All posts by tommytomlinson

Recent stories

The last 10 pieces I’ve published:

The Lexicon of Charlie Weis (ESPN)

The former Notre Dame and Kansas coach (and owner of four Super Bowl rings as an assistant) opens up — even though his agent didn’t want him to.

Ichiro Suzuki, still connecting (ESPN)

I spent some time in Miami with one of the most interesting athletes in the world as he approached a milestone — 3,000 major-league hits. But Ichiro has connected many more times than that.

How my dad and I learned to love Muhammad Ali (ESPN)

A quick column after Ali’s death about sitting with my dad and watching the champ fight.

A Prince story (from my blog)

Staying up all night, hoping to get tickets for the Purple Rain tour.

Goodbye, 600 (from my blog)

Watching a building die, and thinking about the people I worked with inside.

Elephant in the Room: the end of the beginning (from my blog)

An update on the book I’m writing.

The secrets behind the grass for Super Bowl 50 (ESPN)

Even the turf for the Super Bowl is planned out and fussed over for a year and a half before the game … and there are still some secrets. It turned out players still complained about the turf after the game. Michael Oher would probably complain if he ever stops sliding.

Our Old Dog (Charlotte Magazine)

Fred, our best fella, died in October. I wrote about him for my blog and Charlotte Magazine graciously edited and crafted the posts into one story. It makes me smile to see it, even though we still miss him every day.

The Final Act Of Jim Boeheim (ESPN)

My look at change and time, told through Syracuse’s legendary basketball coach.

The Oxford American Georgia Music Issue (alternate universe version) (from my blog)

I spent WAY too much time on this … but I sure did enjoy it.



Deep stacks

I’ll be adding to this along and along as I get time … if there’s an old story of mine you’d really like to see, drop me a line and I’ll try to dig it out. At the bottom of this page are some deeper online archives of my work if you REALLY have too much time on your hands.

The column I still hear about the most, more than 15 years later — the piece I wrote for our wedding day. Alix and I are still married. And I’m still lucky.

The Power of Voice (Our State)

A personal essay about my bout with throat cancer, and how it changed my voice — not just the one I speak with, but the one I write with.


Precious Memories (

My story on Dean Smith, his dementia, and how his family and friends show their devotion. I’ve heard from hundreds of readers  about this story — former Tar Heel players and coaches, fans who loved and hated Dean when he coached, people facing dementia in their families. I’m glad this story meant something to them. It means a lot to me, too.

Connected to the Dean story:

They came to remember, honor Dean Smith (ESPN)

My story from the memorial service in Chapel Hill.

The Lessons of Dean Smith (

Written the day we found out Dean had died. It’s a follow-up of sorts to my story Precious Memories. The conversation about Dean turned into a sort of rolling memorial on TV and radio stations across the country. I made several appearances on shows to talk about Dean. If you want to hear way more of my voice than is necessary, links below:

ESPN’s Outside the Lines (podcast version)

Rich Eisen Show

Off the Record on WTVI in Charlotte

Damon Amendolara Show (CBS Sports radio)

Carolina Connection from the UNC journalism school


A Picture Speaks (Charlotte Observer)

The story of Dorothy Counts, who integrated Charlotte’s Harding High School in 1957, and the white kids who taunted her. Winner of the Thomas Wolfe Award for best newspaper story in North Carolina in 2007.

(Photo above of Dorothy Counts at Harding High by  Don Sturkey)

Something Went Very Wrong at Toomer’s Corner (Sports Illustrated)

My piece on the Auburn-Alabama football rivalry, and a man named Harvey Updyke who took it too far. This was chosen by guest editor Michael Wilbon for The Best American Sports Writing 2012. Thanks, Mike.

How R.E.M. Changed My Life (Charlotte Observer)

I was lucky enough to arrive in Athens, Ga., right at the moment R.E.M. was breaking out. They meant so much to me then. Still do.

And He Shall Lead Them (

Lester Cotton, the star offensive lineman for Central High in Tuscaloosa, will play for Alabama this fall — and he’s got the weight of his high school on his big shoulders.

My piece was a complement to amazing video work by ESPN producer Scott Harves, who spent months working on a story about the whole Central High football team. It’s worth every minute of your time.

I also did an interview about Lester with Alabama Sportz Blitz.


