Writing the Sporting Body

Writing the Sporting Body

(Comparative Literature 374; Winter 2015 Version)

Course Description

As sports fans, communicating about what we have seen can be as enjoyable as witnessing sports performance. Whether it is an event we’ve seen or one we’ve missed, talking and listening, writing and reading about the action forms part of our pleasure.

In this course, we will consider writing that features the human body engaged in athletic performance. We’ll look at writing from various places and times, about a variety of different sporting events and appearing in different kinds of publications. Some of the writing was produced immediately after the fact, in the heat of the moment, for a deadline, while some of it was produced upon reflection, sometimes decades later.

To help focus our study of this writing, we will begin the course by equipping ourselves with a common vocabulary for talking about issues relating to sports, language, style, history, philosophy, and society that come up when we try to describe the sporting body in writing or think about how others have done so.

Finally, throughout the course, we will try our hand at writing the sporting body, in and outside of class, as a practical means of deepening our understanding both of the sporting body in action and of the special challenges and opportunities that it presents to us when we want to describe it in language.

When we’re done, we should all have heightened our appreciation for and understanding of the variety of ways that written descriptions of the sporting body shape the way we see, understand and enjoy athletic performance.

The syllabus below is in two parts: “I. Class Schedule” and “II. Course Requirements.”


I. Class Schedule

Note on Reading and Viewing Assignments in the Class Schedule:

  • You must buy In Praise of Athletic Beauty by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht.
  • Links to and/or PDF files of all other readings and links to videos available on CTools.


M 1/12: Course Logistics

  • Read: course syllabus [CTools]

W 1/14: The Problem

  • Read Gumbrecht, pp. 1-16 (“Everyfan”) from In Praise of Athletic Beauty
  • Read Gumbrecht, pp. 17-37 (“Praise”) from In Praise of Athletic Beauty


W 1/21: Definitions 1 -Presence

  • Read: Gumbrecht, pp. 37-57 (“Beauty”) from In Praise of Athletic Beauty
  • Read: Gumbrecht, pp. 57-84 (“Athletics”) from In Praise of Athletic Beauty

M 1/26: Definitions 2 – Absence

  • Read: Ruth Webb, pp. 1-28 from Ekphrasis, Imagination and Persuasion in Ancient Rhetorical Theory and Practice.

W 1/28: History

  • Read: Gumbrecht, pp. 85-149 (“Discontinuities”) from In Praise of Athletic Beauty

M 2/2: Focal Points 1 – Form

  • Read: Gumbrecht, pp. 150-201 (“Fascinations”) from In Praise of Athletic Beauty

W 2/4: Focal Points 2 – Meaning

  • Read: Mary McDonald and Susan Birrell, “Reading sport critically: A Methodology for Interrogating Power,” pp. 283-300 from Sociology of Sport Journal [CTools]


M 2/9: Case 1 – Boxing, 1921, Dempsey vs. Carpentier

  • Watch: “Jack Dempsey vs. Georges Carpentier (Full Film)” (start at 32:57, with special focus on 42:25-42:37) [CTools]
  • Read: “Dempsey vs. Carpentier” at com [CTools]
  • Read: Staff Writer, “Dempsey Proves Prowess,” The New York Times, July 3, 1921 [CTools]
  • Read: Heywood Broun, “Sport for Art’s Sake,” The New York World, [CTools]
  • Read: Roger Kahn, “The Battle of the Century,” from A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring 20s, pp. 263-269 (1999) [CTools]

W 2/11: Lab 1: Boxing

M 2/16: Case 2 – Baseball, 1951, NY Giants vs. Brooklyn Dodgers

  • Watch: “Stock Footage – 1951 Baseball “The Giants Win the Pennant” [CTools]
  • Read: “Shot Heard ‘Round the World (baseball)” at org [CTools]
  • Read: John Drebinger, “Giants Capture Pennant,” The New York Times, October 4, 1951 [CTools]
  • Read: Red Smith, “The Miracle at Coogan’s Bluff,” The New York Herald Tribune, October 4, 1951 [CTools]
  • Read: Don DeLillo, Pafko at the Wall: A Novella, (2003) 48 pp. [CTools]

W 2/18: Lab 2 – Baseball

M 2/23: Case 3 – Horse Racing, 1973, Secretariat and Ron Turcotte

  • Watch: “Secretariat – Belmont Stakes 1973” [CTools]
  • Read: “1973 Belmont Stakes” at org [CTools]
  • Bob Cooper, “Secretariat Defies Description After Record-Setting Belmont Run,” Associated Press, June 11, 1973 [CTools]
  • Red Smith, “A Little Greedy, and Exactly Right: Secretariat Wins the Triple Crown,” New York Times, June 11, 1973 [CTools]

