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Sportswriters Are the Same as Other Writers

Question: Is sportswriting literature?
\r\n

Bert Sugar: I think sportswriting is a magnificent \r\nliterature.  You even get non-sportswriters writing about it.  If you’ve\r\n ever read Gatsby, there is a portion in there that refers to the 1919 \r\nBlack Sox scandal, where Manheimer, I think his name is, or Sondheimer, \r\nis talking to Gatsby in a bar.  You get... Arthur Conan Doyle wrote \r\nbooks on boxing.  Jack London wrote boxing.  I could go on... Paul \r\nGallico, who was a sports editor at the New York Daily News, wrote "The \r\nPoseidon Adventure."  So you get crossovers all over the place. 

Yes,\r\n we’re labeled sportswriters, but we really are just writers.  And half \r\nof us will write on bathroom walls in lipstick if it pays—women’s rooms \r\nwith two hands.

\r\nQuestion:
What is your writing/reporting method when you're watching\r\n a game?
\r\n

Bert Sugar: I think Red Smith said it best.  He said, \r\n“You first cut your wrist, then you bleed on the paper.  Then you \r\nwrite.”  You’re looking for a lead, you’re looking for a storyline, \r\nyou’re looking for personalities who did this.  You just don’t write, \r\n"Four homeruns were hit today and they won 10 to 9."  Okay, great.  \r\nWhat?  I mean, what went into that? 

I went to a fight last \r\nweekend, Mayweather/Mosley.  And in the introduction at the press \r\nconference two days before, Mayweather was introduced as the \r\n"undefighted feater," which is a spoonerism.  There was a Rev. William \r\nSpooner in England, at Oxford, who did everything bassackwards.  He \r\nwould say things like, instead of “Conquering Kings Take Their Titles,” \r\nwhich is a hymn, he’s introduce it as, “Kingkering Cons Take Their \r\nTitle.”  Or, talking about at the end of World War I, the troops would \r\ncome home and, instead of “the flags would be hung in tribute,” he said,\r\n “The hags would be flung.”  He did everything bassackwards and changing\r\n the sounds of the first words in succession. 

So, I wrote a \r\nwhole piece almost like that on the fight.  Not easy, but keeping in \r\nsort of the mood and the flair of what I picked up.  It might be fun for\r\n people, it might not.  It was fun for me.  And I got the biggest kick \r\nout of writing and having fun with it. 

I remember one line I \r\nhad that was fun to get somebody into a story because you like to get a \r\nhook.  And there was a no-hitter thrown and I'm writing about it, and I \r\nstarted with, “It was as unbelievable as Santa Claus suffering vertigo, \r\nCaptain Bligh sea sickness, Mary having a little lamb.  The 'it' was –" \r\nand then I went on to tell it.  Well, I either scared the hell out of \r\nreaders and they’ve gone elsewhere, or I’ve hooked them.  And you look \r\nfor that. 

I have one friend who will go unnamed—a great sports \r\nwriter—I remember one time he was walking around the press box one day \r\nreading everybody’s lead.  "That’s good, that’s good."  He was looking \r\nfor his own, really.  But, but you know, you’re looking for a lead.  And\r\n they’re not easy to come by.

Recorded May 4, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

"Half of us will write on bathroom walls in lipstick if it pays—women’s rooms with two hands."

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