Red Smith: More Than Just a Sportswriter Essay

Published: 2020-04-22 15:24:05
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There is truly no person that has ever deserved to be called a writer more than Red Smith. As a man who loved and believed in the art of writing, he once stated, All you do is sit down and open a vein and bleed it out drop by drop (Schmuhl xx). Even more, he was a hardworking and dedicated man that put his all into each piece of literature, despite the constant and restraining deadlines placed on him. His dedication was never more evident than when he stated, I made up my mind that every time I sat down to a typewriter I would slash my veins and bleed and that Id try to make each word dance (Schmuhl xx).

Furthermore, his work far exceeded the stigmas placed on sports writing at the time, since he cared more about the literature than the subject matter. This is all evident in his essay, When I Was an Athlete, in which he discusses what it was like to try to get out of gym class as a freshman in college. Red Smiths background, experiences, and writing style propelled him to be one of the greatest sportswriters of all time. Red Smiths background helps explain his current position as one of the best sportswriters to ever pick up a pen. Smith graduated from the University of Notre Dame in 1927 and wasted no time signing on as a reporter.

After working for the Milwaukee Sentinel, Smith took a job as a sportswriter for the St. Louis Star-Times. He went on to write for the Philadelphia Record for nine years, which allowed him to further hone his skills as a writer. Finally in 1945, Smith began his critically acclaimed column, Views of Sport in the New York Herald Tribune. This would all culminate in his 1956 victory of the coveted Grantland Rice Memorial Award for outstanding sports writing and a Pulitzer Prize in 1976, which he claimed was one of the two achievements he would like to be remembered for according to Schmuhl. Smith ? ally joined the staff of the New York Times in 1972, where he continued writing his famed and beloved sports columns (Britannica Encyclopedia).

Smith, considered to be one of the most literate and colorful sportswriters of all time, developed a keen writing style during his early years in the business. He delved into the worlds of football, baseball, boxing, and horse racing in his writing. According to the Britannica Encyclopedia, Smiths literary craftsmanship, humorous and iconoclastic approach, and deep knowledge of sports made him of the of the United States most popular sportswriters and he managed to shake the heavy argon used in most sportswriting, while maintaining his popularity.

He even became a consultant on usage for many dictionaries and encyclopedias due to his precise use of the English language (Britannica Encyclopedia). All these attributes led Smith to becoming a better writer. While Smith may have had an illustrious career writing about sports, that wasnt even his ? rst passion. Smith put it plainly, I never had any soaring ambition to be a sportswriter, per se. I wanted to be a newspaper man, and came to realize I didnt really care which side of the paper I worked on (Schmuhl xvi).

Robert Schmuhl further shows that Reds passion was rooted in more than just sports through the quote, Journalism was his passion rather than sports, a viewpoint that never changed (xvi). This passion for writing explains why his work is more literate than the norm for sports writing and deviates from the regular jargon found in newspapers. Furthermore, this helped him gain wide popularity, since his works werent just catered to people who watched sports. His work ethic also put in him in a position to become a great writer.

Since he was a perfectionist who was always looking for the perfect phrase or metaphor, his columns could take upwards of six hours to write (Schmuhl xx). Smith was also one of the last reporters to leave the press box and when he wasnt at work, he would spend long hours in his home of? ce, to which he referred to as The Sweat Shop or The Torture Chamber (Schmuhl xx). When Smith worked in Philadelphia, he was writing columns seven days a week and even ? ling event stories, and this work came with little relief as he worked for the Record for nine years (Schmuhl xvi). However, this work did not come without reward.

Stanley Woodward, the sports editor of the New York Herald Tribune, called Smith with a job opportunity (Schmuhl xvi). Woodward viewed him as the greatest of all sports writers, by which I mean he is better than all the ancients as well as the modems (Schmuhl xvi). His move to New York allowed him to reach a wider audience and it wouldnt be possible without his undying work ethic. While his background and experiences show how he was able to write luminously, his writing is what truly shot him to the top of his ? eld. The brilliance in his work was never more evident than his essay, When I Was an Athlete.

