On June 1, Riverhead Books publishes The Renegade Sportsman, my first book. Astute readers of this blog will recognize the title as a component of my highly sophisticated personal branding strategy. To that end, here’s an introduction, sales pitch, summary or precis, if you will, to this work of non-fiction reportage from the outermost reaches of American sports culture.
About three years ago, I decided that I needed to renegotiate my relationship with sports. I was a huge fan, but as a soccer-loving, field hockey-playing, cricket-and-rugby-curious, soft-handed, frail and artistic member of the cultural elite, I didn’t quite know where I belonged in the American sporting galaxy. The mainstream talk-radio, cable and sports-page chatter didn’t do it for me, and I found our country’s descent into mass obesity and Wii addiction frankly disturbing. I suspected that others might feel the same—that there just might be an underground sports uprising in the works, out there, somewhere—and that I should set out in search of a different, brighter future for American athletics.
The result is The Renegade Sportsman, an expedition into a world of sports that lies beyond the borders of our major leagues. I had my head crushed between rugby players’ thighs; I dodged cyclocross racers soaked in both beer and mud during that most excellent sport’s zany World Single Speed Championship. I found a new way to run—half-drunk and wearing red lingerie—with the Hash House Harriers. In deepest, darkest Iowa, I tracked the inspiring and insane Trans-Iowa endurance race, a 300+-mile amateur exorcism of cycling’s Lance Armstrong-ish demons. In DC and Chicago, I hung out with the Screaming Eagles and Section 8, two grassroots fan confederations who may not like one another’s soccer teams very much, but share a determination to reinvent the American grandstand.
At the 2007 Women’s Flat-Track Derby Association national championship in Austin, Texas, I discovered that roller derby—revived and reinvented for the post-modern age—is quietly becoming a national, player-owned juggernaut. I learned that alley cat racing, bike polo, urban golf, backyard croquet leagues and wildcat skateparks are secretly reinventing the sporting ideal, proving that a vigorous, creatively disorganized alternative to the major leagues can survive and thrive.
I was frightened and awed by falconry and thoroughly baffled in my own attempt to learn how to fence.
Along the way, I refined my hazy original idea. My book wasn’t about rejecting sports or destroying sports. I wasn’t writing the thing because there’s something wrong with sports; rather, because there’s something right with sports. I wasn’t so much documenting weird, “extreme” or avant-garde pastimes as tracking down people who were determined to forge their own destinies in sports and life. The book became a portrait of a DIY sports nation.
Anyone interested can reach a few choice excerpts here. The book is, of course, available from a wide variety of renowned merchants who would be happy to help all curious parties. Through June, the reading public may avail itself of a number of exciting opportunities to See the Author:
June 1 : Powell’s Books : Portland, Oregon : 7:30 pm
June 9 : Barnes & Noble : Emeryville, California : 7 pm
June 10 : Green Apple Books : San Francisco, California : 7 pm
June 12 : Elliott Bay Books : Seattle, Washington : 7 pm
June 15 : Shakespeare & Company Books : Missoula, Montana : 7 pm
There will also be all kinds of bloggy business in the coming days, probably best followed via the riveting twitter.com/zachdundas.
The Renegade Sportsman represents my humble attempt to reveal a different, unknown side of American sports, and hopefully inspire at least someone to take up recreational swordfighting, start wearing distinctive hats while exercising or form a punk-r0ck darts team. Allez!