21 Sports Podcasts That Are Actually Worth Your Time
Sports talk still exists in a big way—turn on ESPN at any hour of the day, and you’ll most likely see someone yelling something about some big play or big controversy within the wide world of sports. If you hop in the car and turn on the radio, chances are you’ll find a sports talk show before too much time passes. But in 2020, more than ever, the sports talk landscape has expanded beyond these two traditional media formats and into podcasting, a format that allows significantly more freedom and a significantly more flexible structure.
Below, we’ve done the work of gathering 11 of the very best podcasts of the moment, focusing on different aspects of the sports you can’t get enough of. Whether it’s gripping stories, useful advice, or just listening to some fans talking shop, each of these podcasts has a specific purpose and fills it admirably.
In the news world, The Daily (from The New York Times) has been a bonafide smash, a podcast that comes out Monday through Friday morning and dives in-depth into the day’s biggest story. It’s been such a success, in fact, that ESPN launched its own version centered in the sports world—and it’s also been a genuine smash. Previously hosted by one of the network’s best personalities in Mina Kimes (who still hosted the podcast on a daily basis even in some of the dryest, most sports-less parts of the COVID-19 pandemic), the show is now hosted by another of ESPN’s best: former High Noon host, frequent Around the Horn contributor, and ESPN: The Magazine writer Pablo Torre. The transition between hosts has been seamless, and it helps that the ESPN Daily Podcast has access to the network’s best talent when covering the sports world’s biggest stories.
For example, an edition of ESPN Daily features Torre talking with ESPN NFL writer Bill Barnwell, one of the best at breaking down the game, about early season developments. It’s also a fun show, though—another recent episode featured Desus + Mero talking about a season of watching sports from home. The combination of being both fun and informative—and episodes are only about 20 minutes long!—make ESPN Daily a must for any sports fan.
The Mina Kimes Show (Featuring Lenny)
While Mina Kimes is no longer hosting ESPN Daily, she’s still hosting her own solo podcast, The Mina Kimes Show (featuring Lenny), every week. Part of the reason Kimes was switched out of ESPN Daily is due to her role this season on the network’s flagship NFL show, NFL Live; she gets the chance on her podcast, which comes out once a week, to take that analysis a step deeper (and her dog, Lenny, is along for the ride).
Each episode, Kimes discusses football from the week before and the prior, along with a rotating/different guest each week; sometimes, it’ll be ESPN analyst and former player Dominique Foxworth (who was also formerly the president of the player’s union, giving him a particular perspective on certain behind-the-scenes topics), and other times it might be NFL Insider Field Yates or even a national writer or analyst from another publication. Kimes’ top-notch analysis is a great fit with her dry sense of humor. Especially during the NFL season, The Mina Kimes Show is one of the best podcasts for a sports fan to have in his or her arsenal.
Gladiator: Aaron Hernandez and Football Inc
Did you listen to Serial? Or maybe S-town? Are you watching Netflix’s new documentary Killer Inside? Well, the Spotlight team from The Boston Globe (yes, the real-life version of the team that you saw expose the atrocities of the catholic church in Best Picture winner Spotlight)joined forces with podcast production company Wondery to produce Gladiator, which, in a way, combines all of those things.
The addictive, true-crime storytelling style of Serial combines with the tragic story of former NFL star Aaron Hernandez, who went from signing a 40-million dollar contract to convicted murderer to death by suicide over the course of just a few years. This eight-part story tells it all, complete with more details than you could’ve possibly imagined. Even if you thought you knew the whole story, you probably don’t.
I Am Athlete
Over the last decade, there has been a paradigm shift in who controls the narrative around athletes in sports journalism from traditional media companies to the athletes themselves. Former NFL All-Pro player Brandon Marshall’s I Am Athlete isn’t the first podcast featuring athletes interviewing other athletes, but it’s a shining example of how they can better lives beyond the highlights. Hosted by Marshall and fellow former NFL stars Adam “Pacman” Jones and Lesean Mccoy, I Am Athlete is a group therapy session, tailgate party, intervention, and interview all rolled into one podcast that’ll change the way you see every sports star who speaks on the mic.
The regularly released podcast’s candid candor is what separates it from the rest of the sports podcasts. One minute they could be engaging in the age-old argument of LeBron James vs Michael Jordan with Dwyane Wade to Wade tearfully opening up about the struggles and joys of raising a transgender child. Reggie Bush, Deion Sanders, Kyrie Irving, Colin Kaepernick, and Antonio Brown are a few of the athletes who have opened up about parts of their lives they had before. The hosts discuss heavy topics like depression, intimacy, and loss with a casualness that doesn’t belie the severity of what’s being discussed but rather makes them feel as digestible and relatable as the sports stories they analyze ad nauseam.
