An Accidental Sportswriter: A Memoir
When it comes right down to it, isn't everything an accident?
There's a school of philosophy that ponders the myriad outcomes that could have ensued if one had turned left instead of right at a street corner, picked the chicken over the fish, or opted for a morning class in economics rather than an afternoon session in medieval literature. Some don't result in happy endings, others do.
Robert Lipsyte, a Pulitzer Prize winner, falls into the latter category (although his last chapter has not yet been written) as he recalls the special people and events in his life in his new memoir, AN ACCIDENTAL SPORTSWRITER.
In this Deadspin/TMZ age, it is refreshing to find someone who cares deeply about getting the story straight and not skimping on the research.
Lipsyte's 50-year "accident" began when he applied for a college-break job as an editorial assistant with The New York Times, winding up in the sports department (imagine how things might have turned out differently if he had been assigned to the lifestyle section). Picture the movie The Front Page, with copy boys running around smoke-filled offices amid the shouted orders of reporters bent over typewriters trying to meet deadlines, and you get some idea of the humble beginnings whence Lipsyte started.
He earned a few extra bucks with little writing jobs but eventually decided it was time to move on to a freelance career. This led to another "accident" when then-sports editor Gay Talese made him an offer he couldn't refuse, which led the young aspirant to his destined path.
Lipsyte's full-time sportswriting gig began with an uncomfortable attempt at an interview with an uncooperative Mickey Mantle in 1960 on his way to working with some of the biggest names in the sports and entertainment industries, including Howard Cosell, Muhammad Ali, Billie Jean King, Lance Armstrong and Dick Gregory, to name just a few. But merely covering the athletic exploits was never enough for the restless Lipsyte. He became interested in labor, racial and sexual issues, matters the mainstream press seemed to overlook, either out of ignorance or ennui. He also branched out into fiction --- his first love --- and became an award-winning author of novels for young adults.
Lipsyte does not pretend to be the perfect writer/husband/father/son, but he has striven to do what he feels was right at the time and is not averse to admitting his mistakes, which humanizes him in a way other memoirs attempt with varying degrees of success. And while he does perhaps drop a few too many names for some readers, he nevertheless remains relatively humble through the process.
In this Deadspin/TMZ age, it is refreshing to find someone who cares deeply about getting the story straight and not skimping on the research. It's sad to think that Lipsyte might be part of a dying breed.
Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on June 14, 2011