If Walter Iooss doesn't have the best job in creation, the guy
who does is having way too much fun. As an SI photographer, Iooss
takes portraits of the world's greatest athletes and the world's
most ravishing supermodels. Some years back, while photographing
model and actress Carol Alt for a swimsuit issue, he noticed that
she kept a diary in which she would paste Polaroids of the jobs
she worked on, giving her a record of her life. It occurred to
Iooss that his life was worth keeping a record of too, so he
began stashing prints of his favorite photos in a journal. As
time went on, Iooss decorated these pictures with pen-and-ink
illuminations, made collages and occasionally scribbled comments
in the margins to explain the circumstances surrounding the
shoots. The resulting book--Sporting Life--is a unique and
intimate work of art.
Even without Iooss's added touches, the book is an intriguing
collection of photographs. There's Magic Johnson demonstrating
the baby skyhook, Kathy Ireland strolling nearly naked in the
Waikiki twilight, Michael Jordan celebrating one of his
innumerable triumphs with cigars and champagne in his room at the
Phoenix Ritz-Carlton, and Mario Andretti feeding a pig by hand.
Equally riveting are Iooss's noncelebrity photos, including an
essay on Venice that captures a romantic one-day sojourn he took
there with his wife, Eva.
There is little explanatory text accompanying the pictures, but
when Iooss does take to writing, he discusses topics only he
would be privy to: Such as, supermodels get cranky when you make
them crawl in the surf on all fours and there are times when you
have to think of something to say to Joe Montana so he'll hang
around long enough for the sun to drop and provide perfect light.
The more time you spend with the book--and you will spend time,
as strumming through its pages is a mesmerizing experience--the
more you realize that it is less about what Iooss thinks of his
pictures than what he feels about them. What he feels is
exhilaration and wonder, emotions you will share as well.
COLOR PHOTO: WALTER IOOSS JR. WHAT A KICK Shooting Fernando Hierro in Madrid left Iooss with these impressions.
Irony and humor underline arguments that religion made sports in
America what it is today
OLD JOKE: Vince Lombardi is lying in bed with his wife on a cold
"God," she says, "it's freezing in here."
"My dear," Lombardi replies, "when we're alone like this, it's
O.K. to call me Vince."
The truth is, Lombardi almost had reason to think so highly of
himself. For if sports has risen to the level of religion in
America--and this book, The Gospel According to ESPN, argues
persuasively that it has--then the men and women who perform on
its grandest stages must be regarded as prophets, angels, devils,
gods and demigods. The case is made here by writers such as
Hunter S. Thompson, George Plimpton, Peter Carlson, Le Anne
Schreiber and Ralph Wiley. Their arguments are presented with
enough humor to avoid blasphemy and enough seriousness to
convince you that they may be onto something.
In the editor's note Jay Lovinger points out that the Reverend
Billy Graham and onetime Miracle Mets reliever Tug McGraw have
essentially the same message: "You gotta believe." What's more,
notes Thompson, there's a long-standing American belief best
summed up by infamous Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes:
"Sports and religion have made America what it is today."
Plimpton adds that the detritus left behind by athletes is
preserved with the same awe reserved for saintly relics. Bobby
Orr's knee brace is displayed at the Hockey Hall of Fame in
Toronto, and the bowl and the spoon that Joe Montana used to
slurp his chicken soup before his heroics in the 1979 Cotton Bowl
can be viewed at Notre Dame.
The book goes on in this amusing vein, aided by a rich collection
of photographs. In the end no tome on this subject can avoid
confronting sports' longest-standing theological question: Is it
O.K. to pray for victory?
The best answer was given by boxer Beau Jack, a lightweight champ
from the 1940s who emphatically said, "No."
"Suppose I pray to win," Jack explained, "and the other boy prays
to win too. What's God gonna do?"