“HIGH TECH COWBOYS OF THE DEEP SEAS: THE RACE TO SAVE THE COUGAR ACE,” WIRED, JOSHUA DAVIS, 2008.03.00
Like most dudes who grew up dreaming of being professional athletes only to have reality intervene, the earliest pieces I remember having an impact are Gary Smith's Sports Illustrated features from the late 1990s and early 2000s. But Joshua Davis' 2008 Wired story, "High Tech Cowboys of the Deep Seas: The Race to Save the Cougar Ace," made me want to write them and, despite the reportorial skill and ability he demonstrates—or, perhaps because of the ease with which he combines it all—believe I actually could.
The second paragraph:
Out of the darkness, a rumble grows. The water begins to vibrate. Suddenly, the prow of a massive ship splits the fog. Its steel hull rises seven stories above the water and stretches two football fields back into the night. A 15,683-horsepower engine roars through the holds, pushing 55,328 tons of steel. Crisp white capital letters — COUGAR ACE — spell the ship's name above the ocean froth. A deep-sea car transport, its 14 decks are packed with 4,703 new Mazdas bound for North America. Estimated cargo value: $103 million.
“OUT OF OHIO,” IAN FRAZIER, THE NEW YORKER, 2005.01.10
I spent the first half of 2006 arguing with my thesis supervisor. Most of our debates went something like this: I’d burst into his office, fresh from the archives, eager to share some juicy new twist I’d uncovered about my subject, a loony general who traveled the globe putting down insurrections against the British Empire and believing that he was the literal tool of God on Earth. “It’s such a great story!” I’d say. And he’d nod and raise an eyebrow.
“That’s nice,” he’d say, “but how can you incorporate that into the current framework of historiographical debate?”
“I … but it’s such a great story!”
I was two-thirds of the way through a master’s degree in British colonial history at a university in a small town in northeast England, and I was slowly realizing that I didn’t much want to incorporate anything into the current framework of historiographical debate.
"SLEEPING WITH CANNIBALS," PAUL RAFFAELE, SMITHSONIAN, 2006.09.00
I had never thought, before, about humans eating other humans. I suppose that is normal. We humans are meant to eat animals—and some even argue that practice is cruel. Cannibalism isn't really a taboo topic because, for many, it doesn't exist. It's unfathomable that humans could kill and eat their own kind.
It was the last subject that I thought would fuel a career.
I discovered my first favorite story, Paul Raffaele's "Sleeping With Cannibals," for the first time early in college. Until that point, I had filled my reading list with investigative features; provoking profiles of athletes, teams, towns, and fans; and all other pieces that comprise the typical sportswriting world. My mind was still sequestered in a room that knew Michael Jordan as a demigod and the Duke Blue Devils as the antichrist.
But "Sleeping With Cannibals" knocked me on my ass.
"SOME DREAMERS OF THE GOLDEN DREAM," JOAN DIDION, THE SATURDAY EVENING POST, 1966.04.00
Second semester senior year of high school is a sneakily impressionable time. I remember pretty much all of us were working really hard to be over it—it meaning, basically, everything. It was the big half-lie we told ourselves to guard against thinking about The Future, which seemed terrifying and thrilling and inevitable and a bunch more, if we spent too long thinking about it. That was the trick: not thinking about it. Not thinking much at all.
Into this stepped Mr. Weis, offering what was pitched as a pretty relaxed elective called “America in the 1960s.” I liked Weis, had had him for U.S. History. So I signed up. (It was maybe a more complicated decision, but probably not, this being the era of unthinking.) I don’t remember when exactly it was in the course of that spring class Weis had us read Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem—her study of the dark edge of hippie culture, among the very young and very sad burnouts and runaways in San Francisco—only that we did our reading on Xeroxed copies, and I was intrigued enough to pretty much immediately buy Didion’s essay collection of the same name, which opened with:
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"THE TUESDAY PORTRAIT: FERNANDO TORRES," BRIAN PHILLIPS, THE RUN OF PLAY, 2008.04.09
My first favorite is a blog post.
I WASN’T SURE WHAT I wanted to do—for this, or just in that general, looming question-mark sense that stares you down when you start off in college. What do you want to do with your life, you 18-year-old, who is definitely prepared to answer that question?
Well, I wanted to be a sportswriter—or something. I liked reading Bill Simmons, like every kid in an all-boys Catholic high school, and I sort of liked writing. Or, I did, but I never really gave into it. Never wrote for the high school paper and never really did all that well with any of the paragraphs, papers, or sentences I wrote in high school. But I liked reading books, kind of, and I really liked sports. So, throw all that shit against the wall and maybe it drips down into something resembling “professional sportswriter.”
I also wanted to play soccer. Or, I was playing soccer in school, and that was the one definable thing in my life at that point. So, maybe I’d write about soccer as a sportswriter. Didn’t really matter that there was maybe one full-time American soccer writer in existence at that time because, again, I was 18 and nothing really mattered. It was more than enough to deflect conversation at graduation parties.