I received the following note from a reader named John:

You wrote in your column how terrible it is for an ex athlete to have to constantly retell the same old stories and how you’d never wish that upon anyone. You also said you are complimented on what you once were, which is a reminder of what you’ll never be again. This is all well and true, but I don’t think someone in your profession should really feel bad for him at all. You spend your entire professional life writing about the feats and accomplishments of other people. Your entire existence is spent chronicling the careers of others. This is something that takes no real talent and provides no real source of entertainment value either. You’re merely providing a subjective opinion on something of no real significance. Myself personally, I feel bad for you. When that day comes where you have finally written that last column and you look back on everything you’ve ever wrote, what fulfillment could you possibly get from that. To me the life of a sportswriter has to be equally as painful. Sure the athlete has to retell the old memories, but to me that’s a hell of a lot better than never creating a memory in the first place.

Admittedly, John’s words are harsh. Very harsh. But not something I haven’t thought about repeatedly. I am the son of a substance-abuse counselor. My wife used to run a homeless shelter for kids, and now works as a family coach (This is her. She’s amazing). My cousin Daniel was going to be a lawyer, but instead he became a teacher—initially at one of the worst schools in New York City. My uncle is a psychiatrist.
So what do I do? I write—about sports.
John is partially right. Maybe fully right. It is a relatively meaningless business; one that offers little of social service; one that doesn’t directly help people; one that is generally forgotten at the end of each day. If my words last, it’s usually only because someone forgot to turn off his/her laptop at night before going to bed.
That said, I do believe there is an importance in the chronicling of history, whether it’s politics, sports, music, war, peace, whatever. Most of what I know of Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Kareem, Wilt, Red Grange comes from what I’ve read in books and articles. Why, until recently reading the excellent Sons of Mississippi, I knew far too little about the desegregation of that state’s school system. There is an incredible value to the bringing back to life via words. An incredible value.
So do I think last week’s A.I. column offers any lasting worth to society? No. Not even a nickle. But when I write biographies (especially the one I’m working on now), I hope—perhaps foolishly—that they add to the collective history of a subject; that maybe—just maybe—100 years from now, when some dude is about to hit his 145th home run of the season or a new performance-enhancing drug has hit the market, Love Me, Hate Me will be used to understand what went on in our times.
Again, perhaps that’s wishful thinking. But, in the dark days, it keeps me going.

6 thoughts on “Thought”

  1. “This is something that takes no real talent”

    As a professional writer (well, someone in a writing-intensive profession, anyway), I submit that this is absolutely not true.

    Any hack can grab a keyboard and write, but writing well takes hard work and talent.

  2. props for letting the reader air his opinions (and making sure we all saw it vs. leaving it as a comment to a blog post).

    here’s what we know: people have strong opinions and can voice them in a variety of ways and that’s what makes america great. also, the sun will still rise tomorrow.

  3. I think this letter-writer is just trying to be mean to you (no doubt he’s a fan of some athlete or team you wrote a less-than-glowing piece about), albeit in more coherent fashion than many of your critics. “No talent” is not true, and “no entertainment value” is DEFINITELY not true. If there’s no entertainment value in sports writing, what’s up with all these blogs, books, magazines and newspaper columns all over the place? Hell, what’s up with Bill Simmons’ entire career?

  4. Jeff, I’ll say this once: Fuck that guy.

    Anything can be rendered meaningless if you sit down and deconstruct it. The fact “John” is so pathetically naive he thinks he’s being profound makes my day.

    No doubt I’ll be hearing from him, too, now!

  5. Personally, I think John is an A-hole and should get a life. I feel bad for HIM! I’d like to see him write a book.

    You have a talent and you are using it doing something you love. I’ve read many books and enjoyed them very much even though they may not add much to society.

    There are even books about things that aren’t even REAL that people enjoy. Let me say that again, “..that people enjoy”. How many books have you sold? Did those people ask for their money back? I think they enjoyed them. I would personally be happy about that.

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