A part of

Issue # 4 Thursday, Nov. 27, 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.

". . . Williams, who was a physician. . . as well as poet, seems to realize the silliness of our passion for sports."

"If baseball tends to be a more Romantic sport, football is just the opposite."


Sports In Literature

(Part 2 of 2)

Continuing last week's topic on sports in literature, we were looking briefly at sports in the work of Hemingway. Hemingway wrote mainly about man against beast sports, chiefly, hunting and bullfighting. He tended to romanticize these sports: No matter how actually brutal the sports he discussed were, the "Hemingway Hero" was always a character to be admired.

In the forward of the book The Sporting Spirit: Athletes in Literature and Life , Heywood Hale Brown said of Hemingway, "the most powerful passages in Hemingway are concerned with blood sports." As I mentioned last week, Hemingway's description of the bullfighter in The Sun Also Rises is one of his most romantic.

By the early 20th century, it seems apparent that many of our writers grew up with sports, and played and watched sports as children. Also, while they reflect on sports with childish glee, they often have a cynicism about sports that comes with intellectual enlightenment. For example, William Carlos Williams in his poem "At the Ball Game:"

The crowd at the ball game
is moved uniformally

by a spirit of uselessness
which delights them

Here it appears Williams shows a cynical side as an onlooker from the outside. A man like Williams, who was a physician in an era of diseases such as polio and the Spanish flu as well as poet, seems to realize the silliness of our passion for sports. However, Williams gets caught up in pageantry quite quickly.

all the exciting detail
of the chase

and the escape, the error
the flash of genius

If you isolate the word "escape" from this passage, you get an idea of just exactly why sports are so popular, not only in our culture but all over the world. They are an escape from reality, not a substitute for reality.

Baseball has been a sport of much more romantic poetry than other sports. We've been graced with such gems as "Casey at the Bat," Fitzgerlad's "Cobb Would Have Caught It," Robert Wallace's "The Double Play," and even John Updike's "Tao in Yankee Stadium:"

The old men who saw Hans Wagner
scoop them up in lobster hands,
the opposing pitcher's pertinent hesitations
the sky . . . Mantles thick baked neck (12-18)

If baseball tends to be a more Romantic sport, football is just the opposite. From much of my research, football tends to be rooted more in realism. Check out this description of the game by Jack Kerouac from Vanity of Duluoz.

"As we binged and banged in dusty bloody fields, we didnt even dream we'd all end up in World War II, some of us killed, some of us wounded, the rest of us eviscerated of 1930's innocent ambition."

As the Henry B. Chapin editor of "Sports in Literature" says," The image of the dumb jock especially haunts the game of football." James Thurber's story "The Dumb Football Player" portrays this image almost perfectly:

"He was a tackle on the football team, named Bolenciecwcz. . . In order to be eligible to play it was necessary for him to keep up in his studies, a very difficult matter, for while he was not dumber than an ox he was not any smarter."

It may be precisely the realism involved in football why so many sports fans I know don't care for football at all. It is much more violent and appears to involve fewer intellectual skills than other sports.

This by no means concludes this discussion on sports and literature. I hope to discuss the topic further in future editions of The Chalk Lines.

Next article > "Games Without Frontiers"

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