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The 15 Best Sports Podcasts of 2019
Though Mike and The Mad Dog may be gone, the spirit of sports radio is still with us. In the golden age of podcasting, we’ve traded calling in and trolling our hometown radio stations for queuing up pods on our phones. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing: From the lo-fi, LeBron vs. MJ-type roundtables that sound like a bar-side argument to the glossy, serialized blockbusters by the Michael Lewises of the sports world, the podcasting renaissance has finally reached the bleachers. We made a list of some of the best out there.
Against the Rules
We all want to feel a sense of fairness in our everyday interactions, but especially in the competitive ones—i.e. those that happen on the court or in the arena. In comes the ombudsman, the referee, the judge, the umpire—the person whose job is to call the balls of life. In Against the Rules, Michael Lewis tells stories about the people who try to keep things fair and the flack they get for it. Who would want that job? That’s what Lewis sets to find out. But it’s also a sweet excuse for the Moneyball writer to smuggle incisive critiques about wealth, power, and authority—all under one giant sports metaphor. —Alyssa Sims
*Stephen A. voice* Here’s the deal, my man, here’s the deal! I don’t understand, for the life of me! Tony Romo?? A man that’s won two playoff games, in NINE years, as a starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. I mean, what in the hell is going on??!! Everybody pump the breaks, let’s stop it, I can’t take it. That’s it, that’s the podcast. If you’ve ever been so infuriated by a sports take that it’s given you hemorrhoids, then you will appreciate the energy Stephen A. Smith brings to his debates on all things sports with Max Kellerman and Molly Qerim, who really shines when she can get a break from reigning in the theatrics. On First Take, Stephen A. raises his blood pressure so you don’t have to. —A.S.
Steve McNair: Fall of a Titan
Steve “Air” McNair, a former NFL quarterback who carried the Tennessee Titans to the Superbowl in 2000, was found dead with his girlfriend, Sahel Kazemi, in 2009. In a Serial-esque podcast investigation, Sports Illustrated takes on the case, re-examining the circumstances around McNair’s murder and raising questions about the police’s conclusions. If true crime is your thing, and you don’t mind background music that has the subtlety of the Jaws score, this might be for you. —A.S.
Pull Up with CJ McCollum
Whenever an athlete beefs with critics, it’s usually Russell Westbrook next-questioning reporters, or LeBron packing up his big fancy bag and storming out of a press conference. Rarely is it civil—which is why Pull Up with CJ McCollum is so special. McCollum—who day-jobs as a star guard for the Portland Trailblazers—is as smooth behind the mic as his shot is. Whatever the sports-world soap opera storyline of the day is, you can count on him to give a whip-smart take from someone who, you know, actually plays sports for a living. And not some talking head. That’s kind of important, right? —Brady Langmann
The Mina Kimes Show Featuring Lenny
PSA: This is less of an endorsement of Mina Kimes’s podcast, and more an endorsement of Mina Kimes (and her dog, Lenny). ESPN’s always-hilarious writer-reporter-TV host is brilliant in whatever vertical you find her on—especially Twitter—but for football fans, you can’t get much better than her podcast. It’s everything you’d want: detailed division breakdowns, player insights you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else, and an always-revolving door of entertaining co-hosts. Plus it’s pretty funny when Kimes breaks into a Lenny impersonation mid-podcast. —B.L.
Edge of Sports
You really don’t realize how much mainstream sports outlets have cut out social and political issues until you’ve listened to an episode of Edge of Sports. Hosted by The Nation’s sports editor, Dave Zirin (who’s a walking sports encyclopedia), Edge of Sports brings in athletes, filmmakers, and writers for refreshing behind-the-headlines conversations. The FIFA-USWNT pay gap controversy, the agency of the modern athlete, whether or not the NCAA should pay its players—it’s all covered in Edge of Sports. It’ll make you a smarter sports fan. —B.L.
View from the Cheap Seats
Been searching for the perfect intersection of sports, comedy, and indie music in your podcast? No? Well, you’ll still likely get a kick out of View from the Cheap Seats. Spinning off from their ESPN Classic series, Cheap Seats, the Sklar Brothers treat sports less as a topic for heated debate and more like fodder for riffing with friends. That is, if your crew included two twin stand-ups, and, say, anyone ranging from Blake Griffin, to Bill Burr, to Julian Castro. Come for the shit-shooting, stay for takes like comparing Lebron’s Lakers deal to Samuel L. Jackson’s Capital One contract. —Emma Carey
Only A Game
It’s the offseason for many teams, and it’s likely that your favorite players are probably R&Ring, catching up on missed family time, and reminding themselves that they’re, well, human. We could probably take a play from their book. NPR’s weekly sports magazine, Only A Game, delves into unknown narratives of sports history, ranging anywhere from anecdotes of athletes’ personal lives to obscure histories like the creation of Pickleball. Think 30 for 30 meets This American Life, or The Moth if the open mic were at the ESPYs. You get the point. It’s sports-but-make-it-NPR, vocal fry and all. — E.C.
