'The Best American Sports Writing' With Christopher McDougall

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"The Best American Sports Writing 2014," is, like the earlier collections in the series, magnificently eclectic. There are stories about basketball players and football players, of course, but there's also a story about a one-legged wrestler, and there's one about backgammon hustler.

Series editor Glenn Stout and guest editor Christopher McDougall joined Bill Littlefield to discuss the collection.

Highlights From Bill's Conversation With Glenn Stout

BL: Perhaps the most unlikely story in the book is titled "You Can Only Hope To Contain Them." Christopher, tell us about that one.

CM: You know, I loved that story from the headline onward. What I loved about it is it's one of those stories hiding in plain sight. It's one of the sports revolutions that has changed the lives of millions of people. It has changed the landscape of modern American sports. It's all because someone had a clever idea with a piece of fabric.

BL: Well, you have created a certain amount of suspense here. You better tell our listeners what that fabric, in fact, contains.

CM: The sports bra. The sports bra. With the advent of the sports bra, suddenly things which were really uncomfortable for many athletes are now comfortable. So suddenly you have women in mixed martial arts; you have women doing endurance sports, things which they might have felt prohibited from in the past. Suddenly, door's open because someone created a great sports bra.

BL: This volume contains a lot of stories about people trying to con each other: a young basketball player trying to convince himself and others that he's a lot better than he is, for example. One especially powerful con job gone wrong is evident in a story titled "Tomato Can Blues," which Mary Pilon wrote for the New York Times. Glenn, talk a little about the appeal of that story.

GS: Well, you know, I'm always drawn to stories that have a little bit of a sleight of hand in them, where you kind of think you're getting one thing and then you get another. That's what this story is. You know, it's the story of this mixed martial arts guy, then this one just takes this entire sideways turn and almost turns into a true crime story where you end up with the guy faking his own death and hiding in his own apartment.

And then she also kind of frames it and puts it in kind of a real traditional context. It's the kind of thing that — you know, it's hard to resist a story like that.

BL: Christopher, in looking over the stories Glenn submitted for your consideration, did you ever find yourself thinking, "Well, yeah, but there aren't any straight-forward sports stories in this pile?"

CM: I wasn't even aware of that until someone pointed it out to me afterwards. I think one of the comments on the book was, you know, "where are the ice hockey stories?" Or "last year was a big soccer year. How come there aren't any soccer stories?" I'm actually looking at the table of contents now. It's like four stories in a row: Manti Te'o, the Matchmaker, Tomato Can Blues, End and Don King — right there, four stories in a row are about con jobs.

What Glenn does is he sends you this big pile of stories right around February or March when the weather is awful. So now you're paid to sit in front of a fire and just read these amazing stories. And all you do is you just create three piles: yes, no, maybe. And for me there wasn't any thought of what the category was in terms of the sport. It was just what was a winner.

Bill's Thoughts On "The Best American Sports Writing 2014"

Each year, The Best American Sports Writing offers readers a second chance to check out excellent stories they've almost certainly missed over the course of the preceding year.

This is because nobody reads as many stories set in sports as series editor Glenn Stout does, and his determination to pass on the best of the best to his guest editor insures that each collection will be terrific.

This year's volume seems to be slanted toward the off-beat. There's a story about a one-legged wrestler, and one about the sports bra, and an especially powerful indictment of high school sports. This is not to suggest that Stout and Christopher McDougall, the guest editor for 2014, have neglected the mainstream sports, but the emphasis here, as in previous volumes, is on superior writing, and each year it is encouraging to discover how much of it is out there.


This segment aired on January 3, 2015.

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Bill Littlefield Host, Only A Game
Bill Littlefield was the host of Only A Game from 1993 until 2018.



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