How Bad are Andrew Sharp’s #HotSportsTakes?

By Ty Aderhold

Last year, HSAC looked at the readability of various sports writers using the Flesch-Kincaid formula, which outputs a value that represents the grade level of the writing. While the formula is only a very rough measure of readability, it produced some fun and interesting results. This summer, Grantland’s Andrew Sharp introduced the world to #HotSportsTakes, a series in which the author embarks on the noble pursuit “to write the worst sports column on earth.” After thoroughly enjoying the absurdity that is each #HotSportsTake, I decided it was time to measure what level of discourse we’re dealing with when we read Sharp.

For a refresher on how the Flesch-Kincaid test works, here’s the formula, from Wikipedia:

After running all the #HotSportsTakes through this test, I found that the average grade score of the 16 articles in the series came out to be a 5.0, which was just 0.2 lower than Rick Reilly scored in our previous study. As such, I would say the closeness of these two scores is more a commentary on Reilly’s writing style than a failure of Sharp to write an incredibly bad sports column.

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Grade Level

“If You Can’t Root for Tim Tebow, You Can’t Root for America”

4.6

“It’s the Ninth Inning of His Life, and LeBron is Striking Out”

4.9

“Is Sammy Selfish a Sorcerer?” – Holly Anderson

5.7

“Johnny Manziel Needs to Grow Up or Get Lost”

5

“There’s Something Not Right About Lefty”

4.4

“Alex Rodriguez Turned the American Dream into a Nightmare”

6.2

“For Alex Rodrigues and Johnny Manziel, It’s the Same Old Song”

4.8

“Saluting a Few Good Men”

6

“Does LeBron James Think He Is Above the Law?”

5

“It’s Not the Hall of Very Good”

4.7

“It’s Time for RG3 to Step Up and Sit Himself Down”

4.9

“Hide the Women and Children, Because Football Comes First”

4.9

“If You Think College Stars Should Get Paid, It’s Time to Think Harder”

5.1

“Greg Schiano is the Coach this Culture Needs”

5.6

“The Dodgers are a Disgrace”

4

“Chip Kelly Owes the National Football League an Apology”

4.5

Taking a closer look at the scores for individual #HotSportsTakes also provides some fun insights. Sharp’s lowest scoring column was “#HotSportsTakes: The Dodgers Are a Disgrace,” which earned just a 4.0 grade score. On the other end of the spectrum lies “#HotSportsTakes: Alex Rodriguez Turned the American Dream Into a Nightmare” with a surprisingly high score of 6.2. A closer look at the column however, reveals that Sharp received some “grade inflation” from the one-and-only Aaron Sorkin. Sharp used two quotes from Will McAvoy, the lead character in Sorkin’s latest television show The Newsroom, and they both happen to be classic examples of the extended monologues Sorkin is known for. By simply removing these two quotes, the Flesch-Kinkade score drops down to a 5.7, much more the norm for a #HotSportsTake. One other thing of note is that the third post in the series was guest written by Holly Anderson, but she was also able to channel her inner bad sports writer to a grade score of 5.7 in her article on Sammy Watkins.

I also decided to compare the average grade level of a #HotSportsTake column to that of Sharp’s other columns and to other columns on Grantland in order to show the drop off in readability that #HotSportsTakes achieves.

Sharp normally writes at a level of 7.5 Flesch-Kincaid grade level, so his #HotSportsTakes column achieves a drop of 2.5 grade levels. Zach Lowe achieved the highest score of the Grantland writers I looked at with a 9.5, meaning a reader clicking on a #HotSportsTake after reading a Lowe article would experience a decrease in readability of 4.5 grade levels.

While the Flesch-Kincaid scale is a flawed formula for readability, Sharp’s consistent low scores, coupled with the absurdity of some of his opinions, show that #HotSportsTakes is a consistently terrible sports column. As for us here as HSAC, we will continue to enjoy Mr. Sharp’s effort and remind him to keep his words short and his sentences choppy.

Footnotes

  1. While also providing ammunition for Rick Reilly haters everywhere.
  2. Again, this formula does not alone prove that Reilly is a bad sportswriter. It offers no commentary on intelligence, and, as our last post noted, a sportswriter with a broader audience would be expected to score lower.
  3. Lowe and Barnwell write mostly about sports analytics while Brown and Sharp write mostly commentary. This is just another example of the issues in measuring readability, it favors a more complex subject matter and scientific language.

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