ESPN: The Magazine's Wright Thompson is the guest editor for the 2015 edition of "The Best American Sports Writing." Thompson and series editor Glenn Stout joined Bill Littlefield to discuss some of the standout sports writing included in this year's volume.
Highlights From Bill's Conversation With Wright Thompson And Glenn Stout
BL: I want to get right to what I consider one of the most unusual stories in this collection. Wells Tower, writing for GQ, made the cut with “Who Wants To Shoot An Elephant?” The essay establishes that elephants have a lot in common with people. Wright, am I right about that? Does he accomplish that?
WT: He accomplishes that and it also does the thing that, for me, was the bar with the stories in this book which is: it is both about the thing on the page and about something else. It is not just about someone going to kill an elephant. It is about all of the sort of existential questions about humanity that that quest prompts.
BL: Glenn, what do you think? Does the story establish a rationale for hunting elephants? Is that the agenda here?
GS: Well it doesn't establish a rationale for hunting elephants, but it establishes a rationale for exploring death. I mean, yeah, we're writing about sports, and we're taking it real seriously, and we're being true and genuine and authentic to that. But that takes us to another place where we're also writing about love and loss and death and loneliness and all those other issues that fascinate us no matter what the entry point is. Sports is the entry point.
BL: Alright, strange story number two is titled “In Deep,” by Burkhard Bilger. It’s about people who spend weeks at a time underground in caves, cramped tunnels and dark, cold water…without knowing where they're going to end up. This was a story that made me incredibly uncomfortable. Certainly it's extreme something, Glenn, but what makes it qualify as sport?
BL: The recent demise of Grantland has led some to wonder if that has dealt a serious blow to long form sports journalism, a format, Glenn, with which you are quite familiar. What do you think?
[sidebar title="An Excerpt From 'The Best American Sports Writing 2015'" align="right"]Read an excerpt from "The Best American Sports Writing 2015" edited by Wright Thompson.[/sidebar]GS: You know, Grantland goes away, some place else will pop up. You're not going to stop the writers at Grantland, they're going to find places to write. So, it sort of doesn't matter in a funny way. I mean, yeah, it's too bad because they paid people well, and a lot of people got exposure there.
But the hardest thing in the world is to try to stop people from telling stories, and it doesn't matter if ESPN disappears tomorrow or Sports Illustrated disappears tomorrow or the New York Times goes away tomorrow. Guess what? Writers are still going to find places to tell those stories, and try to stop them...you can't.
WT: I think that losing Grantland, the thing that to me is worrying or upsetting is that what Grantland was was the home for hybrid literary/social commentary and criticism. It was super intelligent, and now that they're not doing it not many places are funding that. But in terms of Grantland being the home of long form journalism in it's traditional reported sense, that's just not true.
This segment aired on January 2, 2016.