SPORTS ILLUSION, SPORTS REALITY: A Reporter's View of Sports, Journalism, and Society by Leonard Koppett
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SPORTS ILLUSION, SPORTS REALITY: A Reporter's View of Sports, Journalism, and Society

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Can you cuff up with a book that lists seven ways ""spectator sports differ from other forms of entertainment""? The answer, remarkably, is yes. Or maybe it's not so remarkable: the foremost of the seven distinguishing traits is coherence--""Sports fans love to make lists, memorize statistics, collect trivia, follow schedules, arrange lineups, keep score."" (And to enter ""that cozy universe in which everything makes sense,"" they swallow the illusion that the outcome of a game matters.) Long-time New York Times sportswriter and Sporting News columnist Koppett developed this schematic analysis from a course he taught at Stanford--an instance of form following function as much as a lab class in biology. Not that Koppett ignores the imponderables of human behavior: he recounts (with Buster-Keaton deadpan) the story of teenage Rockford, Ill., pitcher Albert Spalding, his upset win over the stellar Washington Nationals, and the founding, in 1876, of the ""National League of Professional Baseball Clubs""--which, among other things, gave fans ""the simplest possible automatic daily focus of interest: the won-lost standings as the teams progress toward a 'pennant.' "" After Part I has scrutinized the sports business, Part II focuses, accordingly, on sports journalism--the conduit between producer/promoter and consumer/fan (and implicated, also, in one of those seven key traits, the ""readability"" of spectator sports). This is the book's most distinctive section. Other sportswriters have told how they plied their trade; Koppett lists seven ways he fills in what he's seen, discusses the obligations entailed, describes the mechanics of the various media, explains how statistics are used, exposes the personal relationships, and winds up with a little essay on ethics (stressing proportion--""A bad call by a referee is not the same as sending an innocent person to prison""). Section II, the Cultural Interaction, takes up in turn every one of the current issues--from amateurism (""A more pervasive institutionalization of hypocrisy is hard to imagine"") to racism (he's less inflamed than Halberstam, above) to the question of consumer sports' influences--good (six) and bad (six). Koppett sees the six assets outweighing the six drawbacks, ""not by a lot but by a discernible margin""; and in the last section, Immodest Proposals, he sets forth corrective measures apropos of the Olympics, medical research, the NCAA, etc--few of them commonplaces. (Contra Little Leagues: that's not, for one thing, what makes fans.) Koppett is logical, and he has a lot to tell--the book is a skeleton key to today's sports scene.

Pub Date: Oct. 23rd, 1981
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin