What is Sport Literature?
We all love a good story, especially one that tells the tale of people and the sports they play. Sport literature can include powerful human profiles, histories, and tales of triumph in magazines such as Sports Illustrated. It can also be first-person accounts of success and failure in sport, such as the popular nonfiction books by John Feinstein, author of A Good Walk Spoiled: Days and Nights on the PGA Tour. Sports literature can also be about the fanaticism which surrounds the sport, such as Warren St. John’s Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, which followed RVers for a full season of University of Alabama football. Everything from poetry to short stories, to full-length novels, are examples of sports literature. Many film adaptations of books, when they are good, are often considered within broader definitions of the field.
The Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas explains it this way: “The competition, spectacle, personal struggle, and exaggerated personalities so characteristic of sport offer writers the perfect backdrop upon which to look deeply into human nature and create literature that transcends the sport itself.” While sport is the subject and the environment, the various human stories hold the reader’s interest.
Why Read Sport Literature?
Those who read sports literature are passionate about understanding the human condition. What makes a person want to climb a mountain or run 100 miles? In many cases, sport literature can be about endurance and pushing the human spirit, physical and mental, beyond its known capacity. It also looks at the stories of the underdog, of triumph over good and evil, of miracle seasons and miraculous feats. Within sports literature, you can find all of the familiar tales of heartache, human fallibility, wealth and poverty, success and failure.
Sports literature often takes a deeper dive by tackling major societal issues, such as racism, sexism, feminism, classism, and even political issues. Hot-button political topics often find themselves carried out within the sports arena, sometimes accompanied by controversy. From protests on the football field or in the Olympic stadium to legislation supporting the building of private sports stadiums with public funds to the treatment of players of different genders and races, they all find their way into the literature of sport.
Something for Everyone
Whatever you are interested in, when it comes to sports literature, there really is something for everyone!
Maybe you enjoyed the film, The Natural, with Robert Redford. This was based on a 1952 novel of the same name by Barnard Malamud. Some of your other favorite movies, such as Friday Night Lights (Buzz Bissinger, 1990); Moneyball (Michael Lewis, 2003); and Eight Men Out (Elliot Asinof, 1963) were all pieces of sports literature first.
If baseball and football are not your favorites, there are some other great books to consider about other sports, such as:
- Hockey – The Game by Ken Dryden
- Long-distance running and mountain climbing – Above the Clouds by Kilian Jornet
- Show jumping – The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, The Horse that Inspired a Nation by Elizabeth Letts
- Soccer – How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer and Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby
- Lacrosse – American Indian Lacrosse: Little Brother of War by Thomas Vennum
- Boxing – 12 Rounds at Lo’s Gym: Boxing and Manhood in Appalachia by Todd Snyder
- Hiking – Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed
- Figure skating – Edge pf Glory: The Inside Story of the Quest for Figure Skating’s Olympic Gold Medals and Revealing Journey into the Secret World of Figure Skating by Christine Brennan