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BODY POLITIC by David Shields


The Great American Sports Machine

by David Shields

Pub Date: May 1st, 2004
ISBN: 0-7432-4774-4
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

A thinking person's collection of sports essays.

“Sports and politics have always been, for me, in curiously close conversation, alliance, overlap, competition,” the always stimulating Shields (Enough About You, 2002, etc.) writes. That means he feels free to range over a panoply of topics, from racism to tattoos (this theme gets a whole chapter of dense paragraphs strung together like pearls) to the weird vibe in the broadcast booth, “shadowed by the homosexual panic implicit in the fact that it consists for the most part of a bunch of out-of-shape white men sitting around talking about black men’s buff bodies.” Even more than politics, Shields is powerfully drawn to myth and metaphor, to sports figures of composure and grace like coach Phil Jackson (“if Buddhism, a fundamentalist childhood, and political idealism are the building blocks of his leadership style, they're also the ingredients of his spookily hyper-rational perfectionism”), the Seattle Mariner Ichiro Suzuki (“against the bottomless hype and megalomania of contemporary sports, Ichiro's strut-free sanity seemed strange and new”), and San Antonio Spur Tim Duncan (“absolutely imperturbable, Buddhistically detached, cool beyond cool”). Is a Duncan even marketable anymore? Shields wonders. Not that he favors gangsters, but, he admits, “I’m not sure we go to the NBA Finals to witness the peace that passeth understanding.” Yet the author is a mild, reflective man who suspects there is a strong element of resurrection and salvation in sports (and sport movies: not Raging Bull, but Field of Dreams), who can dissect Charles Barkley straddling the line (“Barkley’s race-anger is exactly the amount of race-anger we can process, which is to say: not that much”), and who can cobble together a fluid chapter out of sporting clichés: ten pages that sound either like wacky Shakespeare or a whole lot of ironic license plates tied end-to-end.

Pensive and shrewd.