Reviewed in this essay:
Sports Guy by Charles P. Pierce. Da Capo Press, 2000.
The stock image of a sportswriter is of a person wearing an ugly shirt, with strong opinions on football defences and who writes recaps of games that all seem to come from the same script: who won, who lost, who scored the big goal.
Charles P. Pierce is not that kind of sportswriter.
Over the last 20 years, he’s written for Esquire, GQ and Boston, among other publications. Sports Guy is a collection of his best sports stories. And unlike most sports writing, he’s not overly concerned with winners and losers.
Most of his stories are more interested in unusual circumstances. Pierce writes of a snake-handling pole-vaulter and a pro wrestler who won the lottery. He writes of hockey-obsessed Warroad, Minnesota and a small native reservation with a long tradition of basketball excellence.
The center of the book is his infamous piece on Tiger Woods, “The Man. Amen.” This detailed look at a 20-something Tiger is memorable not only for what Tiger said (off-colour remarks about golf groupies and a gay joke) or what Earl Woods said (Tiger will “do more than any other man in history to change the course of humanity”). It’s because he saw through the hyperbole around the young star. “I do not believe – right now, this day – that Tiger Woods will change humanity any more than Chuck Berry did,” he writes.
Remember: this was when Tiger had a pristine image. When Tiger was supposed to be change golf forever. But Pierce wrote about Tiger like he would anyone else – warts and all. When Tiger made off-colour jokes around an on-the-record Pierce, they made it into print. “The next thing I knew,” notes Pierce in his preface, “Tiger and his father were on national television accusing me of illicit electronic surveillance of a limo driver. What I’d done was take notes when I was supposed to take notes.”
It’s this lack of pretension that helps set Pierce apart. Other stories showcase his other strengths: an eye for catching illuminating details, his dogged reporting, and an overwhelming fairness – there are no hatchet jobs here.
Sports Guy is an excellent collection of a magazine writer at the top of his game. Its highlights are some of the best magazine writing in recent memory. Recommended to those who enjoy long-form writing, profile stories and, obviously, sports.