Melvin Maddocks had just finished reading a book for one of his many TIME reviews. It was Robert Fitzgerald's new translation of The Iliad, and a passage describing the ancient Greek funeral games had stirred memories. "I remembered reading about that as a boy," he says. "I kept thinking then how strange it was for these ancient Greeks, these grown men, to be wrestling, running races, competing in sports. It didn't seem possible to me."
It was not that Maddocks, whose story on the squash-playing Khan family begins on page 26, thought that sports were inappropriate, but that they were for kids like himself, and that grownups who took them seriously were a bit foolish. "I remember an Irwin Shaw story called The Eighty-Yard Run," he says, "in which a football player has one great afternoon. Everything he does afterward means nothing. That was our notion of sports back then, that there came a time when serious-minded people should put aside the games of a child and take up the things of a man." For Maddocks, that meant switching from writing about football games and Boston Marathons to more adult topics, like the cultural commentaries and book and theater reviews that have occupied him over the years for The Christian Science Monitor, LIFE and TIME.
"The difference then between fun and serious life was much more distinct than now," he says. "It's easy to forget, but there was a time when people were ashamed to admit they played tennis. Golf was about the only game that was dignified. You could do business on the course, sell something. But a man was considered a freak if he did more than play golf or take a swim in the summer."
A combination of three growing children and the great physical culture boom that began in the '50s awakened Maddocks to the realization that age imposes no restriction on the enjoyment of sport. Now he can boldly tell the world that yes, he plays tennis four times a week from April to November, yes, he skates in winter and even plays hockey with his children, and, yes, he owns a squash racket, even though he only dabbles at that game.
And, happily for SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, it meant that Maddocks was free to focus his journalistic talents on sport as well as the arts. During the last several years he has found time to do pieces for us on such disparate subjects as the late Hazel Wightman, youth hockey, the Boston Red Sox' Carlton Fisk and the Khans, whose familial cohesion pleases family man Maddocks.
"Hashim, the old man, is great," he says of the Khan patriarch. "He's like Hemingway's old man of the sea. The game is so much a part of him. Sharif, the son, is the most sophisticated. He enlarges the game to encompass more than just court, racket and ball. He calls it a religion, and to the family it is.
"The Khans are a fine example of sport and life blending smoothly. And that was something I used to have trouble believing was possible."
MADDOCKS: THE SUBJECT IS SQUASH