sports gazette

INTERVIEW: William Meiners & Paine Proffitt on sport, art and football ballet

Published: 2 Jun 2017

Not everybody can be athletes; some chose to express their love of sport through art. Meet an editor of the only American literary journal that focuses solely on sport and an artist that turned being a fan into an art form.

William Meiners is the founder and editor-in-chief of SportLiterate, a literary journal based in Michigan, USA that creates a space for people to reflect on sport, why they love it, and how it has affected their life through creative nonfiction

Founded in Chicago in 1995, SportLiterate publishes pieces that are “honest reflections on life’s leisurely diversions”. It is currently supported by 19 consecutive grants from the Illinois Arts Council. Work published in SportLiterate have received more that 20 nods in renowned anthologies such as The Best American Sports Writing and The Best American Essays.

Although it is an American-based publication, SportLiterate accepts submissions from other countries. Last year, they published three Canadians, an English expatriate in Germany and a poet from Israel.

American-born Paine Proffitt creates visual art with a sporty vintage twist.

Although he is a Port Vale supporter, he has worked with several football clubs, including West Bromwich Albion FC, Sunderland AFC, Aberdeen FC, Port Vale FC, Grimsby Town, Aston Villa, Derby County, Nottingham Forest, and Brentford.

Stateside, he has worked with the Boston Red Sox and Minor League Baseball and his work hangs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

They took the time to talk to Sports Gazette about sport, art and football ballet.

The old cliche of sports being for unintelligent, unenlightened, uncultured, yobbish, bullying knuckle-draggers is so silly but still might linger in some circles.

What do you think can be done to bridge the gap between sport and the arts?

WM: If nothing else, I think good writing about sports can be a bridge to literacy. In another aspect of my life, I teach an academic writing course at a community college. My students generally struggle with reading and writing and they don’t find much joy in it. The class is set up for them to explore a series of long academic articles and write something that would contribute to some discussion among researchers. Besides being difficult for them, it can be deadly dull. Not everyone loves sports, but I think you could connect with some “at-risk readers” through an introduction to literature about sports.

PP: I think making sports art and sports art exhibitions more accessible to sports supporters is probably the most important thing. There is still a cultural divide between sports and art, and it can be intimidating to more traditionally thought-of sports supporters ... and if the artwork was presented to them in an easily accessible, non-threatening environment or atmosphere then it can help open up the arts to a different audience. Exhibitions at stadiums or near grounds would be a great way to bring the arts to the supporters.

Do you think there is a stigma in the arts regarding sport? (i.e. “the dumb jock can’t appreciate classic literature”).

WM: That’s probably the case. We’ve gotten some strange looks at the few writers’ conference we’ve been to, and I’ve joked about Sport Literate being an oxymoron. But for us, sport has always been the springboard for artistic reflection. We’re not publishing recaps and stats about the Bears game on Sunday.

I sometimes think about it as literature with a small “l” with our tagline of “honest reflections on life’s leisurely diversions.” Any subject can be grounds for literary reflection, so for anyone to look down his nose at the idea of sport and literature just seems like snobbery. Still, we look for a sense of humour and don’t try to take ourselves too seriously.

PP:I think that there might be but I think that stigma or wall is starting to come down a little. Or maybe I'm not noticing anymore because I'm not too bothered about it one way or the other. The old cliche of sports being for unintelligent, unenlightened, uncultured, yobbish, bullying knuckle-draggers is so silly but still might linger in some circles.
Sports has become so engrained in our society, so big money and so celebrity/pop culture-focused that it's unavoidable that sports has become a part of our cultural fabric and that it's a great possible theme for the arts. I think there's another element of sports that focuses on the personal, the emotional and the nostalgic that makes it a beautiful theme for artwork, that people embrace. Sport has been a key element in our society and cultural makeup for a long time and the arts should recognise, respect, accept and embrace it in the art world. The quality of some of the work, the beauty of the subject, the social commentary, documentation and viewpoints of the pieces can help knock down the stigma that sports once had in the art world.

In your opinion, what constitutes “great” in your artistic medium?

WM: For me, it comes down to great storytelling, accompanied by the aspects of any good piece of writing — compelling voice, good characters, and some sort of dramatic discovery. Creative nonfiction writers can use the same bags of tricks as fiction writers, but the “story arc” often differs. Within an essay, there might not be an epiphany or conflict resolution. There’s often a lot of “balls in the air” (excuse the pun), as the writer seems to be thinking through something. Regardless of the sport the writer begins with, the best writing about sports gets beyond the various fields of play to explore something deeper.

PP: I think sports art, like all art, needs to stir something emotionally and have a personal connection and meaning in the viewer. It's got to be done well ... either the execution of the work, the idea, the feel, the composition, the colouring, the emotional triggers, the meaning behind the piece, etc. I tend to like things with a little history and a strong, dynamic feel or design to it.

Are there any areas of sport art that you feel are underrepresented?
We get, and publish, more writing about baseball than anything else. Running, perhaps bolstered by the bouncing thoughts of the long-distance runner, finishes a distant second. I think the genre, as a whole, gets less recognition than it deserves. At Sport Literate, some of our best writing comes from women, but it would be nice to get a greater diversity of voices.

People sometimes ask what “sports” we’re publishing. In that sense, the sport doesn’t matter. We’re looking for the great writing that reflects on it.

PP: I think visual art in sport is mostly covered in painting and sculpture ... but when I think of sports art I think of it in a general all-inclusive way, encompassing all the arts as long as it works. People can interpret the game in many beautiful and clever ways and if it's in, say, ceramics then great. I could say ballet is underrepresented in sports arts but that doesn't mean that we need more football ballet.

Think you've got the next great sport story? Submit it to SportLiterate!

Check out some of Paine's football artwork here: 

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