This week we’re featuring freelance writer Wendy Thurm. Before her work appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, Deadspin, ESPN, and Sporting News, she was a successful law firm partner at a top litigation boutique. Read on to find out how she transitioned from being named one of California’s Top 100 Women Litigators to a successful career in freelance journalism writing about sports, feminism, culture, and parenting.
Q: As someone who didn’t get into sports until later in life, I’m always curious how other people became interested in sports. What is your earliest sports memory?
A: I’m the youngest in the family after two boys. My brothers were big sports fans, and I wanted to do whatever they did. So I watched what they watched, and played what they played. When the New York Islanders hockey team was created during NHL expansion, my family bought season tickets. The Islanders were the only professional sports team on Long Island, where I lived. So many of my friends also had tickets. Going to hockey games was a big part of my childhood.
I played basketball growing up -- was one of three girls to join what was then called the “boys basketball league.” My team won the championship the first year, and the league went out of its way to find a trophy with a female athlete on top.
Q: You have a very unconventional background for a sports writer, but certainly one that speaks to me as another recovering attorney. You were a successful litigator and partner at a law firm, until you began experiencing severe panic attacks. You have written about that difficult time and noted that the attacks served as a wake-up call to reevaluate your life at work and home. At first, you decided to take a temporary break from the law, and then after you began sports writing, it eventually became permanent. Can you tell me a bit about your transition from the law to sports writing?
A: I originally planned to take a year sabbatical from the law. After a few months of yoga and PTA meetings, I was a bit bored and decided to start a baseball blog. This was in the spring of 2011, when Twitter started to become the social media vehicle of choice for sports writers and fans. I used Twitter to send my blog posts to more established writers. Occasionally, I’d get a retweet, or even a link in another’s story. More folks read my articles, became interested, and included me in the larger sports conversation. By the fall of 2011, I landed my first paid sports writing job, with FanGraphs, a website that specializes in advanced baseball statistics and analysis.
Q: Looking back, do you regret having gone to law school or practicing law in such a fast-paced environment? What advice would you give your younger self?
A: I don’t regret any of my choices. I enjoyed practicing law and I was quite good at it. In 2011, it was time to move onto something else, for many reasons. I developed a deep and varied skill set -- strong and compelling writing; public speaking; strategic planning; and time management.
Q: You currently freelance for a number of publications and write about a very wide array of topics, including sports, feminism, culture, and parenting. What is your process for writing a new article?
A: My inspiration for sports writing comes from watching sports, reading great sports writing (I read much more than I write), and interacting with the sports world. When I write about feminism or parenting, it’s typically focused on something I experienced, a lesson I learned, or my reaction to an event.
I have good relationships with editors at a variety of sites. When I have an article idea, I pitch to the editor or editors I think will be interested. Sometimes it works out; sometimes it doesn’t.
Q: A big part of why I wanted to start Goalposte was because I didn’t follow sports, and I frequently felt left out of watercooler conversations with my colleagues and clients, who were disproportionately male.
As someone who has been a lifelong sports fan, did you find it beneficial to follow sports when you were a lawyer? Do you think sports fandom a useful in a business context?
A: Sports is important in American life. And sports engenders deep passions and lively debate. So being able to “speak sports” in a variety of contexts is useful. The same can be said for movies, TV shows, video games, and celebrities. My passion just happens to be sports.
Q: You wrote a really interesting article a couple of years ago about the fact that while a large proportion of women purport to be sports fans, they don’t frequently engage in sports discussion on Twitter. Why do you think that is? Why do you think that it is important to have more women joining the discussion? Do you think that there is any way to increase engagement?
A: Twitter can be an intimidating medium, particularly for newcomers. The timeline moves quickly (much quicker than Facebook). Unless you have a locked account, anything you say on Twitter can be seen by and commented on by anyone else. That’s led to a great deal of harassment of women, particularly women who express strong opinions on topics that some men consider to be their domain. Twitter has been slow to address the harassment problem; at times, Twitter appears indifferent, or even negligent in understanding the severity of the problem. My guess is that many women simply avoid Twitter discussions of certain topics because of fears of harassment.
Q: What has been your favorite storyline in sports so far this year?
A: The Warriors -- their record-breaking regular season; their loss in the Finals to the Cavaliers; and their signing of Kevin Durant to join a team of superstars.
Q: What is a rule that you would want to change in a sport today?
A: Women should be permitted to play in Major League Baseball.
Q: If you could have a dinner with any athlete living or dead who would it be and where would you take them?
A: Serena Williams. I would cook her a vegetarian feast.