There are plenty of times when you run across names in the sporting world and, aside from knowing they won a particular trophy or award, you know little else about them, either biographical or how they got on the big stage in the first place. Unfortunately, you never take the time to go a step futher and learn more about the player.
Such was the case with me regarding running back Ernie Davis. Yes, I knew Davis won the Heisman Trophy in 1961, becoming the first black player to do so. But I didn’t know about the racial hardships he endured – even while accepting trophies – nor the story behind why he never played a down in the NFL (he was diagnosed with leukemia and passed away at age 23). It took a viewing of the movie The Express starring Rob Brown as Davis for me to get most of the story, but I learned the background on a sports legend all the same.
It makes you wonder as the years and decades roll by how many of these background stories will survive. As the people who saw these events first-hand start to dwindle, it comes down to people learning about these events through hand-me-down stories and/or doing some research.
Davis is probably fairly well known, but let’s say Rick Ankiel, an outfielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, happens to win the World Series MVP this year. Will collectors 10 years from now remember he came up through the ranks as a dominating strikeout pitcher before experiencing strike zone command issues and then blowing out his arm?
Always a good hitter, Ankiel returned to the majors after switching to the outfield and is a better-than-average player for the Cardinals today.
There are tons of stories like these in professional sports and I think it would make for a great book idea, if one doesn’t already exist. The stories are already there – all someone would have to do is compile them, do some interviews and the result would be a great read in my opinion. Perhaps I’ll get to it in my free time.
The size might be a problem, but the stories could be condensed to make it a manageable read.
I’m curious if any readers have a particular favorite athlete background story, either well known or not. It could even be a personal experience with said athlete. I think it’s those details that are nearly as fascinating than what an athlete does on the field, ice or court.