When sportsmen played sport and sportswriters wrote

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One big drawback to writing a sports blog is that sports blogs exist.

There used to be sports writers. That’s right, actual writers who wrote about actual sports.

Now there is neither.

Jimmy Cannon, Red Smith, William Mack, Gary Smith, Frank Deford, Jim Murray, A.J. Liebling, Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson, Richard Ben Cramer, Bob Considine, W. C. Heinz — hell, Hemingway took down eggs over easy with two barrels full of buckshot on the side because he couldn’t gin up a fitting way to conjure a spangled summer Sun Valley morning on the page.

They all wrote. They all wrote about sport. They relished it. They lived it, breathed it — smelled it. Smelled it for you. All lathery cigars and flop sweat and a mouthpiece sprinkler shooting spit-blood and talcum and pre-game fear and that feeling deep down in the lower recesses of a man’s stomach where he is the hunter and it is the moment where the urgency of now is lodged directly in his windpipe. A matter of life and death lies on the field, court or canvas.

And then there were many others: dugouts full, locker rooms full, showers full — regional writers working for their small- to mid-sized daily, forearms singed on every metaphor — original beyond contempt. No internet to tease out terse prose or recycle someone else’s. No cheat sheets or free lunches off the wire. No Google to perpetuate half-truths because math said so.

Just a typewriter and a solitary man writing about what he thought he saw. Staring at the deep blank paper sea in the half-shadow of midnight. Hunting and pecking as the janitor shuffles in and whistles by. It wasn’t all good what they wrote, the cork bobbed too late and the line stretched too thin. The body tapered without flourish. The hitch of the carriage swing and the grandiose in the blur of deadline revealed as wrinkled in the light of the next day. Imperfection. But it was all his and, boy didn’t everyone sleep a little more soundly knowing whatever they woke up to was at least original.

At that station when the wealth of nations meant everyone prospered. Those who could write, wrote. Those who could build, built. Those who sought an honest living, got a chance to earn one. Men ate breakfast and drank coffee and read the paper and went to work. Now they drink blue drink and play video games which undermine completely the only commodity left: the very value of life — starting with his own. And isn’t that just more sad than words can say.

Those who are regulars to this site who know this where I veer off into some anti-Disney diatribe about ESPN and its verticals whitewashing the shit out of whatever it is we’re watching. They’ve taken the giant jelly doughnut that is the morning sports read, sucked out the gooey jam filling through some secret process of reverse osmosis, gotten an intern to lick clean the glaze and with the leftover ball of dough, squeezed it into a vice straining out all the sugary goodness, leaving the reader with a kind of amorphous, chewed over, dispassionate lump.

That’s not a fun way to have a doughnut. That’s definitely not a fun way to live.

But there’s another problem, a bigger one. And that is professional sport itself is nary worth reporting on much. Had Hunter S. also not taken his afternoon tea with a side of two shell casings, he’d probably have written this (and only this) about the current state of this NBA postseason:

“LeBron took it to the hoop and didn’t get called for the charge and like last year took home a soccer trophy for participating.”

The cold stream waters of the NBA playoffs currently runneth over the bulwark of the fan’s holey waders giving him that very real sinking feeling. The two most compelling topics in basketball instead are the near-term fate of rakish Minnesota power forward Kevin Love and how will he make his way out West. And, as companion piece, what will the Lakers do to rebuild now that favorite son-in-law Phil has packed his bags for MSG. Will it be the signing of LeDecade in LA later this summer, or will they simply have to do it through the draft like when they landed Kobe still a presidential term away from the legal drinking age?

By mid-June, LeBron James, a younger-than-he-looks man of twenty-nine with a broad face and insouciant eyes will hoist for the third time in as many years that Larry O’Brien trophy, smacking its backside like a seasoned father. His monstrous frame which extends to the sky and blocks out most of the crowd and the hoop and the jargon that floats to the ether will lurch over the din of microphones. There, he will appear almost human sized in suits that cost more than you say your wife’s diamond did.

He will travel and sometimes have headphones on stylishly crooked. And he will smile and fake eat McDonald’s and sometimes will casually say something shiny as if he’d just got done listening to NPR fade to the background as he stretched out on the plane.

Because the two-carat diamond ear stud dye is cut and King James brings ratings with announcements off the court moreso than his pronouncements on it.

Which begs the question of how does one write when there are no other writers with which to compete. No adversary worthy to call it competition. Maybe reporting is finished because there is nothing to report on besides our own false illusion of personal comings and goings held up phone lens first toward the mirror.

This clatter, this junk has replaced the words of the ancients, the thrill of not knowing what is on the horizon besides the certainty of commercials. What we might construct today: Men, fans — packs of wild dogs trolling through the flats of their own team’s demise looking for a carcass of a fired coach to chew and spit and salivate at the trill of next season’s tip off and kick off, is nowhere near the actual reason for it.

Your fantasy team matters. The scoring updates that are popping up on your screen matter in that context. Let this be the genesis of your abandonment of concern to something not directly related to the way you see it playing out (for you) streamed right into the earjack.

Is there any event worth being at? Is there a team worth cheering? Is there a player worth being on a team? Is there any statement that’s sincere? Or is it all just the irony of a homeless man texting outside the stadium while holding his free hand out for your loose change?

Scores of anonymous, low-effort trends. A black shimmery dot in the distance on that expanse of asphalt coming ever nearer revealed as the dead of yesterday’s news. The car swerves suddenly to miss it, a newspaper blows up on the windshield. Only it’s a fast-food wrapper.

It blows away. And this is all that’s left.

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  1. Thanks – what a pleasure to read and revel in what appears to be long-nurtured angst. Wish I could disagree or deny or ignore, but your laments touch so many other things that have died the same death.

    Now – to your novel……… 🙂