Episode 59: Don Van Natta Jr.

Don Van Natta Jr. is a senior writer for ESPN Digital and Print media. He was recently named a finalist — along with his reporting and writing partner Seth Wickersham — for a National Magazine Award in reporting for three stories: “Sin City or Bust,” “Standing Down,” and “Roger Goodell has a Jerry Jones problem.” Wickersham appeared on Episode 28 of the podcast, back in 2014.

Van Natta has had quite the illustrious career. He’s been on three Pulitzer Prize winning reporting teams — two at the New York Times and one at the Miami Herald.

He joined ESPN in 2012, and has since produced many features and investigative pieces centered around the NFL. His profile of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in August 2014 is particularly amazing because of the access he got from a subject who initially did not want to participate.

In 2014, Van Natta started the Sunday Long Read newsletter with Jacob Feldman, a reporter for Sports Illustrated. The two launched the Sunday Long Read podcast in August of last year, and so far has produced more than a dozen episodes featuring some amazing reporters and writers.

Van Natta is currently working on a book with Wickersham. The book, tentatively titled “Powerball,” will be published by Crown Archetype in 2020.

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Episode 41: Chuck Klosterman

Chuck Klosterman is the author of six books of nonfiction and two novels. His most recent book, “I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined)” was a New York Times bestseller.

In the two most recent issues of GQ, Klosterman has interviewed Taylor Swift and Tom Brady. In fact, he’s done several celebrity interviews this year, including Kobe Bryant and Eddie Van Halen.

He’s written for Grantland, Esquire, GQ, Spin, the Washington Post, the Guardian, the Believer, and the A.V. Club. He currently serves as The Ethicist for the New York Times Magazine.

Episode 34: Mike Wilson

Mike Wilson, Editor of The Dallas Morning News, photographed February 16, 2015. (Evans Caglage/The Dallas Morning News)
Mike Wilson, Editor of The Dallas Morning News, photographed February 16, 2015. (Evans Caglage/The Dallas Morning News)

Mike Wilson is finishing up his first few months as the new editor of the Dallas Morning News. Wilson came to Dallas from ESPN’s FiveThirtyEight website, where he was managing editor.

Before that, he was the editor of the St. Petersburg/Tampa Bay Times. While in St. Petersburg, Wilson oversaw a staff of incredibly talented writers and reporters, many of whom have been featured on this podcast, reporters like Ben Montgomery, Michael Kruse and Kelley Benham French. During the podcast, we talk about a series of stories that ran in the St. Petersburg Times called Encounters. One by Kruse was about a dad teaching his young daughter how to ride a bike.

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the writers Wilson cultivated in Florida. He was the primary editor on Lane DeGregory’s story, “The Girl in the Window,” which won the Pulitzer Prize for feature writing in 2009.

During our discussion, we also talk about a story Wilson said he recently read, titled “The Root of All Things,” by Nathan Thornburgh. The piece ran on the website roadsandkingdoms.com, an independent journal of food, politics, travel and culture. It’s a story well worth checking out.

Episode 28: Seth Wickersham


Seth Wickersham is a senior writer with ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com. He joined ESPN right after graduating from the University of Missouri. While he primarily covers the NFL, he has also covered the Athens Olympics, the World Series, the NCAA tournament and the NHL and NBA playoffs.

Since joining the podcast in 2014, Wickersham has gone on to write several noteworthy stories, including two stories he co-wrote with Don Van Natta Jr., “Spygate to Deflategate” and “The Wow Factor.” He has a profile on John Elway in the September 7, 2016 issue of ESPN: The Magazine that is getting great reviews.

When Matt Tullis talked with Wickersham, he had just started writing some wonderful longform literary journalism for ESPN. He wrote about a runner from Kenya who went to college in Alaska, but suffered his own private torment, something that changed his life forever. He wrote about legendary NFL coach Bill Walsh’s attempt to write a book that would teach everyone how to coach in the NFL. And he wrote about vets who have to put racehorses down after catastrophic injuries, a story that was anthologized in the book “Next Wave: America’s New Generation of Great Literary Journalists.”

In this episode, we talk with Wickersham about two stories in particular. In “Awakening the Giant,” Wickersham wrote about legendary quarterback Y.A. Tittle, who suffers from dementia. He also wrote the story “Out Route,” which chronicled Atlanta Falcon’s tight end Tony Gonzalez in the final season of his hall of fame career.

Episode 17: Chris Jones

At the time of his visit on the podcast, Chris Jones was a writer at large for Esquire, as well as a back-page columnist for ESPN The Magazine. Jones has twice won National Magazine Awards. In 2009, his story “The Things that Carried Him” won for feature writing.

Jones is an expert profile writer. His 2010 piece on the late Roger Ebert is, in our opinion, one of the best celebrity profiles ever written. It’s touching and poignant, showing a side of the film critic that hadn’t been seen since Ebert’s battle with cancer.

Most recently, Jones turned his eye on a man most have never heard of, but a man who has been involved in nearly every major tragic event in recent US history. His Esquire story,  “Kenneth Feinberg: the nation’s leading expert in picking up the pieces,” looks at the man who decides how much money the surviving victims of horrific shootings and bombings get once there is a monetary fund set up for those victims.

In October 2012 he wrote a historical piece on what happened on Air Force 1 immediately after the President John F. Kennedy assassination.

In 2011, Jones participated in a virtual roundtable discussion moderated by podcast host Matt Tullis. That discussion focused on journalism as a sub-genre of creative nonfiction, and was published in Creative Nonfiction in the Winter 2012 issue of the magazine. The discussion was ultimately the inspiration for the podcast.

Since joining the podcast, Jones wrote a piece about astronaut Scott Kelly as he prepared to spend a full year in outer space.

Episode 11: Wright Thompson

Wright Thompson is a senior writer for ESPN.com and ESPN The Magazine. Thompson is widely regarded as one of the top literary sports journalists in the country. His work has been featured in seven editions of “Best American Sports Writing.” This year, his story “Urban Meyer will be home for dinner,” was included in the anthology.

2013 was an epic year for Thompson, who reported and wrote several memorable stories, including a profile of Michael Jordan as he turned 50 years old, a story about Italy’s racist soccer thugs, a story about a paralyzed fly rod maker in Montana and a profile of legendary wrestling coach Dan Gable in the wake of the International Olympic Committee cutting that sport.

Since joining the podcast in October 2013, Thompson has written an incredibly in-depth piece on Tiger Woods as well as a piece on New Orleans on the 10-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. That piece took up the entire feature well in one issue of ESPN: The Magazine.

Thompson also took part in the Gangrey podcast episode that focused on the work of Michael Brick, and the book “Everyone Leaves Behind a Name.” 

In this podcast, we talk about the Gable story, which Thompson says he wouldn’t change a thing about, and the Jordan story. Both are intimate profiles of people you wouldn’t think would ever open up to anyone, let alone a reporter.