Below is a guest reading list from Daniel A. Gross, a journalist and public radio producer who lives in Boston.
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Fifty years ago, a champion boxer picked up his son from school, a literary critic was tackled by NFL players, and a famed NASCAR racer tended to his chicken farm. Such was the sidelong view of sports presented by Gay Talese, George Plimpton, and Tom Wolfe. Sports in the 1960s proved a rich arena for writers looking to flex their literary muscle, and Talese and Wolfe tried out unconventional sports writing while still kicking off their careers. You won’t find much reference here to the sweeping political developments that tend to dominate our narratives of 1964. Instead, you’ll get some sense for the texture of the time. Read more…
“The best thing for me has just been the passion of wanting to play. The challenge of stepping in the box, the challenge of trying to be successful. When I started out, I guarantee you nobody figured I would be where I am today. Nobody. Not even myself. Maybe there’s something that makes you want to go out and prove people wrong, but for me, it’s just the passion of loving to do what I do.”
“Talk to any young sportswriter today and odds are that their introduction to both Sports Illustrated’s long-form journalism and renowned writer Gary Smith are one in the same: ‘Higher Education.’ Smith’s March 2001 masterpiece tells the tale of Perry Reese Jr., a black Catholic basketball coach at Hiland High in the predominantly Mennonite town of Berlin, Ohio. A man whose force-of-nature personality on and off the court transformed a town ‘whose beliefs had barely budged in 200 years’ and forced his players and neighbors to rethink their long-held tenets on race, religion and life.”
Rustin Dodd is a sports reporter at The Kansas City Star. For the most part, he spends his time covering Kansas basketball and football, but he has also covered the Kansas City Royals for the last five years. He’s covered two Final Fours, two Major-League All-Star Games and The Masters. He resides in Lawrence, Kan., home of the best local music scene in the Midwest.
Every year or so, I find myself going back and reading ‘The Courage of Jill Costello,’ a Sports Illustrated story by Chris Ballard from Nov. 29, 2010. It’s often said that the best sports stories are not about sports — and that’s true, of course. But this story is an example of simple, rich storytelling, elegant and beautiful. Jill Costello is a coxswain on the Cal rowing team, diagnosed with cancer before her senior season. (Ballard retraces her final year on campus, letting his deep reporting do the work.) And at its core, Costello’s story is about youth and heart and determination and time, and the question we all ask ourselves: What would we would do if we only had a little bit of life left?
[Not single-page] Ten years after Ken Caminiti became the first prominent Major League Baseball player to confess to steroid use, a look at four players whose lives and careers were forever changed:
The 1994 Fort Myers Miracle, a Class A affiliate of the Minnesota Twins, included four pitchers of similar attributes. They each threw righthanded, with average velocity, and were either 23 or 24 years old and had been drafted out of four-year colleges in no higher than the fourth round. All would become good friends as they shared the torturous bus rides and even worse food through multiple rungs on the minor league ladder. All clutched the little boy’s dream of becoming a big leaguer. Only one of them made it. Only one of them used steroids. Only one of them considered taking his own life. Only one of them harbors enormous regret. The big leaguer, the juicer, the near suicide and the shamed are one and the same.
Two of the world’s best tennis players meet for a match 1912, just weeks after they both survived the Titanic disaster:
Now consider a scenario in which two of the survivors were dashing, world-class athletes in the same sport, destined to face off against each other many times. The hype surrounding those matches would be immeasurable. After their playing careers, the two men would be bracketed together—the Ralph Branca and Bobby Thomson of the sea—perhaps cowriting a book, then hitting the speaking circuit.
A century ago the culture was different. Look-at-me sensibilities were considered gauche. Many passengers lucky enough to have ended up on the Carpathia struggled with what today would be diagnosed as post—traumatic stress disorder. This was especially true for the men, whose survival was seen by some as evidence of cowardice.
How the former baseball star went from unlikely business success to financial ruin—and now sentenced to three years in prison:
Even after his financial and legal troubles came to public light, Dykstra refused to give up the trappings of the gilded life. He continued to fly on private planes, and the charges that landed him in prison—many details of which have not been previously reported—stemmed from his apparently insatiable appetite for flashy cars, some of which he obtained using falsified financial documents. “He had to have all of these trappings to prove to himself he was as good as he thought he was,” L.A. County Deputy DA Alex Karkanen told SI after Monday’s sentencing.
In the unreleased documentary, filmed after his bankruptcy filing, the former Met and Phillie explains the importance of a private plane to his contentedness. “I said, O.K., I know I’ll be happy when I buy my own Gulfstream,” says Dykstra, reflecting on the plane he purchased in 2007. “But I got down to the end of the nose, I looked back and I said, O.K., happy, come on, come on. So it’s not about the Gulfstream. But it is about the Gulfstream. Meaning it just wasn’t as good a Gulfstream as I wanted.”
High school hockey player Jack Jablonski was left paralyzed after a hit during a game—leading Minnesota to get tougher on rules, and leading families to rethink hockey’s risks:
“I forgot to tell you,” he says. Something in his voice is strange. He looks at me. Cade and Raye are both staring at me now. Peter touches my hand.
“Jack Jablonski broke his neck last night.”
Jack Jablonski—known as Jabby to his friends and the kids like Cade who grew up skating with him on the lakes around our homes—is not the first boy to break his neck playing this game. But he is the first one whom we who have kids still in Minneapolis youth and high school hockey programs have watched grow up.