December 10, 2008
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.