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Summer Reading: The Best American Sports Writing 2008

Steven ResnickSenior Writer IJuly 1, 2009

14 Dec 1991:  Head coach Mike Ditka of the Chicago Bears, center, talks with quarterback Jim Harbaugh #4 during the Bears 27-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois.  Mandatory Credit: Jonathan Daniel  /Allsport

Since I started with Bleacher Report, I never really thought of sports writing as a career choice. That has changed; I recently had an interview with a local newspaper in regards to interning.

I realize I do have a lot of work to do, considering I've never taken a journalism class before. One of the things I need to work on, though, is removing myself from my writing, meaning taking my opinion out of it.

One of the recommendations for me was to study other sports writers and what better way than to buy a book with a variety of writers. The book itself is part of a series and it's called The Best American Sports Writing 2008 by William Nack.

The first story was from Sports Illustrated titled "A Death in the Baseball Family." It was written by S.L. Price about the untimely death of Mike Coolbaugh, who was struck in a head by a foul ball as a coach in the Colorado Rockies farm system.

The story recalls how Coolbaugh developed into a baseball player, as well as how his father played an active role in his career. 

Another part of the story is how the man who hit the ball, Tino Sanchez, felt when it happened and how he felt once he met members of Coolbaugh's family.

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He speaks with Mike Coolbaugh's sister-in-law Susan, his sister Lisa, his brother Scott, and finally Mandy Coolbaugh, Mike's wife.

The words of Coolbaugh's relatives helped ease Sanchez's guilt. They stated that whenever Tino needed help, he could call.

"G-L-O-R-Y" written by GQ's Jeanne Marie Laskas, is the next article in the book. It covers how Cincinnati Bengals cheerleaders prepare for each game.

Laskas goes over details of what it is like being a Ben-Gal as well as the fact that cheerleaders are stereotyped as bimbos, strippers, or bored pretty girls looking to get rich.

She writes: "Ben-Gals offer proof. Neither a bimbo nor a stripper nor a bored pretty girl would survive the rigorous life of a Ben-Gal. The Ben-Gals all have jobs or school, or do both.

"Two are sales reps. One is a database administrator. One works at a law firm. Another is a cancer researcher working toward her Ph.D. Finally, another one works in construction by pouring cement."

Another part to the story is the quote that Laska provides of what it looks like when the Bengals scored a touchdown.

As "Bang on the Drum" plays, Laskas notes: "The gals are screaming, laughing, howling, forgetting everything. This is a rain dance, a joy dance, a jet-propulsion explosion of cheerleader love, love to the crowd, and love from the crowd."

Mark Kram Jr. wrote the next story titled "Forgive Some Sinner." The story's premise goes over the rise, fall, and a little bit of redemption from his father, Mark Kram.

Fear, paranoia, and drinking all played a role in the downfall of Kram. As Kram got older, he eventually spoke with a psychiatrist and was put on medication to resume his brilliant work.  

When Kram died, Kram Jr. says that he had a very nice obituary in the New York Times, while Sports Illustrated didn't print a thing.

"Above and Beyond" written by Tom Clynes was a backpacker's search for the largest tree on Earth. The tree's name is "Hyperion," and it's about 70 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty and the size of a 40-story building.

"Dogged," written by Steve Friedman, is an example of perseverance. The article tells of an endurance runner who has run through deserts as well as through mountains.

On this occasion, she had fallen down a steep embankment and shattered her pelvis in so many places, doctors weren't able to count.

It's a story of survival, thanks to her background in school and as well as her dog named Taz. She and Taz were later on the Today Show after she survived the ordeal, even though she thought she was going to die.

John Brant's article is a story about Terry Fox. It is titled "Following Terry Fox." Fox died in 1981 from bone cancer. Fox started out on a journey to run across Canada. He traveled 3,339 miles, but made it more than halfway through.

During that time he was raising money for cancer research. He called it "The Marathon of Hope." It lasted 143 days before Fox succumbed to the cancer that spread to his lungs. During that time, he raised more than $23 million for cancer research.

It also points out how Fox touched other Canadians' lives. It related the story of a young woman the same age as Fox who was diagnosed with the same type of cancer, instead of it being in her leg, it was in her shoulder.

