Tuesday, May 4, 2010

A Bitch of a Line to Draw in America's Dust

I recently got my hands back on a presumably gone-for-good copy of The Best American Sports Writing of the Century, an 800-page tome, a truly Sabathia-sized collection. Since reclaiming the book, I've been reading and re-reading some of the best essays every produced, period, in the 20th or any other century, for that matter, by America's scribes. Like Richard Ben Cramer's profile of Ted Williams, which squares around on the paradox of celebrity, a paradox that seems to get knottier with each passing decade and new cable sports network:
It was forty-five years ago, when achievements with a bat first brought him to the nation's notice, that Ted Williams began work on his defense. He wanted fame, and wanted it with a pure, hot eagerness that would have been embarrassing in a smaller man. But he could not stand celebrity. This is a bitch of a line to draw in America's dust.
Ted was never the kind to quail. In this epic battle, as in the million smaller face-offs that are his history, his instinct called for exertion, for a show of force that would shut those bastards up. That was always his method as he fought opposing pitchers, and fielders who bunched up on him, eight on one half of the field; as he fought off the few fans who booed him and thousands who thought he ought to love them, too; as he fought through, alas, three marriages; as he fought to a bloody standoff a Boston press that covered, with comment, his every sneeze and snort. He meant to dominate, and to an amazing extent, he did. But he came to know, better than most men, the value of his time. So over the years, Ted Williams learned to avoid annoyance. Now in his seventh decade, he had girded his penchants for privacy and ease with a bristle of dos and don'ts that defeat casual intrusion. He is a hard man to meet.
While reading this, I couldn't help but think of Dez Bryant, the controversial, talented wide receiver recently drafted by the Dallas Cowboys, despite NFL-wide concerns about his character. Like Williams, Bryant doesn't strike me as the kind to quail, but I'm concerned he'll never get a chance to appreciate William's hard-fought right of privacy. On draft night, after the Cowboys selected him, Bryant was swarmed in large numbers by family and friends, some of whom celebrated inches from his face. I imagine that's how Bryant's lived the entirety of his young life, with people, good and bad, inches from his face, championing and criticizing. The poor kid doesn't even enjoy enough space to draw a line in the dust.

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