Gordon in the News: last updated 06/24/2014

50 Under 50: Thomas Lake '01

Sportswriter  •  Georgia

Thomas Lake

If you could unbreak the bones and erase the scars, recall the bullets and sever the chains, recap the bottles and catch all the smoke, if you could swim 16 years up the river of time and find a town called Stevenson, you just might see something glorious.
Sports Illustrated December 8, 2008

The opening sentence of Tom Lake’s first Sports Illustrated feature, “2 on 5,” took a long time to get right—the swirl of small moments calling toward the grand story ahead, the rhythm carrying echoes of something ancient.

“I was only able to write it after studying the style of Ecclesiastes 12, my favorite chapter in the Bible, for several hours,” Tom says.

This carefully crafted passage displays Tom’s greatest strengths as a storyteller: evocative detail, heroic scope, and most notably, that attunement to deeper narratives, like those found in Scripture. His pieces catalog miracles of humanity, trials and sacrifices and mercies that transform stories about sports into stories about people.

Tom’s career began with rejection and resilience. He moved to Jesup, Georgia to cover six beats and type obituary copy for a small community paper. Never without ambition, one day Tom cut out a story from the front page of the Savannah Morning News, edited it, put on a suit and walked his revisions down to the Morning News editor’s office. The impromptu meeting didn’t go well. He relocated to the North Shore, where he filed correspondent pieces at the Salem News for $45 per story (one week, he submitted 17). Eventually, his diligence and talent began to reap rewards. He got a reporting job with the Florida Times-Union, and then with one of the Southeast’s finest papers, the St. Petersburg Times (now the Tampa Bay Times), where his crime journalism gained national recognition. In 2008 Sports Illustrated ran “2 on 5,” his very first magazine piece. SI hired him as a senior writer in 2010.

In the decade after Tom’s graduation from Gordon, digital platforms and user-generated content utterly transformed the news industry. Yet long-form journalism—like the substantial pieces he crafts for SI—is experiencing a renaissance. “We’re seeing this hunger among readers for long stories that really dig into something to find answers rather than just sticking to the surface—and they’re reading them on their iPhones,” he says.

Over the past five years Tom has used long-form sports writing to explore urgent, fascinating topics in American culture—including a recent profile on that most divisive of professional athletes, Tim Tebow.

Now, at the top of his game and among the best in his field, Tom is after a new story: He’s writing a novel.

| byliner.com/thomas-lake

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