Keith Dunnavant is a leading American sports author and historian. His books include definitive biographies of football icons Paul “Bear” Bryant (Coach) and Bart Starr (America’s Quarterback) and two other classics about the sport, The Missing Ring and The Fifty-Year Seduction. But the Dunnavant story goes far beyond books and sports. He has spent the last three decades moving from one media challenge to the next, achieving industry prominence in several different specialties.
Deftly straddling the worlds of journalism and entrepreneurship, he has founded and owned a series of award-winning magazines, including the 1990s football title Dunnavant’s Paydirt Illustrated and the 21st century Florida beach title South Walton Life. One of the rare journalists who has served as a senior-level editor in three distinct magazine genres (sports, business and general interest), directing coverage of network television, politics, college football and various other subjects, he is a former managing editor of Mediaweek, editor of Adweek Magazines’ Special Report, and executive editor of Atlanta Magazine. Once a fast-rising sportswriter for publications including the Los Angeles Times and the Birmingham Post-Herald, he covered national college football for The National, the revolutionary all-sports newspaper, and Sport Magazine, the venerable monthly. A native of Alabama who has spent most of his career in Atlanta and New York, he covered sports business for BusinessWeek and carved out a separate career as a magazine feature writer, authoring prize-winning profiles of various intriguing and consequential figures.
Now writing his sixth non-fiction book under contract with St. Martin’s Press, Dunnavant also publishes specialty magazines through Solovox Publishing and produces documentary films through ShadowVision Productions.
Three Days at Foster, his film about the civil rights pioneers who shattered the athletic color barrier at the University of Alabama, premiered to rave reviews in 2013, becoming an official selection of Birmingham’s Sidewalk Film Festival and the All Sports Los Angeles Film Festival, where it won the second place award in the documentary category.
Often striking at the collision of sports and culture, and combining a historian’s search for context with a journalist’s pursuit of narrative detail, Dunnavant’s books have been called “fascinating” (The New York Times), “evocative and provocative” (Sports Illustrated), “insightful” (Publishers Weekly) and “definitive” (The Dallas Morning News).
His 1996 Bryant biography Coach, which became the basis for documentary films produced by ESPN and CBS, and his 2011 Starr biography America’s Quarterback, set against the dramatic rise of professional football, offered revealing portraits of 20th century legends who reflected different aspects of the American experience. With The Missing Ring, published in 2006, Dunnavant tackled the 1966 Alabama football team’s frustrated perfection in an imperfect world, buffeted by the civil rights movement, Vietnam, and a world on the brink. In 2004’s The Fifty-Year Seduction, he traced television’s manipulation of big-time college football, the rise of the all-powerful NCAA, and the impact of the landmark Board of Regents Supreme Court decision.
Before moving into long-form journalism, Dunnavant was a sportswriting prodigy. As an ambitious 14-year-old, he talked his way into a job as sports editor of a small weekly newspaper in his hometown of Athens, Ala.—a job that didn’t exist until he devised a strategy to fund his own salary. Soon, he became the youngest credentialed reporter in the Southeastern Conference, eventually using his early experience to land a sports information job that allowed him to work his way through the University of Alabama. Dunnavant quickly rose through the sportswriting ranks in Birmingham, Dallas, Los Angeles and New York, covering college football and basketball, the NFL, Major League Baseball, and television. Among the first journalists to write extensively about the business of college sports, he covered the intersection of money and games for Sports inc. , Times Mirror’s short-lived but influential weekly. Ten years after creating his first job, he was hired by The National…when everyone in sports journalism wanted to work for the groundbreaking daily headed by iconic Sports Illustrated journalist Frank Deford. Still in his mid-20s—the youngest writer on a staff that included all-stars Mike Lupica, Scott Ostler and Dave Kindred—Dunnavant cemented his reputation as a leading college football writer.
When The National folded after losing more than $125 million, Dunnavant walked away from the security of his sportswriting career to pursue three burning ambitions. It was a gigantic roll of the dice, because he had a very bright future on the sports page. But he aspired to challenge himself beyond the dictates of daily journalism. While achieving a new level of creative fulfillment as a non-fiction author and magazine writer, he founded his own company, Solovox Publishing, by leveraging one of the most unusual business plans ever seen in the industry. Creating a unique licensing program with partner television and radio stations, he built the college football title Dunnavant’s Paydirt Illustrated into a powerful editorial brand that published hard-hitting, sophisticated journalism, earning the trust of readers across the Southeast and surpassing $2 million in annual system-wide sales. The success of Paydirt simultaneously validated him as both entrepreneur and editor. Embracing innovative marketing strategies and a commitment to editorial excellence, he has founded three other Solovox titles, leading each from concept to profitability and industry recognition: the NASCAR-focused Dunnavant’s Speed! Illustrated, the Florida beach community title South Walton Life, and the online Alabama football history magazine Crimson Replay.
Widely recognized for his authoritative writing about college football—which he covered for two decades, from the climactic years of Bear Bryant to the birth of the BCS—Dunnavant remains in demand as a historian of the sport. He has been utilized as an expert commentator and film consultant on several documentaries concerning the game’s past, including the Emmy Award-winning films The Bear (CBS, 2001) and Breaking the Huddle (HBO, 2008), as well as Honor Roll (ESPN, 2007), the SportsCentury on Paul “Bear” Bryant (ESPN, 2002), Schooled (Epix, 2013) and Against the Tide (Showtime, 2013). His analysis has been featured on various radio and TV programs—from ESPN’s Cold Pizza to the Paul Finebaum Radio Network—and he is frequently quoted in major media such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
One of the rare journalists who has been honored with major industry awards as sportswriter, magazine feature writer, business writer, and editor, he owns nine Green Eyeshade Awards from the Society of Professional Journalists; 13 GAMMAs from the Magazine Association of the Southeast; and eight Best Writing Awards from the Football Writers Association of America.
A popular after-dinner speaker who has headlined events for civic, alumni and business groups across the Southeast, Dunnavant is a former adjunct professor at the University of Alabama and a former board director of the Magazine Association of the Southeast.