W 2/25: Lab 3 – Horse Racing


M 3/9: Case 4 – Basketball, 1980, LA Lakers vs. Philadelphia 76ers

  • Watch: “1980- Dr. J. Baseline Scoop” [CTools]
  • Read: 1980 NBA Finals at org [CTools]
  • Bob Logan, “Unsung Cheeks Puts 76ers Back in Tempo” from The Chicago Tribune, May 12, 1980 [CTools]
  • Julius Erving, Chapter 30, from J: The Autobiography (with Karl Taro Greenfeld), pp. 330-332 (2013) [CTools]
  • Dave Hickey, “The Heresy of Zone Defense,” from Air Guitar (1997), 4 pp. [CTools]

W 3/11: Lab 4 – Basketball

M 3/16: Case 5 – Tennis (1), 2005, Andre Agassi vs. Roger Federer

  • Watch: “Roger Federer Moments – Backwards and Away DTL Forehand” [CTools]
  • Read: Christopher Clary, “U.S. Open : Federer shows special powers to beat Agassi,” from New York Times, September 12, 2005 [CTools]
  • Read: David Foster Wallace, “Federer as Religious Experience,” New York Times, August 20, 2006, 11 pp. [CTools]
  • Read: Andre Agassi, from Open TBA (2009) [CTools]

W 3/18: Lab 5 – Tennis (1)

M 3/23: Case 6 – Soccer, 1960s, Pelé vs. Everyone

  • Watch: “Pelé on Vimeo by Brian Phillips,” [CTools]
  • Read: “Pelé” at org [CTools]
  • Read: Eduardo Galeano, “Pelé,” from Soccer in Sun and Shadow, pp. 132-133 [CTools]
  • Read: Brian Phillips, “Pelé as Comedian,” from The Run of Play [CTools]

W 3/25: Lab 6 – Soccer

M 3/30: Case 7 – Tennis (2), 2014, Serena Williams vs. Caroline Wozniacki

  • Watch: “Serena Sweeps Aside Wozniacki for Third Straight US Open” [CTools]
  • Read: Naila-Jean Meyers, “Serena Williams, Queen of Queens, Embraces Elusive Milestone,” New York Times, September 7, 2014 [CTools]
  • Read Louisa Thomas, “Legal and Legendary: The Indomitable Serena Williams Wins Major No. 18 at the U.S. Open,” from Grantland, September 8, 2014 [CTools]

W 4/1: Lab 7 – Tennis (2)


M 4/6: Workshop Presentations – Day 1

W 4/8: Workshop Presentations – Day 2

M 4/13: Workshop Presentations – Day 3

W 4/15: Workshop Presentations – Day 4

M 4/20: Workshop Presentations – Day 5

Sunday, 4/26: Final Story and Analysis Due via E-Mail


  1. Course Requirements




What is attendance?

In this course, the stuff most important to your learning will be done in class: watching, reading, thinking, talking and listening together with your classmates and me.

Think of our class as a team. We each have to show up. We each will have to discover our role and play it to the best of our ability for our class to succeed.

How will attendance be graded?


If you come to class you get full credit (i.e. “100”) for that day’s “Attendance’ grade.

If you don’t come to class you get no credit (i.e. “0”).

If you miss class because of illness, family emergency or university-sponsored extracurricular activities, you must provide documentation.

Whether or not you are able to attend class, you are still responsible for all viewing and reading assignments as well as for viewing and reading notes and lab writing assignments.

10 % of overall grade.



In this course, effort consists of three parts: preparation, attention and participation.


  1. Preparation

What is preparation?

If our class is like a team, then our class meetings are like games.

Success in games depends upon the time, effort and focused attention athletes bring to preparing—training, nutrition and sleep, practice, film study—for each game.

In our class, you’re prepared if you’ve done the following things before each meeting:

  • you have watched and/or read required viewing and reading material is assigned by class time on the date that it appears on the class schedule.
  • you have taken notes on what you’ve watched and read and posted them to our course CTools site by 8 pm the evening before class. I don’t care how polished these notes are. I don’t care how disorganized they are. I don’t care how long they are.
  • The purposes of these notes are:
    • to show me that you have done the assigned viewing and reading
    • to help you collect your thoughts about what you’ve watched and read before we meet to discuss the materials
    • to help you see and learn from how your classmates are reacting to and thinking about the assigned materials.
  • consider any or all of the follow questions in composing your notes:
    • What did I feel as I was watching or reading? Why?
    • What moment or passage most jumped out at me? Why?
    • What did I find confusing? Why?
    • What did I find boring? Why?
    • What did I find exciting? Why?
    • What did I like or dislike? Why?
    • Be specific in your notes when identifying the scenes or passages or lines that you are referring to in your notes.
  • you have reviewed the notes posted by your classmates.
  • you come to class with the assigned reading material available to you either in print form or on an electronic device.
  • you come to class with a non-electronic notebook or note pad and writing instrument for taking notes and for in-class writing assignments.

How will preparation be graded?

There are thirteen class meetings with assigned viewing or reading material.

You should post your viewing or reading notes to CTools by 8 pm on the evening prior to each of those classes.

To Post: Click “Forums” > Click the appropriate date > Click “Start A New Conversation” > Type your name into the “Title” Box > Post your notes in the text box (you can also add attachments) > Click “Post”

If you post, you get full credit (i.e. a “100”) for that day “Preparation” grade.

