Lipsyte is justifiably hard on the lodge brothers, sparing himself least. He calls an inner tantrum sparked by a lackluster Ali interview “my egoshit.” He excoriates himself for not standing up to administrators who refused to offer his daughter’s favorite sport, soccer, to the girls in her high school: “In retrospect, I feel ashamed. And stupid. What a chance to put into practice all that abstract reporting, that pose of liberated macho, make a fuss, challenge the school, create a soccer team. Be useful.” If there’s a thread of regret running through the book, it may be Lipsyte’s cool regard for his own sporting oeuvre. He seems happiest when smuggling topics of heavier social import (gender discrimination, racial turmoil) past the metal detectors of the sports page.
There’s a great case to be made, and he makes it, that sports journalism was a worm-eaten craft even before athletes’ ballooning salaries goaded writers from boosterism to cynicism. If anything, Lipsyte may be too rough on sports pages, which are beloved by readers who otherwise might not so much as scan a newspaper. You can’t fault him for holding sportswriters to the same standards as other journalists. But I would posit to him that the simplicity of sportswriting as a whole is in fact its appeal. I would also suggest to any self-aware reader that beyond a certain age—fourteen seems about right—you should be skimming game coverage and spending real time on sports coverage, like Lipsyte’s, that attempts to engage your prefrontal lobe rather than your brain stem.
Lipsyte mentions the first several novels he has written for young adults, The Contender, released in 1967: “The times were right for the book [T]here was a generation of librarians and teachers dedicated to getting realistic fiction into the hands of boys. That’s been a mission of mine, too.” The wry implication, in my reading, is that sportswriting is largely realistic fiction for boys (and girls). As snide as that could seem, it’s not unfair. Sports—not politics, business, policy or even the arts—is that thing you can follow with a relatively high degree of sophistication before you understand much of anything about adults. Considering adults’ record on those other matters, you may be the better for it.
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