Question: 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.
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
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
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