Best American Sports Writing Week 4: Walking New Paths

Photo courtesy of TorontoGuy79 via Wikimedia Commons

(photo courtesy of TorontoGuy79 via Wikimedia Commons)

This week’s stories were focused on different people walking a new path in their own way. From an athlete in Venus Williams being a trailblazer in her sport, to a coach trying to win a lawsuit with the future of youth sports indirectly at stake, and a writer going out of her element just to have the opportunity to see greatness up close.

The Venus Williams story by Elizabeth Weil was very long and packed with information. It brought an interesting perspective in that Venus was not just a trailblazer for the obvious reasons; as an African-American Female tennis player, but she was also being a trailblazer for her sister, Serena. Even though the consensus was that Serena would (and did) reach greater heights than her sister, she didn’t face as difficult a challenge doing so because of Venus.

The descriptive visual language that was used in this story was very detailed, with the one that sticks out being the comparison of the sisters to a two-stage rocket that was mentioned at the very start of the piece. As the story continues, you can’t help but go back to that visual comparison, because it’s incredibly accurate. However, in spite of all of that, the Williams sisters still maintain a sisterly bond that goes beyond tennis. The beyond tennis aspect was also highlighted in Venus Williams’ love for her businesses, which were something for her and only her to do. This was interesting in that not only did Venus not want to be pigeonholed as just being an athlete, but her love for her business seems to be greater than her love for tennis, in that tennis was an obligation, but her businesses were her babies.

The lawsuit that coach John Suk faced for a player getting hurt after being told by Suk to slide seems stupid; the premise, the idea that someone can even sue for that, never mind have a chance to be successful. The author, Steve Politi, highlighted that by pointing out that he was the only one in attendance for the trial. But as the story went on, it immersed the reader into the challenges that was being faced by the coach as the process moved forward. And as the matter escalated from something that would never see a courtroom, to becoming someone who had to win this lawsuit for the future of youth sports.

The story also never painted any one side as the bad guy. Even though the story was focused more on Suk’s side, neither the ballplayer, nor the judge, nor the jury were painted as bad guys, which would have been easy to do. Instead, using descriptive words to describe the injury as explained to the jury, the ballplayer came off as sympathetic, and at the end, Lauren Palladino, one of the jurors, came off as a neutral party; someone that could relate to being a player, but who understood that the coach had no intention of hurting the player.

Chloe Cooper Jones’s “Champion Moves” painted her story as a fish out of water. She was, for all intents and purposes, a fan of Roger Federer, and wanted an opportunity to see it up close. So she walked a completely new path to her to make those dreams reality by covering the Indian Wells tournament, a culture writer in a sea of sportswriters. What stood out was the way that she detailed her culture shock. For her, seeing Federer was her dream and her end goal, but for everyone else, it was another event. She made it very clear that she felt like she was the outsider, both with how other reporters treated her regarding no cheering in the box, or not knowing about the transcripts, and with her general frustrations throughout the trip that have her as feeling outmatched.

She also mentioned her disability at points in the story, which was interesting in two ways. The first one, which she had mentioned, was the contrast between her disability (a missing sacrum bone) and Roger Federer, with Federer being “effortless” vs “the embodiment of effort”. The second way it was interesting was over the course of the entire story, in that she never gave up. Even though Jones had thought about just getting away from the Indian Wells garden, she stuck with it, even in the face of the challenges presented by her disability, her lack of experience, and seemingly finding herself hitting her head against the proverbial wall every single day. But she persevered and made her trip a worthwhile experience.