In the midst of numerous crises—a global pandemic, record unemployment, the murder of yet another unarmed black man, and worldwide protests against racism and police brutality—sports can seem irrelevant and almost trivial.
Yet one searches for something sports-related that not only can help ease the pain, divert the emotions and provide a relief from Trump exhaustion, but also carry some meaning and insight.
Into the breach comes "Gloves Off," the terrific new book by iconic Bay Area sports columnist Lowell Cohn.
Full disclosure: Lowell is an old friend of mine. No matter. This is a great read for anyone who loves sports, and anyone who loves good writing.
Lowell worked for 40 years as a sports columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle and Santa Rosa Press-Democrat, along with a brief stop at Sports Illustrated, before retiring a few years ago.
He was really one of a kind. He was a literature scholar turned sportswriter who had little interest in Xs and Os. He was interested in the human side of sports.
He asked tough questions and was called “that asshole” by some, but loved by many more. He always strove to uncover the person behind the uniform, the motivations, the character traits that made athletes and coaches successful, the "why" rather than the "how" athletes and coaches did what they did.
Another local icon and friend, Bruce Jenkins, recently described Lowell as "a kind, gentle soul who wrote beautifully, had a perspective that extended well beyond sports, and was absolutely fearless in exposing the flaws of humanity."
"Gloves Off" is a compilation of 65 of Lowell's "unfiltered,” behind-the-scenes descriptions of many of the biggest names, events and story lines in sports. The book is filled with wisdom and insight.
Lowell's intellectual curiosity, toughness and humor (much of it self-deprecating) are on full display in his interactions with everyone from old-timers Floyd Patterson and Billy Martin to more recent stars like Barry Bonds, Steve Young, Steve Kerr and Jim Harbaugh. Far too many to name here.
Lowell and I have been friends since the late 1970s, when he was just starting at the Chronicle and I was the sports information director (SID) at Stanford. Over the years, we’ve taught a few classes together, shared lots of lunches, drank too many bottles of wine, and had innumerable discussions about the late Bill Walsh (with whom we both were very close) and boxing (I’m one of the “do-gooders” he refers to in the book).
As a New Jersey boy, I loved reading about his experiences on the playgrounds of Brooklyn (we both played punch ball). And as a former SID, I loved reading about the pressures of writing on deadline, the press box and locker room environments, and the code of conduct between a columnist and an athlete or coach.
This one comes very highly recommended.