At their best, sports contain the same qualities that we at IHLR love about good literature. First, even if playing is a team effort, every sport we can name is peopled by compelling characters, some of whom the media portray in a heroic light (think LeBron James coming home to win luckless Cleveland a championship) or hold up as villains (like Lance Armstrong after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs). These names serve as touchstones for their sports in the same way iconic characters can stand in for whole books, like an Eliza Doolittle or a Captain Ahab. And then, of course, sports are centered on conflict, and they operate in relation to their histories in the same way literature cannot avoid embracing intertextuality. Both sports and literature must consider pacing, progression, plot turns, suspense, and surprise. Both have their own lingo (home stretch : denouement :: time out : caesura). Both are meant to be consumed by an audience, and both are enhanced by cheering, marching bands, foam fingers, screaming fans, and—well, okay, there are places where they part ways as well.
Sports writing is a well-established field. Articles about marathons, wrestling, hockey, tennis, and much more can be found in anthologies like The Best American Sports Writing, which produces a curated compilation of exceptional sports journalism annually. For this issue, though, our first and most important criteria was that the work make use of sports in order to do what literature does best: move a reader to empathy. We found this effect at work in Ryan Kalis’s essay, “Monuments to Omission,” which not only focuses on the career of a former South African rugby star, but also links the player both to Kalis’s father and to the author’s coming of age following the end of apartheid. We found it in Chris Edmonds’s “12-to-6,” a story in the voice of a baseball scout who watches a talented pitcher suffer a life-changing injury. And it was in Lois Harrod’s poem, “Running for the Drunk,” which transforms a neighborhood jog into a spectator sport. It’s in each of the other wonderful works within these pages.
This issue is about games, yes. About winning and losing—and sometimes their real-life counterparts, living and dying. The pieces we selected speak to our fascination with sport and our dependence on it, national obsessions and private ambitions, the love of competition and the disdain for it. They explore why throwing our allegiance behind a team can enlarge the lives we lead outside of the spotlight. They question the role of the mascot and attempt to quantify the beauty in a perfect curveball. This issue is for players and coaches. It’s for people who never got picked first in gym and for those who’ve only used box scores to line bird cages. For people who love sports and people who hate them. It’s for anyone who wants to be moved.
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