By the time my friends and I started our sports blog, FreeDarko, I had done a decent amount of music criticism, and was in grad school for American studies. Typing for a few minutes when I had a stray thought about Kobe Bryant didn’t strike me as anything particularly special... Out of college, I wanted to write about music because writing seemed like an act of love or devotion. Criticism was a necessary corollary of art, a way to get at the meaning underneath the visceral experience, or at the meaning of that experience. While I sometimes dismiss my stuff as “music writing about sports,” I wouldn’t balk at the label “sports criticism.”
My all-time favorite piece of sportswriting is Woody Allen’s 1977 essay on New York Knicks guard Earl Monroe, which appeared in Sport. It helps that it’s Woody Allen, but it’s just as important to me that Woody Allen is not a traditional sportswriter, and that his take on Monroe is anything but traditional.
I’m also a huge fan of Tommy Craggs, senior editor at Deadspin. Tommy is a simply phenomenal writer who could also go toe-to-toe with any sports nerd anywhere. His longer stuff is just fantastic; these Slate pieces on the interpretation of Kevin Love, and the myth of Stephen Curry, remind you why “essayist” is a title one has to earn.
I like the phrase "music writing about sports." I tried to do something similar with my series on Maranvillains, but haven't developed that chops that Shoals has yet. Other works mentioned in that roundtable include the "String Theory" essay by David Foster Wallace that I linked earlier and a couple of books by John McPhee. This isn't the first I've heard of McPhee. Shooty recommended his work to me. Unfortunately, when I read A Sense Of Where You Belong, his expanded essay on Bill Bradley's senior year at Princeton, but it didn't grab me. This is probably my fault more than McPhee's.