A part of

Issue # 3 Thursday, Nov. 20, 1997

About the Author:

Charles Loyd McIntosh

In 1997 Charles Loyd McIntosh was a news writer for the Talledega Daily Home (www.dailyhome.com). He was a former reporter for The Western Star in Bessemer (a small city west of Birmingham), Alabama, and a former Sports Editor for the Clanton Advertiser. At the time he was writing for the Sideroad, Loyd was pursuing a Masters in English degree at the University of Montevallo, Alabama. An avid sports fan, soccer is Loyd's sport of choice, one he has been known to coach in the recent past.

". . .sports have always been a part of our literary landscape. . ."


Sports In Literature

(Part 1 of 2)

Growing up as an athlete in high school and on into college, it was generally assumed that sports and academics didn't mix. Athletes were brain dead jocks who did nothing but beat up geeks and date rape cheerleaders. Athletes weren't thought of as creative, articulate, thoughtful, literate and above all intelligent.

It has also been my experience that most members of academia, especially literature instructors, don't even consider sports worthy of discussion. In this column I hope to show how sports have always been a part of our literary landscape (unfortunately for many of my international readers, I haven't been able to find enough material on literature in other parts of the world, so this will focus on English literature).

First of all, we have evidence of sports being used to, say, settle an argument or win a prize (most commonly a princess in marriage): The legend of Robin Hood's victory in that fabled archery contest, or the myths of King Arthur's jousts, are just two examples. But even games that seem modern to us have had a place in writing and literature for almost 500 years.

In the book Sports and Pastimes in English Literature edited by L.S. Wood and H.L. Burrows, the editors give us a piece by Phillip Stubbes on the "gentlemanly" game of football, or soccer as it is known in America. Stubbes writes in Anatomie of Abuses, "As concerning football playing I protest unto you that it may rather be called a friendlie kind of fyghte than a play or recreation."

Now, although Stubbes doesn't portray football as very gentleman-like at all, the editors point out that Stubbes once wrote that he "had played and enjoyed many a game of football himself." In addition, the editors suggest that Stubbes has "too intimate a [knowledge] with the tricks and devices for one not to feel sure that he had once practiced them."

Most of the sports described in English literature are not team sports, but rather of the "man against nature" type; hunting and fishing in particular. English poet John Taylor wrote about his deer-hunting expeditions early in the 1600's, and even William Shakespeare wrote about equestrian events. Here is a sample from a poem by Shakespeare called "The Perfect Steed:"

"High crest, short ears, straight legs, and passing strong
Thin mane, thick tail, broad buttock, tender hide:
Look, what a horse should have he did not lack,
Save a proud rider upon his back"

The English also wrote about man-vs.-man sports. For example, English writer and poet Thomas Lodge wrote about wrestling in his novel Rosalynde: Euphues' Golden Legacy in the late 1500's. William Cobbett wrote his "In Defence of Boxing" in 1805. Even one of the most famous Romantic poets, George Gordon, Lord Byron, left his mark on athletics with "A Swimmers Stroke:"

. . .with a swimmer's stroke
Flinging the billows back from my drench'd hair
And laughing from my lip the audacious brine
Which kiss'd it like a wine-cup...(4-6).

In American literature, our most famous sportsman has to be Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway wrote mainly about sports involving man against beast , chiefly, hunting and bullfighting. His description of a young bullfighter in his novel The Sun Also Rises borders on the poetic, a rarity for the no-nonsense prose of the former journalist. Also, in "The Green Hills of Africa", we see Hemingway at possibly his most competetive, clearly jealous of a less experienced hunter's luck on a hunting trip in Africa. The same scenario would be fictionalized in his story "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber."

Next article > Sports In Literature (Part 2 of 2)

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Text copyright Charles Loyd MacIntosh, 1997 - '98. Part of the original Sideroad ezine.
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