Why I Love Writing About Sports
July 8, 2011 Leave a comment
This won’t cover anything recent, other than the movie “Midnight in Paris,” which I just got back from seeing, and has inspired this current post. The movie was great, and I highly recommend anybody who loves to write about anything to go see it. If Owen Wilson’s character doesn’t inspire you to write about what you love, and something that means something to you, then you’ve died inside. You have.
In the movie, Wilson plays a self-proclaimed “Hollywood hack” who makes a lot of money writing unfulfilling scripts. He’s engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams) who has the loving touch of a sea urchin, and has superficial caricatures for parents. Wilson, seeking to fulfill his urge to be a “real writer” has taken his novel to Paris with the family (tagging along with Inez’s father on a business trip) for inspiration. After a drunken midnight stroll throughout the city, Wilson gets into a car that takes him back to Paris in the 1920s, where he hangs out with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and other famous artists of the day. He keeps going back to the same spot, and at midnight, continues on these adventures, continuing to be inspired, and polishing his book into a real work of art. The book itself is about a man who works in a nostalgia shop, questioning his place in the universe, and really capitalizes on the “golden age” idea that gets highlighted throughout the film; the idea that people will always feel like they belonged in a different era, because the present just isn’t that fulfilling. What does any of this have to do with sports? Well, in the grand scheme of things, not a ton, but to me specifically, everything.
In the film, Ernest Hemingway (played wonderfully by Corey Stoll) says “No subject is terrible if the story is true and if the prose is clean and honest.” To anyone who wants to be a writer, that quote should hang above your computer, your notepad, or whatever it is you write on. I think that people get lost trying to be gregarious with their storytelling, and lose the substance of the story by trying to impress people with their vocabulary. This is never more true with sports, where it is incredibly important for the prose to be “clean and honest.” We’re writing about largely open-ended events that are quantified by statistics that we invent to give them meaning.
Nobody writes about playing catch, because nobody wins a game of catch. Nobody writes about playing catch, because nobody set any records playing a game of catch. Sports are about results; wins, losses, championships won, yards gained, innings-pitched, etc. But really, sports are just people on a field of play, playing a game, and at the end, the rules we invented determine these wins and losses. Naturally, this warrants explanation, and that’s where we (the people who write about sports) come in. We explain how we got from point A (the game) to point B (the results.) Not simply that the guy threw the ball, but how his throwing of the ball led his team to victory. We find aspects of the game that specifically can be attributed to the results that come out of it, and explain (to the best of our abilities) how.
Does sports history exist without sports-writers? No. We are the record keepers for sports history. We place events in sports that happen every day into the historical context that has been created by those who wrote about sports before us. There is no debate about Peyton Manning vs Joe Montana vs Tom Brady if nobody writes about sports; if there’s nobody to tell the stories that come out of these games.
We create the demons that these guys overcome. We make Quarterback X a playoff choker and we make Point Guard X a stone-cold assassin, who thrives under pressure. There is none of this if nobody watches, records, and analyzes the results of these games, and creates a context and a plot for a story to be told. LeBron James losing in the Finals means nothing if nobody writes about it, if nobody wrote about The Decision, if nobody wrote about him at St. Vincent St. Mary’s. Without sports writers we just have games that mean nothing.
This is why I think it’s great to write about anything you love. Writing about a subject, any subject, gives you the ability to attribute meaning to something you care about. Without writers, there’s nobody to attribute meaning to anything, or at least nobody to record those meanings. That is why Hemingway’s words should be gospel. Keep your stories true, clean, and honest. Analyze what you see, record events, and for the sake of all that is good in the world, keep writing.
Steve Sabato is a contributing writer for Home Field Advantage