On Monday, Katie Robertson and John Koblin broke the significant news that the New York Times is shutting down its sports desk. The company will shift all sports coverage to The Athletic full-time (which will appear in print editions of The Times for the first time), and everyone currently at the sports desk will move to other roles:
The New York Times said on Monday that it would disband its sports department and rely on coverage of teams and games from its website The Athletic, both online and in print.
Joe Kahn, The Times’s executive editor, and Monica Drake, a deputy managing editor, announced the change to the newsroom as “an evolution in how we cover sports.”
The shuttering of the sports desk, which has more than 35 journalists and editors, is a major shift for The Times. The department’s coverage of games, athletes and team owners, and its Sports of the Times column in particular, were once a pillar of American sports journalism. The section covered the major moments and personalities of the last century of American sports, including Muhammad Ali, the birth of free agency, George Steinbrenner, the Williams sisters, Tiger Woods, steroids in baseball and the deadly effects of concussions in the National Football League.
The move represents a further integration into the newsroom of The Athletic, which The Times bought in January 2022 for $550 million, adding a publication which had some 400 journalists covering more than 200 professional sports teams.
As suggested by the above quotes, this is not a particularly tangible change. The Times had been relying a lot on The Athletic for its sports coverage since its acquisition over a year ago and in recent years the paper had generally moved away from the passionate sports coverage that once helped define it. This doesn't mean anyone working the sports desk is suddenly without a job, and many of The Athletic writers will surely be thrilled seeing their byline in the Times.
But the Times sports desk was a monolith. An American institution. One of the most iconic departments at a world-famous newspaper. A place that undoubtedly inspired thousands and thousands of writers to pursue sports journalism. It covered the incredibly important stories listed above and more. For over a century the Times sports section was a cornerstone of the American nuclear family. And it's just... gone.
The way we consume information has changed, certainly, and there are no longer millions of people ripping open the paper every morning to see what happened at the ballpark the previous evening. To the calculating brain it doesn't come as a surprise that the Times would eliminate the sports desk in today's media world. It even perhaps felt inevitable as it became obvious the company wasn't interested in giving it the resources it once enjoyed.
But man, it sure does suck.