Sports Biblio

The Imagination Of Sports In Books, History And Culture

Month: November 2015 (page 1 of 2)

The perpetual shining light of ‘Soccer in Sun and Shadow’

One wonders what Eduardo Galeano would think of the momentous developments in global soccer that occurred after his death in early 2015.

We do know much of what he thought about the game he adored up to the end of last century, when he published “Soccer in Sun and Shadow.”

Soccer Sun ShadowHis lyrical homage to a game of imagination, forged by children on the fields of free play all over the world, was countered with a fiery condemnation of the spectacle adult professional soccer had become, dominated by corporate forces he loathed.

Galeano was an Uruguayan novelist, journalist and strident anti-capitalist, and his 1998 paean to the passion of his youth follows an understandable line of argument for someone whose boyhood idyll has turned into a greedy, corrupted enterprise. Continue reading

Sports Biblio’s list of notable sports books for 2015

Cobb A Terrible BeautyWhat makes a good sports book? That makes it a “favorite” or even the “best?”

Those are subjective words, based on a matter of taste and interest. In gathering material for the books published in 2015 that I thought might fit these categories, I came up with another word instead.


What’s listed below are thumbnail sketches of 15 books I regard as among the most notable this year, but it’s hardly my judgment alone. The selections are based on critical reviews, and to a lesser degree, sales. Continue reading

Rediscovering the beauty and the joy of free play

In the multi-family complex where I live, there’s not much room for kids to play.

That’s because the development was built for adults only. A court later struck down those restrictions as anti-family, but that hasn’t created any elbow room for the kids.

They tool around narrow parking lots on bikes, toss around a football on occasion and chase each other up and down stairwells.

The nearest place where there’s real room to roam is a public park, about three miles away, and it’s become a nirvana for more than at play

I go there often, just to relax and soak up the atmosphere on a pleasant day. Most of the time, I people-watch, and really enjoy watching what the kids do. Continue reading

The everyday, ordinary, hallowed grounds of youth ball fields

Although I pass by it frequently, I rarely take out time to revisit one of the places that helped shape me as a young person.

I meant to stop in to the adjoining public library when I felt the tug of sentimentality on a lovely, unseasonably warm late autumn afternoon. I pulled my car into a parking space behind the right field fence at a softball field, part of a county park and library complex that was my second home.

In fact, this park was close enough to reach by a walk, as our back property line abutted the park boundaries. If I wasn’t playing ball or tennis, swimming or taking part in summer camp, I was at the library.

Sewell Park 2But on this day I visited, more than 40 years later, was no day to be inside. As I reached the bleachers, I noticed the gates were open. I walked out onto the firm grass, then stepped onto the infield dirt. Continue reading

Capturing the soul of boxing in the twilight of Castro’s Cuba

Sports books that try to intertwine the “culture” of a sport with a community, region or nation miss the mark more often than not.

After years of frequent travel to Cuba, Brin-Jonathan Butler, a writer, filmmaker and amateur boxer originally from Canada, describes a people and their proud culture with the insight and compassion of a native.

Domino DiariesIn “The Domino Diaries,” Butler evokes the haunted soul of an island teetering with anxiety as the ailing Fidel Castro passed from public view.

While Castro’s beloved beisbol remains the most intense sporting passion of Cubans,  their most enduring sports symbols may be their boxing heroes. Continue reading

Beyond the tipping point of college athletics reform

Critics of college athletics, and the National Collegiate Athletic Association in particular, have been around nearly as long as the competition.

And for nearly as long, their calls to reform college sports have been largely unsuccessful.

Organizations like the Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics and The Drake Group have issued reports and press releases about the need to align athletics with the academic mission of higher education.

Each fall, a rash of books timed for the start of the college football season is published, with many of them decrying the runaway costs and disjointed priorities of a military-industrial complex that now rakes in billions in television contracts.

When an eminent historian of the American civil rights movement weighed in on the subject in 2011, the atmosphere had changed dramatically. Continue reading

The unheralded black student activism of Perry Wallace

Before he ever played a varsity game as the first black basketball player in the history of the Southeastern Conference, Perry Wallace was becoming a racial pioneer on his own campus.

During the height of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the private Vanderbilt University was an oasis of academic enlightenment in the Deep South, where public education, including the other universities in the SEC, was still deeply segregated.

Making an important impression on Wallace was a symposium at Vanderbilt, called “Impact,” that drew nationally prominent speakers of diverse cultural and philosophical views.

Before Wallace got there, George Wallace and Barry Goldwater had appeared on the same program with NAACP leader Roy Wilkins.

In the spring of 1967, as Wallace was finishing his freshman year, the eight “Impact” speakers included “Dixiecrat” segregationist senator Strom Thurmond, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, and for a few awkward moments together, Martin Luther King Jr. and radical black activist Stokely Carmichael. Continue reading

Expanding the range of women’s perspectives in sports

When the CBS Sports Network debuted its all-female “We Need To Talk” program in 2014, there some feminists, particularly the strident Jessica Valenti, who disdained the idea.

“Ghettoizing” female voices on a hard-to-find cable outlet in a late time slot wasn’t seen as a good way to get women’s perspectives into the mainstream.

I disagreed, thinking it was a remarkable and welcome thing to do, and the variety of women invited to make regular appearances was encouraging. They included sports media regulars Dana Jacobson, Lesley Visser, Andrea Kremer and Tracy Wolfson, former Oakland Raiders executive Amy Trask and former athletes Summer Sanders, Lisa Leslie and Dara Torres.

In the first episode, the Ray Rice domestic violence case was discussed. The conversation was civilized and intelligent, given the sensitive subject. Continue reading

Women writers on sports, masculinity and culture

“Boxing is for men, and it is about men and it is men. A celebration of the lost religion of masculinity all the more trenchant for being lost.”

Since novelist Joyce Carol Oates wrote those words nearly three decades ago, in her classic meditation “On Boxing,” many women have stepped into the ring to compete, and not just in obscurity.

Women’s boxing is now on the Olympic program, and the most famous figure in Mixed Martial Arts is Ronda Rousey, who enjoys popularity with male and female fans.

A female boxer who put on the gloves for more complicated reasons once told me it was a response not only to creeping middle age, but to resolve some primeval psychological battles raging inside. Continue reading

Savoring the rarity of epic women’s sports rivalries

I’ve been blessed to have been able to witness—no, to deeply absorb—two very special sports rivalries in my lifetime.

Not the Red Sox-Yankees. Or Duke-North Carolina. Nor am I thinking Auburn-Alabama, which is massive on my father’s side of the family.

Or any other bitter league or conference grudge match that is renewed every year, if not more often.

The rivalries I’m referring to are not like any of those at all. For starters, they’re a thing of the past. So are Ali-Frazier, Nicklaus-Palmer and Borg-McEnroe.

These rivalries involve female athletes who met often in championship events.

What’s most intriguing is how sharply different these sets of competitors are within the context of the rivalry.

Not only did that fuel the contests they had with one another, it also helped them to transcend their sports to a certain degree.

Continue reading

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