Sports? With Katie Nolan
Sports? is another showcase podcast for one of ESPN’s most talented and versatile personalities. Releasing weekly with episodes that are a couple of hours long, the show focuses on the week’s sports news but combines it with conversations that aren’t just the kind of paint-by-numbers, straight-up analysis you’ll hear the talking heads give on TV.
Nolan talks on the show with her producer, Ashley Braband, and the topics vary widely week in and week out. One recent episode found a point being made that cardboard cutouts of the characters from The Devil Wears Prada should be in the seats of empty stadiums as sports go on during the COVID-19 lockdown (a good idea!). Reacting to sort of the cultural moments in sports—like Christian McCaffrey’s GQ photoshoot—help separate Sports? from other podcasts on this list, but don’t get us wrong, the analysis and discussion are always on point too.
The Right Time with Bomani Jones
Another of ESPN’s best (sensing a theme here?), Bomani Jones has always been a natural fit for the podcasting format; while it sucked to lose High Noon (the show he hosted with Pablo Torre), Jones is at his most unfiltered and real on The Right Time. He cuts deep on everything from sports and culture to music and social issues.
Jones is also great to listen to because he is afraid of no confrontation—this might not have been on his podcast, but listening to him call in to former ESPN personality Will Cain’s show in the aftermath of the NASCAR Bubba Wallace noose story was must-listen radio. Jones is one of the smartest people in sports media, and anyone looking for a debate is going to get their money’s worth—and that’s why he’s always such a great listen, no matter what the platform.
Fantasy Focus Football
For those of you (all of you) who play Fantasy Football, ESPN’s Fantasy Focus is the best bet for the most entertaining show in the business. Airing five days a week during peak football season (like right now), this show features a more even split than the hosts would admit between football analysis (led by ESPN Insider Field Yates, injury expert and true 49ers fan Stephania Bell, production extraordinaire Daniel “Secret Squirrel” Dopp, and Matthew Berry, a fantasy football pioneer who also made a cameo in Avengers: Endgame (!)) and good old fashioned podcast nonsense. For lack of a better term, these guys like to have fun.
Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, the show has managed to find a safe way to keep fans enlightened 5 days a week by moving into a new studio where the talent can either keep 6 feet away from one another or participate remotely (and you can still get up-to-the-minute analysis from Berry, Yates, and Bell on ESPN2 on gameday mornings).
The show has fans new and old, but it doesn’t take long to get in on some inside jokes, and also learn a little bit about who your best bet at the Flex spot might be for Week 9. (A Fantasy Focus Baseball podcast, hosted by a pair of veteran ESPN analysts, also airs twice a week in the spring)
Pick A Side Podcast
Podcasts work best when it democratizes the dissemination of opinions and help uncover opinions once lost to anonymity. Hosted by four friends—Joel Moran, Andrew Velez, River Brown, and Joel Dehls— the Pick A Side podcast is a group chat on steroids. Covering the NBA, MLB, and NFL, all four of the hosts sound like they dedicated every waking moment to consuming sports before they broadcasted their hot takes across the internet. Their playful (and sometimes disrespectful) banter has reached the ears and ire of Kevin Durant. And the crew is as divisive as their name suggests.
They’ve debated Durant’s legendary status, why we need to put more respect on Steph Curry’s name, the decline of Russell Westbrook, and why there is no reason to ever believe in the Phoenix Suns. If you don’t have the time to watch meaningless college basketball games or high schoolers play in the Overtime Elite professional basketball league but want to stay up to date on who’s going to be running the league in the future, this is the podcast for you. Also, if you want to know what it’s like to be in a group chat where everyone knows what they’re talking about in sports, you won’t want to miss out on Pick A Side.
Hotboxin’ with Mike Tyson
This podcast is a marvel. Picture, like, WTF With Marc Maron, or Fresh Air, or Armchair Expert, or The Joe Rogan Experience, or whatever—your “conversation” podcast of choice—and now imagine that podcast hosted by Mike Tyson. It sounds like the hook for a sitcom you’d binge the hell out of on Netflix, but it’s actually a real thing happening called Hotboxin’ With Mike Tyson.
Iron Mike (along with former NFL player and marijuana advocate Eben Britton) hosts this podcast where he has conversations that last just about an hour with some of the biggest names you can think of in all walks of life—past guests include Eminem, Dennis Rodman, and even Evander Holyfield. Look, you probably shouldn’t form your personal ideology around this one (one of his recent guests was noted anti-vaxxer Robert Kennedy Jr.), but the fact that it’s Mike Tyson hosting an hour-long podcast make it worth checking out at least an episode or two if its a guest you’re interested in.
