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Jan 8 / King Kaufman

You don’t have to major in journalism or sports to be a sportswriter

An ambitious high school junior who wants to be a sportswriter wrote me an email yesterday asking if I had any advice about what colleges and majors she should consider.

My view on this question, which I’ve learned from my wife, a college academic advisor, is that in college you should be working on two things: your education and your career. And those tracks can be fairly separate.

Sure, if you want to be an engineer or a biologist, you’d better make with the engineering and biology classes right from the start. But most professions aren’t like that. My wife is fond of asking people what they majored in in college and finding out that, say, the financial planner majored in chemistry and the contractor majored in English lit.

Journalism is a trade. It can be learned away from the classroom. I majored in history and found a good liberal arts education was a great foundation for a career as a writer and editor, even though I didn’t get involved in journalism in any kind of serious way until I was almost out of college. As a sportswriter, I’ve often wished I’d taken more econ and statistics classes, not to mention a course in writing shorthand.

To illustrate my point I asked my sportswriter friends on Twitter and Facebook to tell me what their major was. I got 54 answers, including my own. Guess how many people majored in journalism. Ready?


That’s 7 percent if you’re keeping score at home.

Now, this was hardly a scientific survey. I didn’t check the respondents to make sure they really write sports, and even if they’re all correctly identifying themselves, I can’t say they are somehow a representative sample.

Still, it’s a pretty interesting snapshot. Fifty-four people who identify themselves as sportswriters, and only four of them majored in journalism. Another five majored in sport management, meaning that 45 of them, 83 percent, majored in something other than sports and journalism. Sixteen of them majored or double majored in English or English lit, which makes sense, but throwing all the sports, journalism and English majors together, we still don’t have half the group.

As I told my young correspondent, majoring in history taught me how to learn, read, write and think at a pretty high level. All of that helps when you become a writer, whether you’re writing about global conflict or Saturday’s big game.

My advice to her and anyone else is to study something you’re passionate about learning about. And while you’re at it, take the first steps toward pursuing your career, which you should also be passionate about. The two don’t have to be in lockstep.

Here are the results of my little informal survey. Each major was named by one person except as noted:

Advertising-Telecommunications double major
Civil Engineering
Economics – 2
English / English Lit – 12
English-Econ double major
English-History double major – 2
English-Sociology double major
Graphic Design
History – 5 (including me)
Journalism – 4
Math – 2
Philosophy – 2
Political Science – 3
Screenwriting-playwriting/Creative writing – 2
Sociology – 2
Speech Communications
Sports Management – 5
Urban Planning

  • Erik Frenz

    Good stuff, King. You can add me to the list of English majors.

  • anhpham

    You can add me to the list of English majors

  • Jill

    How can my husband get involved in sports writing?

  • Lori Sherman

    Very well written article! My son, now in 8th grade, recently expressed his interest in becoming a sports writer. I going to continue researching sports writer articles. I love this article and will share with him.

  • William Nick Nicholas

    Thank you very much for the insight!!