In this essay, he pulled together all of the great things that Smith is known for, most notably his humor, strong sense of perspective, and use of metaphors and similes. The essay deviates from his norm of writing about other people in sports, and instead discusses his own sports experience. He offers an interesting story about how he didnt like gym class his freshman year at Notre Dame University, so in order to not have to go to the classes, he joined the track team. Playing it off like he was a decent mile runner, he managed to acquire a spot on the team.

When it was ? ally time to run at a meet, he ran so poorly that other runners were actually lapping him, and his merciful coach decided to cut him a break and tell him to hit the showers. Afterwards he decided to ditch track and not go to gym class either, but he was able to skate by with gym attendance due to the gym teachers negligence with record keeping. He was still marked down with good attendance by the time swimming came around. Swimming, unlike regular gym, wouldnt have been an issue for Smith, but his friend didnt know how to swim so he asked Red to help him out and take the test for him.

Since the instructor didnt know either of the two, Smith signed in with the wrong name and passed the test for his friend. However, when it was time for Red to take the test for himself, which he planned to take after everyone else was done; the swimming supervisor told him that he had already passed. Thus, Smith thought he wasnt going to get any kind of credit for gym, but since the swim instructor gave over everyone on the roster for the swim tests, which gave everyone a passing grade, he was able to get away with not properly participating in gym class.

Smith concludes his experience with freshman gym in When I was an Athlete, So there I was. I had ducked out of gym class, I had failed as a runner, and I had not passed the swimming test in my own name. I had no right whatever to a gym credit but I got it because that instructor simply turned in all the names on his roster and everybody passed. I dont know why I should still hate him. But I do. (Schmuhl 57). Smith took a difficult experience and turned it into a humorous essay filled with similes, metaphors, and all the style a reader can ask for, proving that he truly is a prolific writer.

The story and picture that Smith paints with his funny anecdote about his gym experiences show that he was able to transcend simple sports reporting and tell a story. His ability to capture the readers attention and take him or her on a journey is what set him aside from other journalists of his time. All of this goes back to the fact that he wanted to be a writer more than he wanted to be sports journalist. Moreover, this essay proves that he had a vast reach in his writing abilities and was not just stymied to the doldrums that sometimes encompass regular sports reporting.

Smiths ability to tell a story was one of the biggest reasons for his popularity and is what set him apart from the pack of sportswriters. Smiths writing was also varied and interesting due to his allusion to others. Rather than simply beginning with his own thesis or introduction, in this particular essay, Smith decided to give a quote from another writer who wrote about a similar experience. This helps capture the readers attention and introduce the topic in a more interesting manner.

The quote from his essay, When I Was an Athlete, demonstrates how he quoted someone else to introduce his own topic: Also, in order to pass gymnasium (and you had to pass it to graduate), you had to learn to swim if you didnt know how. I dont like the swimming pool, I didnt like swimming, and I didnt like the swimming instructor, and after all these years, I still dont. I never swam, but I passed my gym work anyway, by having another student give my gymnasium number (978) and swim across the pool in my place. (Schmuhl 54).

This connection to James Thurbers quote provides a nice and smooth way to get into his topic. Smith even goes as far as to discuss how the quote gave way to this piece, I dont know how many times I read this passage in James Thurbers account of his hard times at Ohio State before I related it to my own trials as a freshman at Notre Dame (Schmuhl 54). This insight gives readers more to sink their teeth into and perpetuates Smiths strengths as a writer. Red Smith also went off on brief tangents, which allowed him to establish a conversational voice and make his writing more interesting.

At multiple times in this essay, Smith began to discuss other experiences that didnt directly correspond with the original subject matter. For example, when he was discussing his experience at his track meet, he told the reader about how some people were laughing in the stands. With the conversational transition of perhaps I should explain that he began to discuss how close he was to the people he roomed with and then brought his original story back with the transition the point is (Schmuhl 55).

This provides yet another interesting story about his life and it gives readers an opportunity to better understand the situation, but more importantly it allows readers to feel like they are in a conversation because of the voice and tone created by Smith. Smith also deviated from the central issue when he began to discuss his former experiences with swimming when he was much younger as he writes, Id been swimming since I was six or seven. When I was a kid in Green Bay, Wisconsin it was a point of pride to be the first chump in the water in any year. (Schmuhl 56).

Here he didnt provide the same types of transitions, which allowed the reader to understand the change in topic. After giving some background information, Smith then goes back to his story and begin to discuss how he took the swimming test for his friend. These tangents allow for a more interesting and involved reading experience. Smith was also a master at using literary devices to paint a vivid picture and to make his writing more interesting. As James Kilpatrick said, He had a nice hand for simile and metaphor, and this essay was no different (Schmuhl 45).

However, not only did Smith bring in similes and metaphors, he also made them humorous, which makes the picture he paints with his words all the more interesting. An example that truly embodies Red Smith is the quote from When I Was an Athlete in which he combines his famous use of similes and humor, Then, faced with the intolerable prospect of resuming my place in the formation and, on command, rising on my toes and flapping my arms like a buzzard trying to take off, I read the fine print in the college catalogue (Schmuhl 54). Furthermore, he was able to use personification to bring the reader into his own mind and perception of events.

He used the phrase the gun barked to describe how his race started at the meet (Schmuhl 55). This shows how he didnt exactly want to be there and even how he felt out of place. It makes the reader feel as though he was being forced to start the race because when a person is barked at, it doesnt bring up pleasant thoughts. His uses of metaphors, similes, and personification all bring more flare to his writing and bring people into the situation. As noted by James Kilpatrick, Red Smith had a keen sense of perspective in his writing (Schmuhl 45).

Perhaps this is never more evident than in his essay, When I Was an Athlete. Throughout the entire essay, Smith gives extensive point of view and thoughts from his own perspective. The readers get a sense that they are in Smiths shoes going through the experience. Smith exemplifies his skill for showing the reader the situation from his own eyes when he discusses his run at the meet, For a while I was alone. Then the short-handicap runners moved up, ran with me briefly, and went on. Pretty soon Kennedy and Nulty passed, and I was alone again. But not for long. Here ame the eager ones pouring past, with a full lap on me. (Schmuhl 55).

Through this quote it is clear that Smith was a master at using perspective to make the reader see and feel the situation as he did. Smiths use of perspective makes his essays more enjoyable to read and was also a factor for Smith transcending the simplicities of sports reporting and becoming a tremendous writer. Smith also gave extensive detail in his writing. His detail also allowed the reader to jump into the scene with Smith and feel the same things, while painting a clearer picture of the events.

The quote of, For lunch I had pork chops with applesauce, mashed potatoes, green peas, salad, several glasses of milk, and pie a la mode, shows how Smiths vivid memory gave the reader more information about the situation (Schmuhl 55). However, all these details about the food he ate werent quite as frivolous as they may have seemed, since he would later bring it up that he tasted the food as he struggled through his run and later became sick and threw up his extravagant lunch. This shows Smiths genius in his writing because he gave information that may seem excessive at first, but later the reader is reminded of its importance.

Smiths attention to detail propelled him to the top of the sportswriting field. Red Smith was a great writer and critically acclaimed as one of the best of all time. His numerous awards testify to his long lasting excellence as more than just a sports journalist, but as a writer in every sense of the word. None of it would be possible if it werent for his background and ability to produce great works such as When I Was an Athlete. Intangibles that range from his work ethic all the way to his ability to use the perfect metaphors make him one of the greatest writers to ever grace a piece of paper.

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