Capsule Review: Best American Sports Writing 1999
BYLINE: David Vance
PUBLICATION: The Austin American-Statesman
The Best American Sports Writing 1999
Richard Ford, Editor; Glenn Stout, Series Editor
Houghton Mifflin, $13
Richard Ford, in his introduction to "The Best American Sports Writing 1999," points
out that "most sports writing operates at a disadvantage -- the disadvantage being that
it's about sports." Such a bias hampers inclusion of sports writing in the literary diet of
most serious readers. With this collection of fine writing and nuanced insight, such
handicaps should be put to rest. Sports is no more nor less about life, or of life, than
anything else on which humankind expends its time, passion and money.
If you aren't one of those serious readers, you might not expect this book to have four
selections from the New Yorker and only one from, say, Sports Illustrated, among its 17
chosen stories. Then again you might, once you realize Ford probably counts David
Remnick, David Halberstam and John McPhee among his friends, all of whom have
their New Yorker articles included. Indeed, this compilation adheres to an East Coast
literati idea of sportswriting, with its attendant bias, gravity and Greek pathos, but
thoughtfulness doesn't preclude delightfulness, and vice versa.
Anyone who chooses to read this collection will undoubtedly be familiar with the names
and the games. The depth of the stories is what keeps them so fresh, and what,
eventually, should make them accessible to the non-sports lover, even the sports hater.
This is not a follow-the-ball, stat-and-score style compilation, nor is it merely a
chronicling of the sports year or a collection of stiff sports biographies. While great
moments are revisited and relived, and while there are paeans to Michael Jordan and
Muhammad Ali and the obligatory sports hero reverence, also included are the stories
of unknowns like Pete Weber and Kyle Rutherford, and such disparate subjects as the
Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, the Professional Bowlers Association and trophy
sheep hunting. In each of these, as in most of the selections, the story goes beyond the
mechanics of the sport or situation and becomes a probe of personality and humanity.
Worth special mention in this area are Randall Patterson's "The Trophy Son" about a
jilted and heartbroken high school football family in Houston, and Guy Lawson's eerie
"Hockey Nights," a look at the bone-jarring Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League.
Along with each subject's depth, too, comes a breadth of knowledge, so that Remnick's
piece on Ali, "American Hunger," delves into a history of sports writers in New York and
"Coming Home" by John Hildebrand includes the Vietnam War in its prism. The cliche
is that sports is a microcosm of the world, a metaphor for life. Well, cliches are cliches
for a reason, and these stories include all of life, and most of the world, from joy and
grace to downfall and redemption.