Rick Telander, the guest editor of a collection of the best sportswriting of 2016, describes how even his own voracious reading habits were stretched by the task of selecting longform pieces for the book.
In addition to preferring stories that “get to the essence of the human struggle,” he tells sports media writer Ed Sherman that much of what he chose from “all had the sense of possibility.”
I think that’s a terrific approach to what could have been a predictable process for the latest edition of the “The Best American Sports Writing” anthology, and Telander’s credentials are impeccable.
News, Views and Reviews About Sports Books, History and Culture
Also In This Issue: A Boxing Writer’s Romanticism; Jim Bouton’s Improvisational Life; Francesco Totti’s Roman Obsession; Remembering Craig Sager and Howard Bingham
But the BASW series came under some sniping fire earlier this year from a subset of the sports media that views the profession strictly through the lens of “diversity and inclusion,” an industrial obsession.
The Columbia Journalism Review, which has tilted strongly on a certain level to millennial sentiments, interviewed three sports media figures of “diverse” backgrounds, and—quelle surprise!—they take issue with the lack of diversity in the 2016 BASW book.
Of the 30 pieces chosen by Telander, 25 were written by white men. This is what prevails, bean counting over substance, and it’s being made out to be something scandalous. It shouldn’t be.
While I’m all for a broader range of people getting into sportswriting—and I certainly have benefitted from efforts to include more women in sports newsrooms—elevating “representation” above other factors doesn’t do any favors for minority and female journalists.
“Racial and gender report cards” ought to be scourge of any good professional sports media organization, but most have become hidebound carriers of a message that the identity markings of the journalist, instead of the story, or the audience, is paramount.
I don’t read anything—sports or otherwise—and search explicitly about the race or gender or cultural background of a writer, as espnW’s Jane McManus is quoted as admitting. It’s about the story. Growing up, I wasn’t inspired expressly by women writers, sports or otherwise, although my pantheon does include such mid-century luminaries as Dorothy Parker (alas, no relation!), and Mary McCarthy.
As a college student, I read The New York Times at my newspaper office, and followed Robin Herman’s hockey stories and what she and other pioneers had to endure.
I found them inspiring, much in the same way I did Billie Jean King, and felt a lot less alone. These were the 1970s, a terrific time to be a young woman interested in a sportswriting career. What I wanted to do above all was have my work cut it in a predominantly male field, an environment that has never been uncomfortable for me.
I’ve been blessed to have been able to do that, even though I no longer can make a living outside what’s left of mainstream newsrooms.
What’s missing from the call for more diversity in sports media is the diversity of perspective, which is a glaring issue throughout journalism and all media. If you want to have any kind of career in this business (even as a freelancer, which I am occasionally), it’s best to steer clear of any point of view that doesn’t smack of stridently liberal cultural identity politics.
That’s a topic for another time, especially during the holiday season.
At Longreads, its best sportswriting of 2016 roundup is more suitably “diverse,” and there are some good things to read here.
A few more good reads
- Novelist Philip Roth has designated his hometown Newark Library as the repository for his 4,000-volume-plus book collection. The author of the baseball-themed “The Great American Novel” was influenced by the baseball fiction of John Tunis growing up in the 1940s, eventually moving on to Thomas Wolfe, J.D. Salinger, Saul Bellow, Bernard Malamud and other mid-century authors;
- Among Booklist Online’s top sports fiction for 2016 is actor David Duchovny’s novel “Bucky F*cking Dent,” and these are some rather eclectic selections;
- John Thorn on Jim Bouton’s improvisational life;
- 49ers legend Ronnie Lott has started a charitable fund to help fellow former Niners in need. The Golden Heart Fund has gotten a head start with $1 million donations from former owner Ed DeBartolo Jr. and current CEO Jed York;
- The book about baseball that explains Donald Trump’s win (although I’m not especially convinced that it does);
- At Victory Journal, Peter Macia tries to make the case for Trump as America’s first soccer president, but color me skeptical;
- At The Spectator in Britain, Simon Kuper finds solace in “sports geekery,” which ought to be good enough for its own sake. Like far too many journalists, however, he wraps up the theme in regards to contemporary politics. This was an election, not 9/11, but the accompanying photo of an air raid warden at a soccer match during World War II typifies ongoing media hysteria over Trump;
- Author Brin-Jonathan Butler (“The Domino Diaries”) is profiled by The New York Times as a “boxing romantic,” giving pug lessons because “being a boxing writer now is a less viable career path than it was in Hemingway’s day;”
- The ageless Francesco Totti, now 40, on why he continues to play for AS Roma: “I have always been Roma. There has never been anything else;”
- For The Classical, which isn’t updated very often anymore, Eric Stinton on surfer John John Florence, who’s at the top of his sport.
- Craig Sager, 65, known for his colorful suits as an NBA sideline reporter for TNT, lost his two-year public battle with leukemia, endearing himself to fans, his fellow sports media professionals and the basketball community along the way. His unfailing optimism in the face of the late stage of his illness was the subject of a Lee Jenkins piece in Sports Illustrated earlier this year. Sager’s work as a journalist has been underrated. He was the first person to snare an interview with Hank Aaron after hitting homerun No. 715, and that hustle eventually landed him in Atlanta from Sarasota, where he had been working for a radio station;
- Howard Bingham, 77, photographer and confidante of Muhammad Ali, was as conspicuous as his frequent and famous subject. From 2015, Frank Deford on Ali’s best friend: “The one person—and he is a famous person—who mistreated Mr. Bingham hasn’t amounted to a hill of beans since then. There is a God.”
The Sports Biblio Digest is an e-mail newsletter delivered each Sunday. It contains commentary and links about sports books and history. You can subscribe here and search the archives. This is Digest issue No. 67 published Dec. 18, 2016. The Digest is a companion to the Sports Biblio website, which is updated every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
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