Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Me on Me, Part Deux

In your introduction, you explain that you’ve been a sports fan since around five years of age. What initially drew you to sports—was it a family pastime or something else?
I can remember from a very young age sitting on the couch watching the NY Giants with my dad, and that was something of a family event. My sister and brother also gathered for the games and we often fought for the spot next to our dad. And he got into the games. He shouted at the TV and stood and clapped and waved his hands in disgust, so all that made quite an impression. Still, other than the Giants and the occasional golf tournament, my dad didn’t really watch sports or follow them very closely. I think those experiences prepared the ground, so to speak, and when I went to school the whole thing just blossomed. Socially, culturally and instinctively, it seems, the boys in my class were drawn to sports. They were a way to express ourselves and expend our energy and figure out where we fit among our peers, and that’s not only in terms of playing them but following them. There was a cultural cache to knowing the Yankees back-up left fielder or collecting the entire series of baseball cards for a given year. I remember getting the sign-up sheet for Little League in first grade, and just feeling like there was no way I wasn’t going to play. And I don’t want to understate this, but even at young age there was a feeling that sports were a way to get girls to like you. The irony is that just such thinking starts you down the road to becoming a sports meathead, which women do not find attractive. At all.

How did you ultimately finalize your list of 10 must-attend sports events?
I had a list of maybe 17 or 18 events that I had compiled over time. Some events eliminated themselves—the timing wasn’t right for the Olympics, the World Cup or the Americas Cup—so that got it down to 14 or so. From there I just really thought about which ones I would most like to go to. It’s as simple as that. There are still a number of events I’d like to see, and some I have a deep curiosity about but I don’t know enough about them to say they’re “must-see” events (like various European soccer rivalries and few other international events), but I have no regrets. That’s not entirely true. For a brief period in college I had what can only be described as a mullet, for which I’m deeply regretful.

Can you tell us the difference between a sports viewer and a fanatic?
Literally, fanaticism connotes devotion beyond reason. If you’re a fan, you’re a little crazy, and at least for the purposes of this book that plays out in two ways. First, in that sense of being so devoted to a team that you can actually feel physically ill after they lose, and second, in a willingness to go to extreme lengths to watch a sports event, whether that’s traveling or skipping some family occasion or whatever. In either case, you’ve clearly lost touch with the rational world. Now that I think of it, that’s part of the appeal. It’s like a Calgon moment for guys.

Prior to this endeavor, you had scaled back your sports intake, and you state that part of this journey was to find out why so many fans are addicted to sports, and why your relationship had changed from “passionate participant to distant viewer.” Did you find the answers you were looking for?
I don’t know if this answers the question, but I found that sports are a totally legit way to engage with the world. I think you need to keep perspective, and be well rounded, but there’s nothing wrong with being devoted to sports, which is what I had lost sight of. There’s something invigorating and enriching about reaching that level of emotional and intellectual involvement where you can be carried to great highs or terrible lows by watching an event or following a team that, in retrospect, I realize, my life would be diminished without.

What’s the 11th event on your list?
There are a few 11ths, but if I had to pick one it would be the final rounds of the World Cup. There’s just so much going on there with the history, the rivalries, the nationalism, and the sort of operatic drama on the pitch, with the faked injuries and the prima donnas. It seems like something that would be both fun and compelling to get close to. And when else will I have a chance to pillage and riot?

In addition to Fanatic, you’ve written two golf books. Do you have another sports-related book in the works?
I’m researching two or three potential ideas right now, trying to figure out which is the most viable and which I’d most like to work on. I hope to get started on something this summer.

Favorite sportswriter or book—fiction or nonfiction about sports?
There are a bunch of fantastic writers at Sports Illustrated—Tom Verducci, Scott Price, Jon Wertheim, John Garrity—although naming names is a bit like giving an acceptance speech at the Oscars: I’m certain to leave someone out. Oh well. Otherwise, I’ve always liked Charlie Pierce at the Boston Globe, Chris Jones at Esquire, Harvey Araton at the New York Times, and Steve Friedman. As far as books, I can’t say because I don’t really read sports books. I think one of my assets when it comes to writing about sports is that I haven’t been a sportswriter, which allows me to come at the subject from a different place. I don’t think I can name 10 sports books I’ve read (although I’ve certainly read more than that). In fact, the only ones that come to mind are A Fan’s Notes by Fred Exley, which is more about mental illness and self-identity than sports, and Seabiscuit, which I recently read because I was interested in the architecture of how she (Laura Hillenbrand) put it together. Let me just say, what she did, in terms of research, is sort of amazing. Hat’s off.

Fanatic will be great Father’s Day gift. What do you hope to unwrap on Father’s Day?
Since I’ll be in the office on Father’s Day working on our coverage of the U.S. Open, I’d like to unwrap a few elves that could go in and do my job for me. Short of that I’d love a plate of homemade chocolate chip cookies.

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