Thanks to the money that was donated to cancer research, her arm did not need to be amputated.

Another example was that of a young girl, just a freshman in high school, who seemed to be never healthy. The hospital in the small town was unable to diagnose her properly, so the family went to a bigger hospital, which diagnosed her with a malignant tumor in her lung.

She was then sent to Toronto to get treatment. She was able to recover and graduate high school and wants to become a nurse.

The next story was by Joe Posnanski, who writes for the Kansas City Star. The article was titled "The Legend of Bo."

The story takes a look back at some of the amazing performances that Jackson put on: including a three home-run game against the Yankees, hitting a 450-foot blast off Randy Johnson, a 461-foot blast off Nolan Ryan in Texas, which was the longest home run in Arlington Stadium's history, and even the first home run off Mike Moore which traveled 475 feet.

Another example of Jackson's greatness was when Harold Reynolds thought he could score from first because he was in motion in a 3-3 game in the 10th inning. Darnell Coles was signaling for Reynolds to slide.

As Reynolds went to do a courtesy slide, he realized that it was too late. Catcher Bob Boone had already caught the ball and tagged Reynolds out.

What happened was Jackson got the ball, made a flat-footed throw that traveled 300 feet to Boone on a perfect line to get Reynolds. At the time, no umpire was in position to call the play, but finally home-plate umpire Larry Young called Reynolds out.

Michael Weinreb writes an article on Bo Jackson called "Bo Knows Best." It goes over the myth of Jackson and the reason for Jackson speaking in third person. It was because he stuttered.

He also goes on about the 91-yard touchdown run in his rookie season against the Seahawks where Jackson ran into the tunnel of the Kingdome.

Dan Dierdorf is quoted as saying "Bo might not stop until Tacoma." Jackson finished the game with 221 yards.

Steve Largent stated that"the sound of Bo running past him was like nothing he had heard before.

It also helped create one of the most recognizable catchphrases in Nike History. "Bo Knows!"

This helped steer sports into the modern age of selling the individual instead of the team.

Jim Riswold, who helped create the Bo Knows mantra, states "People like their sports heroes, and Bo was something new. A new shiny toy. That was the best example of how big these things can become."

Yet, Bo Jackson himself isn't about the celebrity status. He says "People that live here see me all the time. I'm quiet. I lay low. I think a lot people get caught up in this celebrity world to where they have to be treated in a certain way, spoken to in a certain way, and they have to carry themselves in a certain way.

"And if they don't get their way, their world turns upside down. With me, I'll stop and help somebody change a car tire."

"The Kick Is Up...A Career Killer" written by Michael Lewis is in regards to NFL kickers and how one defining moment can kill their careers.

Examples that were used were Scott Norwood, Mike Vanderjagt, and Gary Anderson. Each missed crucial field goals and were judged for them.

Lewis also uses Adam Vinatieri as the example of a kicker who has pretty much the same credentials as other kickers including the same or near average of kickers in clutch situations.

Also, Tom Dempsey was used for his 63-yard game-winning field goal. The story ends with a quote that states "You're really nothing but a once-kick kicker."

Paul Solotaroff wrote " Casualties of the NFL;" it goes over the NFL's treatment of retired players due to injuries.

It tells of stories of players playing through broken bones, torn ligaments, etc. Yet, when turning to the NFL for disability assistance, the players are declined. Some players even resorted to suicide.

"Atkins: a Study in Pride and Pain" is a short article written by Rick Telander about Doug Atkins. 

George Halas, coach of Atkins, said that "there never was a better defensive end."

The story recollects the many injuries that Atkins went through: a groin pull that tore muscle off the bone leaving a "hole" in his abdomen, big toe injury, broken collarbone, and the leg that snapped at the bottom of a pile."

Another short story this one titled "Hammering on Hank" by Tommy Craggs. The story looks back at how Hank Aaron was looked at during Barry Bonds' chase to break Aaron's record .

Thomas Boswell, a writer for the Washington Post, offers the story of Roger Clemens' fall from grace. The Mitchell report had nine pages concerning Clemens, including Clemens' personal trainer admitting to injecting Clemens.

