Friday, August 30, 2013

Great sports writing - profiles by Thompson and St. John

Some extremely well done recent profiles on major sports figures included two from Wright Thompson for ESPN The Magazine and one from Warren St. John for GQ.

The Thompson pieces were "The Losses of Dan Gable" on the former wresting Olympic gold medalist and Iowa coaching legend and "The Trouble with Johnny" on Heisman trophy winning quarterback Johnny Manziel.

I've linked in the past to a number of pieces by or about Thompson and it's just remarkable how much great narrative he includes in his stories. The Manziel piece is about someone whose athletic talents have thrust himself into a superstar role, one that few 20-year-olds would be equipped to deal well with. Thompson details all the different entities pulling on Manziel for their own purposes and written into the story is an absolutely awesome juxtaposition between Manziel as "Johnathan" or "Johnny".

What comes out in the Gable profile is a portrait of someone who has always fought for every success earned, and with this drive fed in part by a horrific event from childhood. It's painful reading about what happened to Gable's sister decades ago and the horror endured by the Gable family, but excellent writing from Thompson that both describes events from the past and shows how they helped shape Gable into the man he would become.

Related to this idea of someone's accomplishments coming in part from events or things they didn't create was a great profile done by Warren St. John for GQ. "Nick Saban: Sympathy for the Devil" was on the Alabama head football coach and covers well Saban's relentless pursuit of excellence and extremely brief periods of celebration at achievement. Where the story particularly insightful is with St. John's description of Saban's approach not simply that of a curmudgeon as he's often portrayed, but rather one that comes from how (for better or worse) he was raised to never get complacent and always seek perfection.