One of the things I’ve missed about life writing for the dailies is the interaction of the characters within the business. Mid-evenings after work would involve going to a tavern across the street from the county courthouse for these incredibly spicy and sweet wings served with a watermelon slice. There would also be lots of beer, cigarettes, and conversation about the events of the day.
Bert Sugar, the longtime boxing writer, likely took in hundreds of such conversations over the course of his life.
Here are some of his own words about the way sportswriting used to be, as told to the website BigThink.com:
“We used to sit at bars and tell stories; Toots Shor’s, for example, in New York. And we would tell—drink, yes, tell stories, yes, yes and yes. And the young kids, at which point I was one, would listen to the old timers. Now, the kids don’t go to the bars, I don’t care if they drink, have a Coke, but hear the stories. Don’t go up to your room to figure out on your laptop how many free flyer miles you have, sit and hear what it is you’re doing so you have a reference value.”
The “reference value” is a historical perspective.
For example, when you look at the history of the U.S. women’s national field hockey team over the last 90 years, Great Britain plays an enormous role. Constance Applebee, who introduced the game to Radcliffe College in 1901, was from Britain.
The first women’s national team under the aegis of Applebee’s new creation, the United States Field Hockey Association, traveled to England for its first tour in 1923. In 1962, the American team played at Wembley Stadium in front of nearly 60,000 people — one of the largest crowds ever to see a women’s sports event to that point in history (Mia Hamm and Brandi Chastain, remember, hadn’t been born yet). And now, the U.S. heads back to London again — nearly 90 years after their first voyage.
It’s why this site has had the unique context and perspective that you’ve come to expect, and which is sorely going to be lacking in packaged media from the Olympics this summer.
Bert Sugar has been a role model of mine for years, and it’s one reason why I have worn broad-brimmed hats to assignments — aside from the fact that they are pretty good for shading one’s eyes.