Boswell states "Even if Clemens is innocent, as his lawyer claims, the damage is done."

T.J. Simers wrote a short article titled "Family Carries On After Tragic Day At Rose Bowl." It's a story about a 53-year-old man who was at the Rose Bowl watching a game with his family. He went into sudden cardiac arrest and died.

It also went over how the family carried on the days after the event. Including a neighbor who called the USC athletic director who made plans to have flowers sent to the funeral home.

Rick Reilly, in another short story in the book, writes an article titled "Getting a Second Wind." It's the story about a girl named Korinne Shroyer who committed suicide and the parents' heartbreaking decision of donating her organs.

A man laid on his deathbed; his name Len Geiger. He was the one who received Korinne's lungs. He wrote the family of Korinne a thank you note and eventually Len met the family.

Len and Korinne's families take part in runs. Len also got married and had a baby girl in which he named his first child after Korinne.

Dan Jenkins writes an article titled "Golf in Geezerdom" which is about his enjoyment of golf and some rules on enjoying golf as well.

In "Joining the Club" by Mark Lucius, a young man gets a chance to caddy for a legendary female golfer. 

"The Old Ba' Game" is about a tradition in Kirkwall, Scotland. It retraces the history of the game, which may be traced even further back than 1600. There are few rules and the winner is determined if the ball is pushed to a wall in the upper part of town or if the other team pushes the ball into the ocean.

Wright Thompson wrote an article titled "Behind the Bamboo Curtain" about China's new development of China and its excitement about the 2008 Summer Olympics.

The other part to the story was the older parts of China, which were further away then Beijing did not care about the Olympics all that much. To them it is a matter of survival.

"Murder By Cricket" is a story written by Patric Hruby in regards to Bob Woolmer, a cricket coach murdered in Jamaica.

"Go, Speed Flier, Go" is an article written by Tim Neville on the extreme sport of being a speed flier. The story covers the first competition to name a champion.

The idea of a speed flier is to be the fastest pilot to weave around a series of flags scattered down 35- to 45-degree slips that tumble off mountain ledges.

Alec Wilkinson contributes a story titled "No Obstacles." It is about stunt work called parkour. It can be seen in movies like in Casino Royale.  The story also offers tips on how to be successful at it.

The article refers to a quote by Bruce Lee: "There are plateaus, but you must not stay there, you must go beyond them. A man must constantly exceed this level. If you're not better than you were the day before, then what are you doing? What's the point?"

David Belle has Youtube clips of his stunts as well. He also mentions that in order to practice the rolls used, you have to start on the ground first. Repetition and practice are what makes a good parkour.

Sam Shaw wrote an article titled "Run Like Fire Once More." This article is in regards to what it takes to run a ultramarathon.

The creator, named Sri Chinmoy, calls what each runner is training for the Self-Transcendence Race. Chinmoy is considered the guru.

An article on Kobe Bryant was the next story. Mike Sager and it was titled "Scito Hoc Super Omnia." The main point to the story is what Kobe has experienced as a player and as well as being a husband and father.

Alexander Wolff writes about Alberto Salazar and his ability to overcome odds such as a heart attack, being declared dead not once but twice, and also his ability to coach distance runners.

He's coached Galen Rupp, Josh Rohatinsky, Amy Yoder-Begley, Kara, and Adam Goucher.

Chip Brown writes an article titled "Not to Get Too Mystical About It" about Steve Nash and his trip to China with an assortment of NBA players. Nash helped set up the event with Yao Ming.

Nick Saban is another topic that was looked at in the book. In an article titled "In The Nick of time," the author recalls the history of each coach Alabama has had and the championships the coaches have won.

It also talks about the bad times with coaches like Mike Shula, Dennis Franchione, Mike Dubose, and Mike Price (who didn't even coach a game with Alabama).

Franz Lidz writes "Baseball After the Boss," regarding who would take over the ownership of the New York Yankees.

"Twenty-three Reasons Why a Profile of Pete Carroll Does Not Appear In this Space" was written by J.R. Moehringer. It is about Pete Carroll and what he does with his spare time when he's not coaching the USC Trojans.

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