Gwen Knapp, a well-known sports reporter and columnist who previously worked as an editor on the sports desk of The New York Times and The Philadelphia Inquirer, passed away on Friday in Manhattan. 61 years old.
According to her sister Susan Knapp McClements, lymphoma was the cause.
Ms. Knapp covered sports for nearly 30 years. In 1995, she became a sports columnist, one of only a few women in the country at the time to hold that position. Joan Ryan, one of the early staff members at The San Francisco Examiner, was her predecessor.
Due to her focus on topics like racism, sexism, and drugs, Ms. Knapp was particularly well-known among sports fans in the Bay Area. Some of the most prominent sports figures, including the champion cyclist Lance Armstrong and the baseball star Barry Bonds, were outraged by her columns.
Ms. Knapp questioned Armstrong’s performances as early as 2001, well before the majority of American journalists did. This was before Armstrong had won his third of seven Tour de France victories in a row.
“I have never had a single positive doping test, and I do not take performance-enhancing drugs,” Armstrong wrote in a lengthy letter to the editor of The Chronicle in 2004.
Nine years later, he admitted to using prohibited substances throughout each of his Tour victories.
Ms. Knapp wrote a lot about Bonds, who was breaking home run records despite widespread rumors that he was using performance-enhancing drugs, which he has always denied.
She won the top award for columnists in 1998 and was frequently a finalist for newspaper writing awards given out by the Associated Press Sports Editors. One of the columns about the NFL star Reggie White’s comments that homosexuality was “one of the biggest sins” was one that the judges cited.
In 2014, she joined The Times as an editor. Before returning to sports, where she most recently oversaw coverage at night and served as a mentor to young staff members, particularly female ones, she worked on the foreign and national desks.
Laurence Knapp was a boat pilot on the Delaware Bay and River when Mary Gwen Knapp was born on November 18, 1961, in Wilmington, Delaware. Eleanor (Agnew) Knapp, her mother, worked as the Hagley Museum and Library’s director of operations.
Gwen Knapp was a sports fan, supporting the nearby Philadelphia Phillies.
Ms. McClements stated, “We grew up with WDEL, with the Phillies game on, and my mom yelling at the radio when she drove us to swimming.”
Ms. Knapp attended Harvard University and majored in history after graduating as valedictorian from Mount Pleasant High School in Wilmington. She was the sports editor for the student newspaper The Crimson and a member of the swimming team.
Ms. Knapp covered high school sports for The Wilmington News-Journal after graduating from Harvard. She then worked as an editor and reporter at The Philadelphia Inquirer for almost a decade. After that, she worked as a columnist in San Francisco for 17 years, first for The Examiner and then for The Chronicle after the staffs of the two newspapers were merged in 2000.
Ms. Knapp was a clear-eyed and forceful writer, but she struggled with the reporting and writing process.(Gwen Knapp)
Chuck Culpepper, a close friend and sports reporter for The Washington Post, stated, “For her, putting her heart and mind out on the page was in some ways a bit frightening.” He said that when Ms. Knapp lived in a San Francisco apartment with only one bedroom, she sometimes asked house guests to leave for the day so she could write alone.
Ms. Knapp, according to her sister Rebecca Knapp Adams, worked into the early hours and worried: Do I have both sides? How fair am I being here?
According to Nancy Cooney, a colleague from The Inquirer, her columns on Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds came not from a place of moral absolutism regarding drugs but rather from a sense of fairness. Ms. Cooney stated that the two men’s remarks and actions “offended her sense of right and wrong.”
Ms. Knapp reviewed the many years she had spent writing about the use of drugs in sports in her final column for The Chronicle in 2012 and explained why it was important.
She wrote, “Sports lose their special place in our culture without the belief that sports have some higher value than entertainment.” Sports, despite their flaws, are the purest form of meritocracy we have. They were ahead of the general population when it came to desegregation in this country, and for the same reason, they ought to get over homophobia right away.
Ms. Knapp, who lived in Manhattan’s Morningside Heights with her sisters Susan and Rebecca, is survived by her father and another sister, Nancy Knapp Piccione.
Ms. Knapp was best known for her treatment of serious subjects, but she also valued sports for everything they offered. Colleagues remember her most for an article she wrote on July 4, 1993, after the Phillies had won a doubleheader at 4:40 in the morning. She quoted not only players and managers, but also umpires, grounds crew, announcers, and fans to fully convey the euphoria of the game, which was the most thrilling in baseball history.
She wrote, “Mickey Morandini seemed to understand the continuum, dragging himself through the clubhouse and past his tired teammates.” Today, see you,’ he said. He was correct, too.”
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