R2C2 is UNINTERRUPTED
If nothing else, New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia is extremely well-connected—which makes for a pretty good podcast opportunity. So, for its interviews alone, RCC2, hosted by Sabathia and Ryan Ruocco, is more than worth the listen—where else can you get hour-long conversations with Charles Oakley, Sue Bird, and Kemba Walker? RCC2 has a baseball skew to it, obviously, but not always—for one episode, Sabathia gathered his Yankees teammates together for a pretty epic Game of Thrones debrief. —B.L.
Forget being there for the greatest sports moments in history. What you’d truly give an arm for is to have been a fly in the locker room during the height of your favorite sports rivalry. On Sports Wars, Dan Rubenstein fulfills your dreams of sports drama, putting you in the team cafeteria when Aaron Rodgers first met Brett Favre in the elevator in 1985, and with Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas before the infamous Jordan freeze-out at the All-Star Game. With cheeky dialogue re-enactments and impeccable detail, Sports Wars takes listeners on an immersive and hilarious jaunt through the greatest sports rivalries of all time.—A.S.
The Bill Simmons Podcast
I’d be willing to bet many would call The Bill Simmons Podcast the GOAT of sports pods. Simmons, the CEO of The Ringer, has always had a knack for surrounding himself with talent, be it undiscovered sportswriters or celebrity friends. It’s no different here: the best episodes of The Bill Simmons Podcast lead with an hour of sports talk with someone from his crew, then cut to an interview with anyone from Bill Hader talking about the Clippers’ offseason moves and the latest season of Barry, to Kevin Costner revealing he took PEDs for Bull Durham. It’s the best listen for your average sports-pop culture buff—Simmons knows just when you’re ready to talk football in August, awards season flicks in the fall, and the NBA, well, all the time. —B.L.
30 for 30 Podcasts
Out of everything on this list, 30 for 30 Podcasts—ESPN’s spinoff of its uber-popular docuseries—makes the most of its medium. Take “Madden’s Game,” the story of football icon John Madden and the creation of the Madden NFL video game series—which has a rare interview with the former broadcaster, and blends in the original bleeps and bloops from the first iterations of the game. In true 30 for 30 fashion, its tales stick with you—the five-part BIKRAM series, a revisitation of Jose Canseco’s PED scandal, and the UFC’s origin story all leave a mark. —B.L.
Before there was Megan Rapinoe striking her triumphant “Are you not entertained?!” pose, there was Brandi Chastain waving her shirt over her head in victory at the epic 1999 Women’s World Cup. If we’re being honest, that’s about as far as the casual soccer fan’s memory reaches. But in Season One of Throwback, Sports Illustrated writer Grant Wahl schools us on U.S. women’s soccer history, taking us back to the first Women’s World Cup in 1991. It’s where it all started, back when games were 80 minutes instead of 90, the players’ food was shitty, and there were no toilets. —A.S.
Men in Blazers
If the explosive Netflix resurgence of The Office tells us anything, it’s that NBC imports of British media might be a guaranteed formula for bingeability. If that’s the case, NBCSN’s pick-up of Men in Blazers should not be taken lightly. Hosted by two boisterous Brits, Michael Davies and Roger Bennett, “MiB” is a self-proclaimed crusade towards making soccer “America’s sport of the future.” The two blokes’ signature language of running inside jokes has gained them a cult-like following (known as “Great Friends Of the Pod”) that’s not unlike U.S. soccer’s current fanbase. It’s not too late to be the next GFOP, mate. — E.C.
There’s an athlete in all of us, even if you can’t windmill dunk. The Outside Podcast gets that and has created something resourceful for athletes at every level. In other words, though they interview adventure-sports heroes like Alex Honnold, it’s accessible even if you don’t know what the hell it means to free-solo. Hosts Peter Frick-Wright and Robbie Carver cover the culture of our bodies and how we use them, offering training tips for increasing mobility and improving recovery—with a focus on the outdoors. There are dispatches from far-flung places like Kuku Island, plus stories about adventure and the human spirit that will make you want to pop in your earbuds, grab your Nalgene, and see where your legs take you. —A.S.