You Can’t Quit Cold Turkey (ESPN The Magazine and

This is about Jared Lorenzen, the former Kentucky and New York Giants QB known as the Hefty Lefty. But it’s also personal, as you’ll see.


Is Charlotte Southern? (Charlotte Magazine)

My first piece for our great city magazine, on our city and its place in a changing South. (Plus a Dusty Rhodes cameo near the end.)


A Beautiful Find (Charlotte Observer)

John Swallow and I ended up on a couch next to each other at a party. I asked a typical question: So what do you do for a living? His answer took 25 minutes. This story stemmed from that conversation. The lesson: Talk to people at parties. This story made into Best Newspaper Writing 2004, and later in America’s Best Newspaper Writing. (John is now provost at the University of the South.)


Duncan Leaves It On the Court (Sports on Earth)

Tim Duncan is my favorite athlete who’s still playing. Has been for a while now. I hope this story gets at why.


Michael Kelley’s Obstacle Course (Charlotte Observer)

Part 1

Part 2 

Michael Kelley, horribly injured in a military accident, tries to become a Charlotte police officer — and faces a literal obstacle course between him and his goal.


22 Brief Thoughts About That Richard Sherman Interview (

The only story of mine that has truly gone viral — 4.6 million pageviews since I wrote it one Sunday night in January. Here’s a little more about the whole experience.


You can’t keep Thomas Davis down (

A profile of Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis, the first player ever to come back from three ACL tears on the same knee. Really liked Thomas — smart, humble guy.


The Hunley 8, The Charleston 9

A column about the long slow death of the Old South, and the bones buried underneath.


My archive at

Stories for ESPN

My page at Our State

 Stuff of mine that lingers on the Charlotte Observer’s site

My old Observer blog

Most, if not all, of the work I did for Sports On Earth





I tried to figure out how to get that link on the front to throw you directly to my blog, but I’m still learning the secrets of WordPress. Until then, here’s the blog. Sorry for the extra step.

(Photo by me of a country path in Wayne County, Ga.)

Thoughts on Writing

I’ve been teaching off and on for a while now about writing and storytelling. Most of my workshops have been at Queens University here in Charlotte. I hope to do another one soon; if you’re interested, email me ( and I’ll let you know when it happens. We’ve also talked about doing a class online, so if you might want to try that, let me know so I can gauge some interest.

Some posts and such:

Everything you need to know about storytelling in five minutes

This is the best thing I’ve written about storytelling, I think — it’s a good way to figure out if you have a story, and then what to do with it.

The four questions

Here’s a way to get at something even more fundamental — what you ought to write ABOUT.

Making words work for a living

A piece for Nieman Storyboard in praise of plain language. The comments on this one are excellent.

The truth of time

A talk I gave at the Dazzle Gradually gathering in Rock Hill about writing, art and getting at the essence of things.

Ode To Billie Joe

I’ve done a little series for Nieman Storyboard called Liner Notes, where I look at storytelling techniques through some really great songs. Here’s a page with all the posts if you’re interested.






Tommy Tomlinson is a contributing writer for ESPN The Magazine and He has also written for Sports Illustrated, Forbes, Reader’s Digest, Southern Living, Garden & Gun, Our State magazine, and many other publications. He spent 23 years as a reporter and local columnist for the Charlotte Observer, where he was a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize in commentary. His stories have been chosen twice for the “Best American Sports Writing” series (2012 and 2015) and he also appears in the anthology “America’s Best Newspaper Writing.”

He’s writing a book called “The Elephant In the Room” (Simon & Schuster), a memoir about life as an overweight man in a growing America.

He’s a graduate of the University of Georgia and was a 2008-09 Nieman Fellow at Harvard University.

Tommy and his wife, Alix Felsing, live in Charlotte.


Contact / Follow

The best way to reach me is email at I’m always far behind on answering, so apologies in advance. If  you don’t hear back from me right away, check back in.

I post everything I write on Twitter (@tommytomlinson) or on Facebook. I’m on Twitter pretty much every day — i.e., far too much. Facebook, less often. If you send me a Facebook message, I might not see it for a few days. I’ve just started up my long-dormant Instagram. I also have a LinkedIn account, but I’m never there. If you’re one of the 701 people who have sent me unread invitations, sorry. I should probably get rid of the thing.


(AREA OF REFUGE sign from The Hotel at Auburn.)