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Common Reading 2022: The Rise of the Athlete Podcaster: How Players Began Telling a New Story About Sports by Hua Hsu

The Rise of the Athlete Podcaster: How Players Began Telling a New Story About Sports — Hua Hsu

“The Rise of the Athlete Podcaster: How Players Began Telling a New Story About Sports” by Hua Hsu is a New Yorker article that explores how athletes are telling their own stories without the mediation of media outlets. Some superstar athletes have started their own media companies that offer an outlet for other athletes, while many others have started podcasts.

Discussion Questions

1. Why do you think podcasts have emerged as a popular outlet for athletes to tell their stories?

2. Who is included/excluded from this conversation (e.g., who is/isn’t making podcasts, who is/isn’t listening to them)?

Class Activity

1. Read some of the articles and/or listen to some of the podcasts that are mentioned in the piece. How do you think the stories these athletes are telling in their podcasts would have been portrayed or discussed differently if athletes didn’t have their own podcasts and media outlets? If applicable, compare the athlete-controlled articles/podcasts to more generic media coverage (e.g., ESPN, mainstream news outlets, etc.)

2. Look into the media coverage of the 2004 Pistons vs. Pacers brawl, known as the Malice at the Palace, which was referenced in the article. Compare a variety of sources, including works in different mediums, works from different times (immediately after the event, many years later), and works with different viewpoints. Do you think any part of the response to the brawl would have been different if athletes and others involved had had access to social media, podcasts, and other digital media? If so, how?

Introduction — Sharief Hashim

“The Rise of The Athlete Podcaster,” by Hua Hsu skillfully illustrates the growth of podcasting among professional athletes. The article explores the podcasting genre as an avenue used increasingly by athletes to offer their voices and unique perspectives on wide-ranging topics. Hsu provides examples of athlete-driven podcasts produced to share behind-the-scenes perspectives traditionally not offered to fans, like opinions on political and social issues and entertaining story telling. 

Hsu’s article summarized my attraction to athlete-driven podcasts, which began with Josh Hart, a guard on the NBA’s Portland Trailblazers. Josh’s podcast, LightHarted, is co-hosted by his close friend, Matt Hillman, and touches on their favorite subjects: DC area high school basketball rivalries, E-Sports video gaming, and Napa Valley wineries. While many of the show’s guests are current NFL and NBA players, the podcast introduces listeners to other personalities. Episode 8 featured Delane Parnell, CEO and Founder of PlayVS, a popular virtual platform for high school youth and college ESport participants. Parnell offers his background and perspective on his journey from an inner-city Detroit teenager to the country’s youngest Black venture capitalist. 

Hsu’s greatest suggestion is that athlete driven podcasts provide sport figures the opportunity to comment on 2020’s social unrest, the Biden/Trump election race, and the global pandemic. Recently, retired NBA 3-point specialist, J.J. Redick, hosted Stacey Abrams on his podcast, The Old Man & The Three. In All the Smoke, Matt Barnes’ and Stephen Jackson’s hugely popular athlete-driven podcast, the hosts explored police brutality, drawing on Jackson’s personal relationship to George Floyd. 

Hsu also describes the emotional attachment fans have to professional sport franchises and individual athletes. Podcasting allows fans to hear what their favorite stars care about and value. In a climate where many critics want their professional athletes to “shut up and dribble,” podcasting allows them to do the exact opposite. Most importantly, the listener feels their favorite professional athletes are real people. 

As you read this article, consider the ways athletes contribute to our culture. How do athletes and their athletic performances bring together people and communities? How do athletes contribute to, shape, and enhance our culture beyond their athletic performance?

Podcasts Episodes Referenced in the Article

About the Author

Hua Hsu is an associate professor of English at Vassar College and serves on the executive board of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop. Hsu began contributing to The New Yorker in 2014 and became a staff writer in 2017. He is the author of “A Floating Chinaman: Fantasy and Failure Across the Pacific” and the forthcoming memoir “Stay True.” He served on the editorial board of “A New Literary History of America” and was formerly a fellow at the New America Foundation and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center at the New York Public Library. 

Additional Resources

Read "The Rise of the Athlete Podcaster: How Players Began Telling a New Story About Sports" on ProQuest

Watch the infamous 2004 Pistons vs. Pacers brawl (Malice at the Palace) below:


The article mentions The Players’ Tribune, a website founded by Derek Jeter. Articles from The Players' Tribune referenced in the article are listed below:

Hua Hsu's article also mentions Uninterrupted, a company owned by LeBron James.

The article references several podcasts, including The Old Man & the ThreeAll the Smoke, and podcasts from The Ringer.


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