I’m starting to worry this sport writing business might be contagious.
Earlier as I was flicking through the daily papers an intro line caught my eye.
This intro line wasn’t in the News section, nor Arts and Culture or even Politics, but in the Sports section.
In The Times no less…so at a moment where everyone is talking about the relaunch of T2 attracting female readers, I was being unconsciously drawn to a story about boxing; Perhaps the most viciously masculine of all professional sports.
But who was I to deny Ron Lewis’ jaw breaking first paragraph:

“They say that the health of boxing can be measured by its biggest division. Anyone watching Vitali Klitschko’s one-sided WBC heavyweight title defence that left Shannon Briggs in hospital on Saturday may conclude that boxing is very sick indeed.”

In my mind that is some fine writing, Lewis turns the six honest serving men into a menacing gang, wielding the details like a weapon and directing them in a focused attack on your attention.

“What Briggs brought to the ring was a capacity for taking punishment… at 38 he is five months younger than Litschko, but as a prototype heavyweight, he is a generation older.”

Over the course of an article about one of the most violent bouts in recent memory, Lewis drew on the facts to animate a narrative which captures the dark questions raised by Saturday’s fight.

“Boxing does not need many more nights like Saturday and a repeat will only damage the sport and the Klitschko brother’s precious legacy.”

Perhaps I’m just over excited at having finally found both a reason to read the sports section and a grounds to contemplate going behind Murdoch’s pay wall (subscribe to site or check out today’s paper (p.60) for the full article). But Lewis’ article did raise some questions which go beyond boxing.

Richard Welbirg had previously tried to convince me that there is a far greater lack of intelligent insight in sports journalism than there was in something like music writing.
I disagreed, but only on the grounds that much music writing is as stodgy and lifeless as the worst of prose.

I never really thought about the potential of sports writing to be anything much besides bombastic nonsense.
Figuring that sport writing in some way precluded intellectual debate because of some inbuilt machismo, I agreed with Hunter S Thompson, who writing about Grantland Rice said:

“Like all great sports writers, Rice understood that his world might go all to pieces if he ever dared to doubt that his eyes were wired straight to his lower brain…”

“the two keys to success as a sports writer are: (1) a blind willingness to believe anything you’re told by coaches, flacks, hustlers, and other ‘official spokesmen’ who provide the free booze… and: (2) A Roget’s Thesaurus, in order to avoid using the same verbs and adjectives twice in the same paragraph.”

It’s always a mistake to put too much belief in Thompson’s writing.
He himself was a sports writer and some of his best pieces were brought out by spectacles such as the Super Bowl and Muhammad Ali fights.
Hemmingway and Mailer also wrote wonderfully about sport.
This set me thinking about what it that attracts great journalists to sport.
I figure it lies firstly in the style; the concise impact.
A good writer needs a much the same precision and poise as a prize fighter.
And secondly I feel, certainly in the case of the men listed above, that sport is a way of expressing naked male emotion without losing face.
This impulse defines much sport, and journalism would be far better if more writers risked expressing this the way Lewis’ piece did:

“Briggs paid for his toughness – he was taken to hospital and treated in intensive care after suffering from concussion and fractured cheek bones.”