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December 10, 2008

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I love the word “sportswriter.” No need for a hyphen (like “letter-writer”), or dressing up the word “write” by writing as “graph” instead (“biographer,” “pornographer”) or the suffix “-er” with “-ist” or “-ian.” “Sportswriter” keeps close company with “screenwriter,” “typewriter,” and “underwriter,” and a wall separates it from “playwright” and “author.”

But at the same time, nobody writes with more authority than a sportswriter — if you don’t act like you’re pope of the game, nobody takes you seriously — in part because every serious fan has their own equally infallible proclamations to make about the game, the value of players, coaches’ decisions.

And the syntax makes it seem as though “sports” is what’s written, not the thing written about; a parallel universe brought into being by the talk about the game, the recording of statistics, and the narratives of players, seasons, teams, the sport itself.

Sportswriters were the first writers I was aware of who actually got paid for writing down what they thought. In particular, it was Mitch Albom — who before becoming a schmalzy best-selling novelist was a funny, knowledgable columnist whose super-cool photo in the Free Press fascinated me as a kid.

I am a paperwriter, a bookwriter, a blogwriter, a poemwriter. But secretly, I wish I could do all of these things the way a good sportswriter does them; following my object of affection around the country, hashing out opinions and arguments through daily viva voce argument — in print, on the web, on the radio, on TV.

What if our attachment to all of culture was like our attachment to sports — democratic, celebrating knowledge, unwavering in its fidelity? There are plenty of things that are deeply unhealthy about our sports-obsessed culture (cf. Burress, Plaxico, et. al.) — but I still feel like the ideal of sportswriting is as salutary as it is unshakable.

Posted December 10, 2008 at 7:37 | Comments (4) | Permasnark
File under: Books, Writing & Such, Journalism, Society/Culture, Sports


What a great post.

I have nothing else to add at this time.

Except that I also marveled at Albom's picture in the Freep as a kid! And at his columns -- the names I didn't know, the references I didn't get, but man, that guy could write.

And now he sucks! So Smarmy! So facile! Even his sportswriting sucks, and you know why? Because he watches the games at home.

Albom! Come back to us!

I've tried and failed to find that old late-1980s Mitch Albom photo. The thing about it that's hard to understand now is that Albom looked so cool.

Young guy, clearly in his twenties, thin, short hair, black jacket and black tie, white shirt with the collar and tie a little loose -- basically Jimmy McNulty's homicide detective outfit from The Wire. And the pic was a washed out black-and-white transfer, so it was basically a stark monochrome, like something from an indie rock zine.

That's it exactly: it was a nerdy kind of cool, like Elvis Costello, Ric Ocasek from The Cars, or Tim Roth in Reservoir Dogs. And that's how I thought writers looked.

I love how like all things people have favorites of. Sportswriters are held up with such high regard. I force my favorite on people, talk about him like he's saintly, even now after i have seen his smarmy photo, I still try and check in on his works. "Bill Plaschke, you've made me cry about sports i don't even like." I think i emailed him that once. He never responded. Ha

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