Joan Ryan is an award-winning journalist and author of four books. Her most recent book, Molina: The Story of the Father Who Raised an Unlikely Baseball Dynasty, published by Simon & Schuster, is a New York Times bestseller. Her previous book, The Water Giver: The Story of a Mother, a Son and Their Second Chance, was published by Simon & Schuster in September 2009. She is currently working on a book for Little, Brown on team chemistry that will be out late 2018.
Joan was a pioneer in sports journalism, becoming one of the first female sports columnists in the country. She covered every major sporting event from the Super Bowl and the World Series to the Olympics and championship fights. Her sports columns and features earned 13 Associated Press Sports Editors Awards, the National Headliner Award and the Women’s Sports Foundation’s Journalism Award, among other honors. She has been awarded the Fabulous Feminist Award by the San Francisco chapter of the National Organization for Women and was named A Woman Who Could Be President by the San Francisco League of Women Voters.
Her newspaper work spans 25 years, the last 22 in San Francisco. When she left sports, she wrote columns for the Style section, the Op-Ed pages and the Metro section. She left the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007 to pursue book projects and other opportunities.
Her first book, Little Girls in Pretty Boxes: The Making and Breaking of Elite Gymnasts and Figure Skaters (1995, Doubleday) was a controversial, ground-breaking expose that Sports Illustrated named one of the Top 100 Sports Books of All Time. It was one of the Top 50 Sports Books of All Time in the Guardian newspaper in London. The Sporting News chose it as one of the top three sports books of 1995.
The book and Joan were featured on Oprah, 60 Minutes, Nightline, the Today Show, People magazine, The New Yorker, the New York Times, Time magazine and other media around the country. The book was published in Great Britain, Canada and Japan and excerpted in Redbook magazine. The paperback version was published in 1996 (Warner) and an updated version was reissued in 2000.
Little Girls changed the sport of gymnastics. Responding to the media attention prompted by the book, USA Gymnastics developed a handbook for parents informing them about the potential pitfalls of the sport on the elite level, such as eating disorders, serious injuries and abusive coaches. It also developed, for the first time, a training and credentialing program for coaches. The book was made into a movie by Lifetime in 1997 starring Swoozie Kurtz as the mother of an elite gymnast. “Little Girls” has been widely used in sports sociology classes at colleges and universities.
Joan also co-wrote, with Stanford and Olympic coach Tara VanDerveer, Shooting from the Outside: How a Coach and her Olympic Team Changed Women’s Basketball (Avon).
Her work has also appeared in the Chronicle Magazine, national magazines and in several anthologies, including The Best American Sports Writing, A Kind of Grace (edited by Ron Rappaport) and Race, Class, Gender and the National Pastime (Edited by Robert Elias, M.E. Sharpe, 2001).
Joan is a founding board member of Coaching Corps, a non-profit organization that taps into the power of sports to help low-income youth learn and grow. She is a frequent commentator and speaker on, among other topics, children’s and family issues, girls’ and women’s sports, juvenile justice and education. She has taught writing at San Francisco State and UC-Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism.
Joan was born in the Bronx and grew up in New Jersey until age 12. Her family of eight—her parents, three brothers and two sisters—moved to South Florida, where Joan attended middle school, high school and college. She earned a degree in journalism from the University Florida in 1981. Three days later, she began work as a copy editor at The Orlando Sentinel. She became the first woman in the paper’s sports department when she transferred in as a copy editor less than two years later. She then covered the University of Central Florida’s football and basketball teams for a year while writing occasional features and columns.
In 1985, she moved to San Francisco in as a full-time sports columnist for the San Francisco Examiner. She was hired by the Chronicle in 1994.
Joan lives in Marin County, north of San Francisco, with her husband, Boxing Hall of Fame sportscaster Barry Tompkins. They have one son, Ryan.