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7 A Happy Accident
For more than a half century Robert Lipsyte has looked out from under his pith helmet to see the things that other sportswriters, out of deference or inurement to The Way It's Always Been Done, couldn't or wouldn't. His book An Accidental Sportswriter, released in May, is an anthropologist's memoir. It recounts those instances when what Lipsyte calls SportsWorld ran up against the real world, and it pulsates with stories about Ali, Billie Jean and such period characters as Jack Scott, the associate of Bill Walton and Patty Hearst who helped ensure that Lipsyte would have an FBI file. If only more sportswriters had FBI files. Sportswriting, he reminds us, "isn't the oldest profession, although it's sometimes conducted that way."
Bullied as a kid, Lipsyte fell into a job at The New York Times, we learn in the book, and soon discovered that he could square accounts with the jocks who had once tormented him by keeping their kind honest. Sometimes, as with his coverage of gays in sports, it took years for anyone else to go near his stories. Then, after an intermezzo as a freelancer and TV reporter, Lipsyte returned to the Times, only to be cut loose by Howell Raines, the Alabama football fan who had taken over the paper. (Lipsyte found cold comfort in watching that boss lose his own job in the aftermath of Jayson Blair's plagiarism scandal.)
The same outsider's sensibility that gave Lipsyte his voice gives An Accidental Sportswriter its power. If much of today's best writing about sports (not "sportswriting") comes from an original place—think of the unconventional pedigrees of Malcolm Gladwell, Michael Lewis, Taylor Branch and Dave Zirin—we know whom to thank. During a year when the real world intruded on SportsWorld again and again, Lipsyte's memoir was a faultlessly timed valedictory, equal parts manifesto, cautionary tale and, to those of us in the business, how-to.
8 Jason Segel Likes Mike
One had to look beyond the obvious for 2011's most memorable sports scene in movies. This year's unlikely winner came courtesy of the grade-school comedy Bad Teacher:
INT. GRADE SCHOOL DANCE