Benched

Hey There, Sports Fans?

9 of the Best *Sport-Adjacent* Podcasts

I love anything to do with American Football. Except watching actual American Football.

Friday Night Lights, Remember The Titans, Varsity Blues, Friday Night Lights, The Blindside, The Longest Yard, Friday Night Lights, Last Chance U  -  I can't get enough.

But, how many games have I actually sat through? Well…

You simply don't have to be a fan of the sport to be captured by the magic of it. In my case, the passion, the emotion, the way the game reflects and refracts the wider culture captured my imagination in a way I have never been able to shake.

So naturally, when I started listening to podcasts - I started looking for these types of *sport-adjacent* human-interest stories.

Whilst, there are a lot of podcasts out there for fans - for people who want to obsess over stats and rehash the latest fixture - those that focus on the human stories are harder to come by.

Screw the superstars - I want to hear about the underdogs, grafters and chancers. If that's what you're about too, here are 11 of my favourites:

1. Gladiator

An intimate investigation that goes beyond true crime tropes to comment on the systemic problems ingrained, from high-school to professional level, in the business and culture of American Football.

2. 30 for 30  —  Bikram 

A six-part investigation into the culty figure behind an internationally popular yoga movement. Think Wild Wild Country but with more stretching.

3. The Season

You can't help get behind the underdogs, a college team on a 21-game losing streak, in this fly on the wall documentary from 2015.

4. Backstory  — Turf War

The American History Guys take us back through the origin and growth of College Sports. A very pertinent listen in the wake of the latest admissions scandal.

5. Against The Rules — Ref, You Suck!

Micheal Lewis (Moneyball, The Blind Side) kicks off a season-long exploration into the decline of referees in American life by taking listeners backstage at the American Basketball League replay center.

6. On The Shoulders of Giants  —  Throughline

Another historical take, but this time using past examples of protest by black sportspeople as context by which to see the current activism of NFL players like Colin Kaepernick.

7. Desert Island Discs  —  David Beckham

A British footballing legend relives some of his greatest sporting moments, and shows us his softer side, in the 75th-anniversary edition of this BBC radio staple.

8. This American Life  —  Those Who Can't Play

This short piece, only 6 minutes long, tells the story of an announcer who can bring audiences to tears with his commentary of football games. The twist: he's making the games up.

Listen here

9. Radiolab  —  American Football

A look at American football past and future. The conflict many Americans feel about reconciling their love of the game with its increasingly well evidenced health risks is captured perfectly by a football fanatic mother and her no-so-interested son.

Any more recommendations? Let me know, I'm always on the hunt for new listens - emily@messageheard.com

P.S. A quiet plug for our own sort-of-sports show, Benched. If you're a fan of the shows above - we’d love to know what you think 💖