"Body Politic," subtitled The Great American Sports Machine, seems at first more like a collection of quirky observations than a coherent analysis of the current sports landscape. It's not immediately apparent what musing on the deadpan responses of Ichiro Suzuki and deconstructing the racial messages buzzing through the relationships of players and coaches in the NBA have in common. But the essays in this book are all driven by the curiosity of their author, David Shields, and by his ability to build large and enlightening conclusions from thoughtful (if sometimes risky) observations.
Shields writes that the recent realization that an enormous amount of his writing over the years has dealt with sports fills him with "astonishment and horror." In fact, he writes like a man who is convinced that he has discovered an inexhaustible subject. Covering games invites him to write not only about relationships between blacks and whites- "We are mind-haunted civilization; you
are the physical beauty we'll contemplate." - but about the relationship between the physical and the intellectual. He is especially intriguing when he explores those circumstances where the worst thing an athlete can do is think.
Unlike a lot of writers who have tried too hard to draw life conclusions from the games they watch, David Shields suggests connections and then steps away to see if they'll stand:
"I live across the street from a fundamentalist church, and whenever the Sonics play particular well, I'm filled with empathy for the churchgoers. They go to church, I sometimes think, for the same reason fans go to games: adulthood didn't turn out to have quite as much glory as we thought it would; for an hour or two, we're in touch with something majestic.
Lots of readers may feel inclined to argue with the juxtaposition of church and arena, but the reach invites us to consider both religion and sports from some intriguing perspectives. Any writer offering an opportunity like that deserves his shot.
This program aired on May 21, 2004. The audio for this program is not available.