Sunday, September 17, 2006

Tomgram: Robert Lipsyte, America Juiced on Sports

In 1975, Robert Lipsyte -- by then, a sportswriter for fourteen years and a New York Times sports columnist as well -- published Sportsworld, An American Dreamland, a fabulous, acerbic, goodbye-to-all-that. In it, he wrote: "By puberty, most American children have been classified as failed athletes and assigned to watch and cheer for those who have survived the first of several major ‘cuts'… Sportsworld heroes exist at sufferance, and the path of glory is often an emotional minefield trapped with pressures to perform and fears of failure. There is no escape from Sportsworld, for player or spectator or even reporter, that watcher in the shadows who pretends to be in the arena but above the fray."

And then, as if to prove his point, Lipsyte, an addict like the rest of us, came back and did it all over again at the Times -- even better. In fact, from Muhammad Ali to NASCAR racing, he's never stopped chewing over the subject of sports and American life.

Oh, and he was also part of a cadre of novelists who broke the staid field of Young Adult fiction wide open back in the 1960s. My kids grew up on his novels: The Contender, The Brave, One Fat Summer. I read them myself in those years. Lipsyte has always tested the boundaries of the Young Adult form. This season he's done it again with his newly published Raiders Night, a down-and-dirty locker-room tale of Jock Culture and high-school football at its well-tested worst, of how one jock, one team captain, tries to deal with the pressures of juiced-up sports parents, enhancement drugs, and sex as brute domination. Like the best of Young Adult fiction, stripped down to narrative and ready for action, it's absolutely gripping.

Of course, I'm a sports-watcher like most of the rest of male (and increasingly female) America and it always seemed to me that some essential part of our lives, our culture, our strangeness would be missing from Tomdispatch if the spectacle of sports didn't take a bow here from time to time. That was a dream. Now, Lipsyte makes it a reality with the first of what will be periodic missives from the sports front. So check out the steroid scandals and a host of other sports matters, Lipsyte-style. Myself, I wouldn't miss it for the (sports)world. Tom

Shooting Up on Jock Culture

By Robert Lipsyte

I was shooting depo-testosterone the other day, imagining how good the juice would make me feel and how it would power my pedaling up the Ram Island hill, the toughest test on my 15-mile bicycle ride. The hill is my Alps and so my feelings about Floyd Landis testing positive this past steroid summer after winning the Tour de France with a ruined hip are so mixed as to be almost incoherent. Like all super-elite athletes, including Barry Bonds and Marion Jones, Floyd is a freak of physique and will. I could double my dosage, shoot up every day, and never ride in his shadow.

So consider what follows just random notes from Jock Culture by a recovering sportswriter.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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