If you fail to post, you get no credit (i.e. a “50”) for that day’s “Preparation” grade.

If you post late, you get partial credit (i.e. a “75”) for that day’s preparation grade.

15 % of overall grade.

  1. Attention


What is attention?

Can you learn anything if you are not paying attention? Many studies have demonstrated that you cannot.

But so what? If you aren’t learning that’s your business, right? Well, no. Because many studies have also shown that in group settings one person’s failure to pay attention affects the learning capacities of others.

So what does paying attention mean?

  • actively listening with your full attention and respect and with an open mind to whomever is speaking.
  • your cell phone is turned off when you enter the classroom. If this becomes a problem, I will simply collect them at the beginning of class and return them at the end.
  • you are only using electronic devices for class purposes.   All other applications are closed. And the device itself is closed when you are not reviewing assigned materials

If this seems confusing, imagine an athlete texting, posting to social media, or checking e-mail in the middle of a game. Would that be okay?


See “3. Participation” below for details on how I will be grading attention.

  1. Participation


What is participation?  


In addition to attendance, preparation and attention, the success of our team in each game depends upon each member’s active participation in our discussions.

My lectures will be rare and brief. The heart of this class will be our discussions. What you each get out of them will depend in part on what you put it into them and in part on what your classmates put into them.

Because you’ve done the viewing and reading ahead of time, taken notes, looked at your classmates’ notes, listened actively to them in class and have a brain you will always have feelings, opinions and thoughts during class.

Participation means having the respect for yourself and the class and the courage to share those, regardless of whatever insecurities you may have.


How will participation be graded?


0 = You weren’t in class and did not follow the University’s student absence policy (see “Attendance” above).

60 = You were in class, but you didn’t participate or appear engaged or prepared; maybe you slept, texted, used your computer or ate in class without permission of your instructor. You were there, sure, but you actively disengaged from discussion.

70 = You were in class, but didn’t participate constructively or appear engaged. You were basically just a warm body trying to stay awake.

85 = You attended class. You didn’t participate constructively, but appeared engaged. You may have been present, but silent or you may have spoken, but if you did speak it was just to make sure I knew you were there.

100 = You attended class, participated constructively. You spoke to add substance to our discussion.

15 % of overall grade.




  1. Lab Writing (In Class)

What is lab writing?     

Every Wednesday from February 11th through April 1, we will practice in-class writing assignments related to the case we have been studying that week.

You don’t have to do anything special to prepare for Wednesdays other than bring a (non-electronic) notebook and something to write with.

I will give you prompts in class. We will be sharing this writing with one another in class.

At the end of class you’ll turn it into me.

The writing will not be graded for quality.

How will lab writing be graded?

For every lab writing assignment you turn in you get full credit (i.e. “100”).

For every lab writing assignment you fail to turn in you get no credit (i.e. “50”)

For every lab writing assignment you turn in late, you get partial credit (i.e. “75’)

20 % of overall grade.

  1. Mid-Term Story and Analysis


What is the mid-term story and analysis?  


  • Choose a sporting performance that occurred before you were born (clip must be available)
  • Write a description of that performance (from 500 to 2000 words.
  • Write an analysis of your own description in which you explain what you have done and why. You should draw upon our shared vocabulary in formulating your analysis. (3-5 pages)

How will the mid-term be graded?

I will grade you on a scale from 0 to 100, with roughly equal emphasis given to:

  • Originality of idea
  • Polish (spelling, typos, grammar, presentation)
  • Clarity and coherence of argument
  • Interest of style and voice
  • Integrated use of course vocabulary


15 % of overall grade.


  1. Final Story and Analysis


What is the final story and analysis?


  • Choose a sporting performance that you have witnessed this semester (clip must be available).
  • Write a description of that performance (from 500 to 2000 words)
  • Write an analysis of your own description in which you explain what you have done and why. You should draw upon our shared vocabulary in formulating your analysis. (3-5 pages)


How will the final be graded?

I will grade you on a scale from 0 to 100, with roughly equal emphasis given to:

  • Originality of idea
  • Polish (spelling, typos, grammar, presentation)
  • Clarity and coherence of argument
  • Interest of style and voice
  • Integrated use of course vocabulary

15 % of overall grade.




What is the workshop presentation? 


During our final five class meetings each of you will present to the class your idea for your final paper. In your presentation you should:

  • provide introductory context for the clip
  • show the class a clip of the sporting performance you witnessed
  • guide us through what you see that is of interest and importance to you
  • propose how you planning to describe it, what you plan to focus on, etc.
  • explain why (as always, drawing upon our common vocabulary)


How will the workshop presentation be graded?


I will grade you on a scale from 0 to 100, with roughly equal emphasis given to:

  • Originality of idea
  • Polish (grammar, presentation)
  • Clarity and coherence
  • Integrated use of course vocabulary


10 % of overall grade.



93-100 = A

90-92 = A-

87-89 = B+

83-86 = B

80-82 = B-

77-79 = C+

73-76 = C

70-72 = C-

67-69 = D+

63-66 = D

60-62 = D-

0-59 = F


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