Thompson mentioned.

The recognition arrived from a lot more than sportswriters. Individuals from all unique backgrounds – professional athletes, college students, and regular workers – related to Luck’s tale they felt his discomfort. Ari Patu, current Stanford Football Quarterback, uncovered the piece to be “simply gorgeous.”

“The way in which the writer was equipped to depict Andrew Luck as a human getting, as opposed to just a soccer player manufactured all the distinction,” Patu said.

Above the decades, Wickersham has appear to recognize the famed sports figures in his profiles, and the troubles they are making an attempt to fix, are often human and relatable. When requested about his system of discovering an angle to create the Luck piece, Wickersham recalled a theory given to him by a male who is greatly regarded as 1 of the greatest stylists in the history of sports journalism, Gary Smith: “Every profile is figuring out the central complication of someone’s everyday living and how on a day by day foundation they go about fixing it.”

Thompson cited the same quote when asked about his have composing and reporting methodology.

Wickersham, amid many some others, quickly regarded the central complication in Luck’s lifestyle. Nevertheless, what genuinely captivated audience was the way in which Luck went about fixing it – and no matter whether or not he was productive.

“How usually do we in fact at any time remedy the complication in our lifetime with a neat bow around it?” Luck claimed with a chuckle.

Wickersham is a gifted writer. Luck was a generational quarterback. Both have experienced extremely thriving occupations, still neither pick out to dwell in the past. Wickersham writes tales that endure the examination of time and keep their price no subject when they are picked up to read.

Jason Kaul is a senior finding out psychology, from Ham Lake, Minnesota. With an fascination in pursuing activity psychology as a career, Kaul has carried out investigate for Stanford and examined how mindsets about stress and work out impact the well being and effectively-remaining of Stanford student-athletes. This past summer months, Kaul continued his study as an intern for the Wu Tsai Human Effectiveness Alliance. Exterior of the classroom, Kaul competes as an Inside Linebacker for the Stanford Football workforce. He is a a few-time Pac-12 All-Academic Honor Roll receiver and was awarded the Chris Draft Motivation to Neighborhood Outreach Award in 2021 for his endeavours in serving the community. Kaul is also the president of Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) at Stanford.