Sunday, February 10, 2013

Writing on athletes off the field of play - by Chuck Culpepper, R.A. Dickey & Chuck Klosterman

There's been three pieces of writing I've seen recently that dealt with professional athletes attempting to accomplish things that go way beyond wins and loses.

For the website Sports on Earth, "The Gay Super Bowl" was by Chuck Culpepper and about his experience as a gay sports writer. Heavily featured in the piece is gay-rights advocate and NFL player Brendon Ayanbadejo (profiled a few months ago by Gwen Knapp) and Culpepper wraps up the story with the following exchange he had with Ayanbadejo...

"You don't know me," I said, and he grinned at that, "but you have done a lot for me," and his eyes told me he knew what I meant. "And I just want to tell you that I am so grateful. You are a good man." Whew. There. I had spit it out. With reasonable concision, even. As we let go of our handshake, he said simply and unemotionally, "It's the right thing to do, plain and simple," whereupon I mustered a closing, ''Thank you." Wary of bothering him any further, I turned around and practiced my penchant for fast walking, relieved that I had spoken, amazed that my unusual life could have intersected with such an unusual linebacker.

Another recent piece of writing about an athlete doing important work was actually by the athlete himself, MLB pitcher R.A. Dickey (who was profiled in a Dec '12 Sports Illustrated cover story by Gary Smith). Along with sports writer Wayne Coffey, Dickey did for the New York Daily News a story about his recent time spent in Mumbai, India. The setting brings to mind Katherine Boo’s book that I read last month about the slums there and this Daily News piece details Dickey being there with his two daughters to see work done by a charity he supports, the Bombay Teen Challenge which aids victims of human sex trafficking.

The final piece to mention here also very much showcased a pro athlete who works on behalf of a cause, in this case one probably more difficult to define than gay-rights or combating human trafficking and one the athlete himself actually a part one. Houston Rockets player Royce White suffers from diagnosed Anxiety Disorder and for the website Grantland, Chuck Klosterman offers a fascinating profile with "The White Album". Sections of it are written in a Q&A format and while unconventional, it seems appropriate as it helps let the reader decide how they feel about White and his views.

The first-year NBA player actually hasn't appeared in a game yet this season as he and the Rockets have disagreed on expectations of him and it's just tremendously interesting reading about White's views of how mental illness should be treated in the workplace. He makes some solid arguments both on behalf of himself and others by extension, but at the same time it seems like a functioning workplace (NBA team or otherwise) might not be quite so functioning if some of White's ideas were carried out. Whether someone fully agrees with White or not, it's certainly a subject that affects many in society today and bears the type of examination Klosterman provides.