The Bill Simmons Podcast
I’m going to tell you all about The Bill Simmons Podcast, but first…our friends…. from Pearl Jam.
Sorry, I had to. As anyone who’s ever listened to the podcast hosted by the former ESPN personality-turned-founder of The Ringer could tell you, the inside contents of an episode of The Bill Simmons Podcast can vary greatly, but the show is always going to begin and end with a pair of very familiar Pearl Jam riffs.
Whether it’s sitting down with top-tier athletes like Kevin Durant, or talking shop with sports-loving superstars like Ethan Hawke or Matt Damon, Simmons usually tends to land amazing guests. But the best episodes of the show are often when people drop everything else and just talk sports, like you do with your buddy down at the bar. Simmons (who at one point wrote for Jimmy Kimmel Live!) often talks sports and gambling with Kimmel’s Cousin Sal, a combo that’s not only informative but very funny.
Most importantly, though, Simmons and his guests just love sports, and you feel that in every episode, the show’s most valuable asset, by far, is the exceptional staff of The Ringer writers and podcasters. When topics come up and need to be talked about, they have people who are usually adept to do so. As a Knicks fan, I don’t think I’ll ever forget the emergency Simmons podcast after Kristaps Porzingis was traded. Dark times!
He may be in his first full season since retiring from the New York Yankees, but CC Sabathia has already become a veteran in something else he’s a natural at: podcasting. This show from the 251-game winner and his co-host, ESPN and YES Network broadcaster Ryan Ruocco, originated as a podcast from The Players Tribune, moved from there to LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s ‘Uninterrupted’ platform, and now is hosted on The Ringer/Spotify.
Sabathia and Ruocco have a natural chemistry, and their conversations in each episode feel like one that you could join in on at a moment’s notice. Topics range from pop culture and anectodes to the happenings of the day in baseball, but the most interesting moments come when CC shared unfiltered feelings, perspectives, and true stories from inside the Yankees dugout and around the major leagues. Back in early spring, the 6’7” pitcher addressed the aforementioned Houston Astros cheating scandal that rocked Major League Baseball, and held nothing back: “Fuck that!” he said, adding a ton of insight from a player who lived something we’re all reading about in real-time.
We Came To Win
No better way to get you prepared for the World Cup than bingeing on all of the corruption, dictatorship, storybook endings, and nightmarish beginnings from past World Cups on Gimlet’s We Came To Win podcast. Every week, Gimlet’s Supervising Producer Matt Nelson and The Ringer’s Podcast Manager Steve Ceruti dust off old World Cup stories that will surely shock you that you went so long without knowing about them.
It’s impossible to listen to any We Came To Win episode and not realize how sports often reflect the society we live in. The podcast dives into the upheaval in Afghanistan in 2021 after the Taliban seized control of the country and the country’s former women’s soccer team captain Khalida Popal’s harrowing plan to evacuate the team safely. It also recounts the pressure-filled 1974 World Cup games featuring the soccer team for Zaire, now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo, whose dictator Marshal Mobutu threatened to prevent them from returning home if they lost to Brazil 4-0. From the environmental damage of holding the 2022 World Cup in Qatar to intercontinental rivalries, We Came To Win is a quintessential sports podcast for any soccer fan.
30 for 30 Podcasts
One of the coolest entries on this list, 30 for 30 Podcasts (named for ESPN’s ultra-successful sports documentary series) is basically a sports version of NPR’s This American Life, with each episode telling a different story in the format of an audio-only documentary. Last summer, the podcast ran a three-part feature titled The Sterling Affairs. The Sterling Affairs gave new insight and original reporting on the scandal that led Donald Sterling, former owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, to sell the team after an unearthed recording revealed him making racist remarks. For anyone interested in sports stories that dig deeper and might have slipped through the cracks, this one is for you.
Only a Game
Fresh Air, Planet Money, Morning Edition, Inside the NBA
The equation for this one is really quite simple: it’s NPR’s sports show. If you’re into or or chances are you’ll enjoy this show, which also gets into individual story segments with each episode. About a year ago, the show ran an incredibly touching segment featuring former NBA star and TNT analyst Charles Barkley, of all people. By the end, make sure you look around wherever you’re listening because someone will probably be cutting onions.
If you’re an NBA fan just looking for a weekday recap of what went down in this crazy league we all love so much, No Dunks, from The Athletic, might just be your best bet. The hosts, Skeets, Tas, Trey, Leigh, and JD, are informed about what’s happening around the league, but without feeling like you’re watching special reports from ESPN every day; they feel like some of your friends, and you’re having a couple of beers.
