Not By George

Looks like it’s Tangential Connections to George Plimpton Week here at Virtual Memories! Here’s another passage that stuck with me from George, Being George:

MYRA GELBAND: By the late 1980s, of course, the magazine evolved, and the kind of journalism George did for [Sports Illustrated], which was his signature journalism and I would guess his most commercial, took a backseat to the type of hard-sports journalism that became prevalent in the 1980s with the advent of things like ESPN and cable television.

I think it became harder for George to figure out stories that would work for the magazine, because his interests had changed, too — he wasn’t gonna go suit up and play football for us, and we weren’t gonna run those kind of stories. So it became a little more challenging for him to get into the magazine.

So SI faced the challenge of 24-hour sports coverage by . . . trying to replicate it on a weekly basis? Rather than play to the strengths it had in long-form writers like Plimpton, Dan Jenkins, Frank Deford, etc.? Because the media only got faster, but SI has to keep coming out once a week.

I’m not saying anything new; here’s a piece from 2007 by John Levin on why SI sucks. Still, I knew there was a reason that the only articles I remember from the last 10 years of SI were Frank Deford’s long pieces on Bill Russell and Roger Bannister and Edmund Hillary. (Wait: 1999 was 11 years ago, huh? Man, that decade just flew by.)

And of course, the most memorable piece published in SI in the past 30 years was Plimpton’s Sidd Finch prank, from 1985. The section on that article in George, Being George is hysterical, as expected. There’s a great passage from one of the Paris Review young’uns, detailing how afraid he was that he and Plimpton were going to get mugged by a trio of thugs, until one of the thugs realized who Plimpton was and told him how much he loved the Sidd Finch article.

Oh, well. I guess this means last April’s TEN-PAGE FEATURE ON A PROFESSIONAL SURFER was SI‘s attempt at getting back to its roots.

Gripegripemutter. . .

One Reply to “Not By George”

  1. SI had a piece on Kenny Washington

    in a recent issue that was sort of heartbreaking in that the writer comes out busting balls on the NFL for its weird all-white period and then does some decent work figuring out the source of the pressure that made the Rams hire Washington and Woody Strode, and then even has this great story about how Washington and Strode would get a per diem to find their own lodging and how they would stay in these great, thriving African-American neighborhoods, but then it just sort of collapses when it comes to describing Washington’s game play, like he had ten minutes to wrap the article up.

    So I think they’re willing to try some stuff, but I’m not sure they have the will or the editorial infrastructure or the writers, maybe, to execute it properly.

    Weirdly, the best long-form piece on an athlete I’ve read in the last few years was Bill Simmons on Elgin Baylor, and that is so not his strength.

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