LAST WEEK SI announced the Sport in America: Our Defining Stories HBO documentary series that we are producing with Endgame Entertainment and Playground Entertainment. This week In My Tribe (page 68) explains the themes of the series and encourages readers to contribute their own stories (at sportinamerica.com).
To begin reporting the piece I asked colleagues 16 questions, starting with: What is the most courageous thing you've ever seen in sports? I agreed with senior writer Joe Posnanski that it was Jackie Robinson's debut and rookie year. Everything else follows that. And even then, Robinson still doesn't get enough credit for his courage. Neither do Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson and Bill Russell and Jim Brown. I also agreed with copy chief Gabe Miller, who pointed to the spirit and endurance of the Thrilla in Manila, and what it did not only to the loser, Joe Frazier, but also to the winner, Muhammad Ali. So it is with so much about Ali: His decision to apply for conscientious objector status during the Vietnam war cost him a fortune and reminds us what courage and conviction are. Courage is also at the heart of comebacks like the Giants' rallying to beat the Patriots in the 2008 Super Bowl and the Red Sox' coming back from a 3--0 series deficit to beat the Yankees in the 2004 ALCS.
SI staffers answered my questions with story after story (many sadly cut for space), like the one about Central Washington University softball players who carried an injured opponent around the bases in 2008 so her home run would stick. That's how rich we are in stories.
And they are all layered with meaning: Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal playing that five-set final at Wimbledon in 2008, four hours and 48 minutes of Federer's power, grace and creativity versus Nadal's athleticism, speed and grit—all with mutual respect. It is the rivalry that assistant managing editor Christopher Hunt says has "the least animosity in all of sport." And another moment in tennis: The 1982 French Open semifinals, in which Mats Wilander had match point on José-Luis Clerc, and Clerc hit a shot that was called out, giving Wilander the match and a berth in his first Grand Slam final. But Wilander, only 17 years old, thought Clerc's shot was good and insisted on replaying the point. Wilander won the next point and went on to win the tournament. What would Serena have done?
My point is, you can know that Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose are liars and still love their play. But that is not what Sport in America is about. I hope you'll read In My Tribe with your own stories in mind. That's how it came together, with stories from colleagues: Kelli Anderson, Lars Anderson, Stephanie Apstein, Chris Ballard, Michael Bamberger, Jen Chang, Bobby Clay, Neil Cohen, Richard Deitsch, Richard Demak, Zac Ellis, Michael Farber, Paul Fichtenbaum, Steve Fine, Dick Friedman, Jim Gorant, Bryan A. Graham, Hank Hersch, Christopher Hunt, Lee Jenkins, Nicki Jhabvala, Kostya P. Kennedy, Ted Keith, Thomas Lake, Tim Layden, Jeffrey Lewis, Tom Mantzouranis, Bette Marston, Gabe Miller, Richard O'Brien, Andrew Perloff, Joe Posnanski, S.L. Price, John Rolfe, Melissa Segura, Gary Smith, Christian Stone, Ian Thomsen, Tom Verducci, Grant Wahl, L. Jon Wertheim and Alexander Wolff.
THE STORY BEGINS WITH JACKIE ROBINSON'S DEBUT. EVERYTHING ELSE FOLLOWS THAT.