TranscriptQuestion: Is sportswriting literature?
Bert Sugar: I think sportswriting is a magnificent literature. You even get non-sportswriters writing about it. If you’ve ever read Gatsby, there is a portion in there that refers to the 1919 Black Sox scandal, where Manheimer, I think his name is, or Sondheimer, is talking to Gatsby in a bar. You get... Arthur Conan Doyle wrote books on boxing. Jack London wrote boxing. I could go on... Paul Gallico, who was a sports editor at the New York Daily News, wrote "The Poseidon Adventure." So you get crossovers all over the place.
Yes, we’re labeled sportswriters, but we really are just writers. And half of us will write on bathroom walls in lipstick if it pays—women’s rooms with two hands.
Question: What is your writing/reporting method when you're watching a game?
Bert Sugar: I think Red Smith said it best. He said, “You first cut your wrist, then you bleed on the paper. Then you write.” You’re looking for a lead, you’re looking for a storyline, you’re looking for personalities who did this. You just don’t write, "Four homeruns were hit today and they won 10 to 9." Okay, great. What? I mean, what went into that?
I went to a fight last weekend, Mayweather/Mosley. And in the introduction at the press conference two days before, Mayweather was introduced as the "undefighted feater," which is a spoonerism. There was a Rev. William Spooner in England, at Oxford, who did everything bassackwards. He would say things like, instead of “Conquering Kings Take Their Titles,” which is a hymn, he’s introduce it as, “Kingkering Cons Take Their Title.” Or, talking about at the end of World War I, the troops would come home and, instead of “the flags would be hung in tribute,” he said, “The hags would be flung.” He did everything bassackwards and changing the sounds of the first words in succession.
So, I wrote a whole piece almost like that on the fight. Not easy, but keeping in sort of the mood and the flair of what I picked up. It might be fun for people, it might not. It was fun for me. And I got the biggest kick out of writing and having fun with it.
I remember one line I had that was fun to get somebody into a story because you like to get a hook. And there was a no-hitter thrown and I'm writing about it, and I started with, “It was as unbelievable as Santa Claus suffering vertigo, Captain Bligh sea sickness, Mary having a little lamb. The 'it' was –" and then I went on to tell it. Well, I either scared the hell out of readers and they’ve gone elsewhere, or I’ve hooked them. And you look for that.
I have one friend who will go unnamed—a great sports writer—I remember one time he was walking around the press box one day reading everybody’s lead. "That’s good, that’s good." He was looking for his own, really. But, but you know, you’re looking for a lead. And they’re not easy to come by.
Recorded May 4, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen