There’s a literary genre whose name I can’t remember. It’s not the Biji or the Notebook, like the internets is trying to tell me it is, although those are the closest things I’ve found. Anyway, the genre that I’m thinking of—and which maybe exists and maybe doesn’t—is pretty straightforward: it’s the collection and arrangement, by one person, of memorable quotations. Don’t say Book of Quotations, because that’s not it. I swear.
Anyway, I want to try a brief one of these [insert genre name here], because there are a few excellent sayings I’ve recorded and have neither the aptitude for, nor the will to try, integrating them into a longer piece.
There’s a central theme to this brief collection: the celebration of sport’s endless capacity for providing access to conspicuous acts of genius. There are other sorts of genius, of course, and, of course, sport itself is excellent for a number of reasons besides its transcendent moments (the existence of Joe Castiglione, for one). But sport is perhaps most exciting when it shows us how great we could be, because, at their best, athletes are able to provide elegant solutions to difficult problems almost without thinking.
I should stop now. Here are those quotes.
At Italian football matches—or at least Hellas Verona matches, provided Tim Parks isn’t lying—the fans chant facci sognare, or “make us dream,” imploring the players to perform the impossible. The fact that Verona’s players rarely perform the impossible makes this gesture even more significant.
In Take Time for Paradise, A. Bartlett Giamatti celebrates the improvisational nature of sport. He says that the excellent thing about sport is that the athlete is capable of doing not just what we imagined he might, but what we couldn’t have even imagined, because the precise circumstances had never presented themselves before this moment. In such instances, we witness a player who performs, without thought, an act that, beforehand, was inconceivable.
Uruguayan Übermensch Eduardo Galeano writes in Football in Sun and Shadow that “on the field you can … see, even if only once in a long while, some insolent rascal who sets aside the script and commits the blunder of dribbling past the entire opposing side, the referee and the crowd in the stands, all for the carnal delight of embracing the forbidden adventure of freedom.”
In his essay “Self-Reliance”, Ralph Waldo Emerson writes that, “There is a class of persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold; for them I will go to prison, if need be.” Emerson is not discussing sport specifically here, but one can’t help imagine that he’s talking about Franck Ribery.
Sherman Alexie mentions here, and (we’re led to believe) actually testified in court, that he thinks professional basketball players have taken the place of the Greek gods. He writes some other pretty great stuff, too, with which we might tangle at a later date.
Ross McSweeney has not yet written, but might someday write, that it’s actually we, the spectators, who’ve taken the place of the gods, and that, like the Olympic gods, we look down upon athletes (literally, in the stadiums) as a source of endless amusement.
I share these quotations by way of introducing a service that The New Enthusiast will be providing to anyone who happens to stumble across our modest webspace. We’ll be making a practice of alerting the Reader to any athlete who performs an act worthy of great praise.
As far as how to praise such moments, this is difficult. I’ve given it some thought, without much in the way of solutions. I’ve even tried it, but one wants the praise at least to approach the same level of rapture as the original event.
Athletes have a similar problem. Asked how he scored X number of points or hit a mammoth home run, a player responds only in vaguaries. “I just took my chances,” he says. “I tried to hit the ball hard.” It’s a difficult task for anyone, let alone an athlete, to explain. Were he being honest, the athlete might say, “I don’t know. I’ve been training my body my whole life, countless repetitions of the same act. I scored the points/hit that home run, because that is the one skill I’ve come close to perfecting.”
Elsewhere in Football in Sun and Shadow, Galeano recounts this episode: “A reporter once asked the German theologian Dorothee Solee: ‘How would you explain to a child what happiness is?’ ‘I wouldn’t explain it,’ she answered. ‘I’d toss him a ball and let him play.'” In that spirit, until I’ve figured out how to praise certain athletes or moments duly, I won’t attempt it. I’ll just make a record of it, hopefully by posting video on the right there ———————–>.