The Lowe Post
The best way to describe ESPN’s Senior NBA Writer and The Lowe Post host Zach Lowe is as a basketball mind with a body. There is no video accompanying the episodes, but Lowe’s unbridled zeal for hypothetical trades and casual denouncements of superstars is so palpable you can close your eyes and see it. He also has a Rolodex of the most respected minds in basketball. So, when Kyrie Irving pushes back at a reporter Nick Friedell asking why he stands by his social media post promoting an antisemitic documentary, Friedell is on The Lowe Post later that week. There’s no way to listen to an episode of The Lowe Post and not leave smarter.
Former NBA coach and current ESPN commentator Jeff Van Gundy rarely speaks in public outside of basketball games but semi-regularly comes out of his reclusive cave to talk basketball with Lowe. That’s because The Lowe Post reminds you why you fell in love with sports journalism: analytical breakdowns unveiling the depth of a sport that looks deceptively easy. Lowe will bring up a pick-and-roll from the beginning of the second quarter of an NBA League Pass people on those teams probably have forgotten and explain how it’s indicative of why the team will win the NBA Finals. And he’s oftentimes right. Do yourself a favor and have fun learning about basketball from a man who never runs out of new ways to view the game.
The Fantasy Footballers
Another option for pristine Fantasy advice. Based independently out west in Arizona, if ESPN isn’t your flavor, you should check out The Fantasy Footballers. Hosted by Andy Holloway, Jason Moore, and Mike Wright, these three guys clearly have been friends for a long time, and also do their homework. When the show isn’t making you laugh with their incredibly fun, sometimes nonsensical bits (usually linked to specific players; still trying to make sense of why Russell Wilson is “RSHL WLSHN,” but it’s funny), it’s rewarding your time with really great advice that can help you win in Fantasy Football—and maybe even make a little money.
Men in Blazers
This one is for you if you’re a soccer fan—particularly an American soccer fan. Michael Davies and Roger Bennett preview each weekend’s premier league games, and when that magical time every four years comes to talk about a World Cup, these guys don’t only know their sh*t, but they’ll make you laugh while talking about it. They’ve been on ESPN before, and now their show airs on NBC Sports Network, but their podcast is available whenever you might need it.
The Old Man And The Three
While we’re showing love to JJ’s podcast, this is also a shout-out to any NBA player, either in or out of the league, who simultaneously has a podcast. Players like Redick, Andre Iguodala, and New Orleans Pelican star CJ McCollum have their own podcasts, and a litany of others do as well.
Redick was a natural behind the mic when he wasn’t draining threes for the New Orleans Pelicans and still is even after retirement. With the help of his co-host Tommy Alter, he has guests on his show like his former Lob City teammate Blake Griffin, former teammate (and fellow Duke Blue Devil) Zion Williamson, as well as comedians like Hasan Minhaj.
All The Smoke
No sports podcast outside of I Am Athlete gets the type of candid and shocking stories from athletes like former NBA stars Stephen Jackson and Matt Barnes on All The Smoke. Guests like Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant look like they can let their media training mask off for an hour and let loose with two guys known for being loudmouths and still being respected. All The Smoke interviews feel more like unfiltered hangout sessions between peers who speak each other’s professional language they’d have whether there were cameras and mics or not.
For the first time, Golden State Warriors champion Klay Thompson revealed how he was detained in college for coming home with a small bag of cannabis. Kevin Garnett’s viral retelling of the first time he pissed off Michael Jordan on the court happened on All The Smoke. One of the final interviews Kobe Bryant did before his tragic passing was on All The Smoke, and was one of the final times he let us in on his private conversations with Michael Jordan. All The Smoke lives up to its name because this is the sports podcast that invites tough questions and never runs away from honest conversations. If you want to hear your favorite athletes talk like they’re at the barbershop with their closest friends, you need to be subscribed to All The Smoke.
Mike’s On With Francesa
Come on, y’all. We had to include The Sports Pope here. Ever since Mike and The Mad Dog launched in 1989, Francesa has been a fixture of the sports talk world, despite his show being rooted only in New York City. He’s got a 30 for 30!
Not only is the born and bred New Yorker an absolute legend and the king of the hot take, but after a stunning turn in Uncut Gems, he’s now an acclaimed actor, too. Did you hear him drop that F bomb?
He’s basically retired now. So this isn’t really a recommendation anymore as a reminder to look up the classics. They’re out there. @BackAftaThis on Twitter—he’s got the hook-up.
Evan is the culture editor for Men’s Health, with bylines in The New York Times, MTV News, Brooklyn Magazine, and VICE. He loves weird movies, watches too much TV, and listens to music more often than he doesn’t.
Keith Nelson is a writer by fate and journalist by passion, who has connected dots to form the bigger picture for Men’s Health, Vibe Magazine, LEVEL MAG, REVOLT TV, Complex, Grammys.com, Red Bull, Okayplayer, and Mic, to name a few.
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