Adam Crafton receives the John Bromley Trophy for SJA Sportswriter of the Year from SJA President, Darren Lewis | Tom Dulat - Getty Images

For almost 50 years, the very best of the U.K.’s sports media professionals have been celebrated by their peers at a major industry awards event.

The latest recipient of the top sportswriting accolade — SJA Sportswriter of the Year — is Adam Crafton, recognized for an impressive body of work for The Athletic in 2023.

One of the stories in Crafton’s prize-winning portfolio was an interview with England soccer international Jordan Henderson, a few weeks after the midfielder’s lucrative transfer from Premier League giants Liverpool to Saudi Arabian side Al-Ettifaq.

Henderson had been heavily criticized for appearing to abandon his principles, having been an outspoken LGBTQ ally who even scored for his country while wearing rainbow laces during the Euro 2020 tournament.

Speaking to Henderson alongside his Athletic colleague David Ornstein, Crafton — an out gay man — brought considerable authenticity to a “cards on the table” conversation in which the player’s stance was scrutinized.

In one exchange, Henderson held fast to the view that “everyone should be respectful of religion and culture” and that the “values and beliefs” of others had to be respected, regardless of how they might conflict with one’s own.

Crafton explained the contradiction. “This is something we heard a lot during the World Cup in Qatar, about having to respect the culture,” he said.

“When we talk about culture, I think of food, music, sport, art. And then I think about being a gay person, which is not something where you’ve woken up one day and decided you want to get into it.

“It’s something that you’re born as. You can’t change it. So, therefore, when people describe homosexuality as a culture, I think gay people really struggle with that because you’re basically being told you have to just accept living a life where you’re illegal.”

Published by The Athletic as a Q&A, the reply from Henderson was recorded as follows: “(Long pause) Now, I totally understand that. And I couldn’t imagine how that must feel.”

‘Confidence grew to write about LGBTQ issues’

Crafton worked for the Daily Mail before joining The Athletic in 2019. In recent years, he has written long reads about Justin Fashanu’s life and how the takeover of Newcastle United by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund impacted on LGBTQ people from the Gulf state.  

Later, he reported from the Qatar World Cup and spoke to Outsports on his return.

Appearing on Alex Reimer’s Sports Kiki Podcast, he described the “psychologically challenging” experience of being gay in a host nation whose opposition to LGBTQ rights was obvious but where organizers repeatedly claimed “everyone is welcome” at the tournament.

Before that World Cup, Crafton had discussed his own coming out journey in an interview with the website Pride of the Terraces.

“I wasn’t one of those teenagers who has a really great secret gay life, going out and meeting boys, I just completely hid it,” he said.

“It was just a part of me that I wasn’t going to respond to. My way of controlling it was always putting myself a million per cent into some other thing in my life — whether that’s academia, work, sport or whatever — and overcompensate in other aspects.”

He added: “Writing about LGBT+ issues was a confidence that kind of grew, I would say. 

“I didn’t understand issues of sexuality well enough to be writing about them when I was 23, 24 or 25 at the Daily Mail… I only really came to understand that as I met more people and read more things.”

Now 29, he is strongly supported in his work by The Athletic’s editor-in-chief Alex Kay-Jelski, who has been a pioneer for LGBTQ people in British sports media since coming out as gay over a decade ago.

Kay-Jelski encouraged Crafton to share his unique reflections on Qatar 2022 in an article titled ‘Confusion, exasperation and dating apps’. The Athletic also invited LGBTQ fans to send in their own perspectives — ‘Abandoned, empty, guilty’ being the headline emotions.

The bulk of Crafton’s output is investigative reporting, always impeccably researched, that takes readers into the corridors of power at the world’s biggest football clubs and organizations.

His in-depth coverage of last summer’s Mason Greenwood saga at Manchester United was a key factor in his success at the SJA Awards.

He also outlined how the Premier League’s promotion of Rainbow Laces contrasted with its significant cut in funding to the campaign’s charity, Stonewall.

More recently, he interviewed former U.S. international Robbie Rogers to learn how he put locker-room homophobia at English clubs behind him and found pride in producing hit TV shows like “Fellow Travelers.”

Crafton says that whatever he’s writing about, the aim is to be “relevant and original” — and with his reputation further enhanced by this major recognition, he is helping to give more LGBTQ people in sports media the confidence to stand out in the industry.

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