Slide Show: David Remnick, Ralph Nader, Cecile Richards on Their Sports Heroes | The Nation

Slide Show: David Remnick, Ralph Nader, Cecile Richards on Their Sports Heroes

For The Nation's special Sports Issue, we asked a distinguished group of writers, thinkers and advocates to pay tribute to their favorite sports heroes growing up. The result is a package of moving mini-essays all expressing, in their own way, a feeling many of us share: pure love of the game. The following slide show illustrates our writers' heros with excerpts from each tribute. Click the links in each slide to read the full tributes.

  • Jennifer Egan on Monica Seles (1 of 14)

    Like a lot of tennis players, she had a tendency to grunt while making her shots, and this prompted outrage that I think would never have occurred if she’d been a man. Opponents would lodge complaints, and Seles would be apologetic, but that was the way she played, and she beat everyone. She was just amazing. Looking back, I’m certain that the collective resentment of her—which I confess I felt in moments, mingled with my excitement about her strength—was an expression of our cultural discomfort with a kind of overt female aggression that seems to revel in itself.


    Jennifer Egan is the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of A Visit From the Goon Squad.


    Credit: AP Images 

  • Ralph Nader on Lou Gehrig (2 of 14)

    Never a scandal, a paragon of self-control, he was my boyhood “role model” before those words came into currency. His character shone to the very end. Dying of what is now called Lou Gehrig’s disease, he was given a rousing day of gratitude and love at a packed Yankee Stadium. Only Lou, still in his 30s, would have thought to say to more than 60,000 tearing fans, “I’m the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”           


    Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author.


    Credit: AP Images 

  • John Sayles on Roberto Clemente (3 of 14)

    Three seconds of seeing him move at long distance on a tiny black-and-white TV set, and you could tell who it was. He would work his neck and shoulders constantly in the on-deck circle, then step haughtily into the batter’s box, slash at a “bad” pitch, hit a screaming line drive, then run the bases like a madman. Or make a basket catch in right field and throw a rope to the plate to beat the runner tagging up and trying to score.


    John Sayles is a filmmaker and the author, most recently, of A Moment in the Sun (McSweeney’s).


    Credit: AP Images 

  • Victor Navasky on Babe Ruth (4 of 14)

    As a kid, growing up in the 1930s on West 74th Street between Broadway and West End, the highlight of my day was ten in the morning, when Babe Ruth would emerge from his daily shave at the barbershop in the Ansonia Hotel, on my corner. Every day, if I could be there, I would stand on the street, and when the Babe appeared, I’d wave and say, “Hi, Babe.” He’d wave back and say, “Hi, kid,” and then get into his car. One day I got up the courage to ask him for his autograph, and he signed my book, date and all.


    Victor Navasky is publisher emeritus of The Nation.


    Credit: National Photo Company Collection / Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division 

  • David Remnick on Muhammad Ali (5 of 14)

    There’s no need to rehearse all the political and racial cliches about Ali—he really did, for all his mistakes, play an unlikely and galvanizing role in Black Power and the antiwar movements—but what’s gotten lost somewhere under the sociological ruminations and the film clips of his playing of the dozens is the purely athletic. Here was an athlete who married velocity to power as never before; like a mythological creature who combines species, he married the hummingbird speed of Sugar Ray Robinson to the power of the best heavyweights.


    David Remnick is the editor of The New Yorker.


    Credit: AP Images 

  • Dan Rather on Rube Walker (6 of 14)

    Third-string catchers are rarely anybody’s hero, but Rube Walker was and remains one of mine. With his ever-present chaw of tobacco and a drawl as Southern as frost on cotton leaves, he was a throwback to the rural poverty of America in the first half of the twentieth century. He had a heart as big as a locomotive, full of compassion, generosity and understanding. He helped the community’s poor; he taught young players and counseled old ones; he was a jovial encourager to everyone. In so doing, he taught us what it was to be a “big leaguer,” in the best, most noble sense of the term.


    Dan Rather, the former news anchor for CBS Evening News, is the managing editor and anchor of the TV newsmagazine Dan Rather Reports on HDNet.


    Credit: The Topps Company
    Card image courtesy of Marck Bacontowne

  • Jane Mayer on Arthur Ashe (7 of 14)

    I was a tomboy in a family filled with artists, academics and musicians whose idea of sports was croquet (my mother, now in her 80s, remains fiercely unbeatable). I was instructed in tennis, and so not surprisingly my first sports hero was Arthur Ashe.


    I saw him play at Madison Square Garden on my first date, which was in seventh grade. He was awe-inspiring in his grace. Later, of course, I learned that he was equally graceful in acing some of the toughest challenges in politics. In my mind, he still stands out as an athlete who used his gift and his fame to serve larger causes


    Jane Mayer is a staff writer at The New Yorker.


    Credit: AP Images 

  • Dahlia Lithwick on Toller Cranston (8 of 14)

    If you weren’t a Canadian growing up, or simply believed that men’s figure skating really wasn’t a sport, you may not have heard of the guy. But trust me when I say that he single-handedly reinvented men’s skating. Even watching him decades later, it’s still clear that it’s largely because of him that the sport went from a sequence of jumps, spins, jumps and grins to something that looks like a poem.


    Dahlia Lithwick is a senior editor at Slate.


    Credit: Deutsches Bundesarchiv / Rainer Mittelstädt 

  • Cecile Richards on Carl Yastrzemski (9 of 14)

    I grew up in Texas rooting for Carl Yastrzemski, the great left fielder for the Boston Red Sox. Yaz was the up-and-coming hero, leader of the Red Sox when Red Sox Nation was just beginning. And most important, Yaz and the Sox were the underdogs. In my family’s worldview, we rooted for the underdog, and nowhere more than in baseball.


    Cecile Richards is the president of Planned Parenthood.


    Credit: AP Images 

  • Bob Herbert on Hank Thompson and Bobby Thomson (10 of 14)

    My first sports hero was Bobby Thomson of the old New York Giants, who hit what was probably the most famous home run in history: the dramatic “shot heard ’round the world,” which propelled the Giants into the 1951 World Series.


    There was another player on that Giants’ team named Hank Thompson. Bobby Thomson was white and Hank Thompson was black. I asked my dad if they were brothers. He laughed and said, “No. You know how you can tell they’re not brothers?”


    I said I didn’t. He said, “Hank Thompson spells his last name t-h-o-m-p-s-o-n. Bobby Thomson doesn’t have a ‘p’ in his last name. If they were brothers, they would spell their names the same.”


    Bob Herbert, a former columnist at the New York Times, is a senior fellow at Demos.


    Thompson Credit: Diamond Images/Getty Images

    Thomson Credit: Getty Images 

  • Adam Gopnik on Joe Namath (11 of 14)

    Joe was cool, but what stirred me about him was not the playboy stuff, which I was already wise enough to know was naff and embarrassing, but the image of poise under pressure and the thrill of a last-minute decision zipping home. Like George Best in British football, his genius was too short-lived and too quickly drowned in drink, but he gave a too-inward-turning teenage boy confidence in the authority of action.


    Adam Gopnik, an award-winning author, is a staff writer at The New Yorker.


    Credit: AP Images 

  • Mark Cuban on Willie Stargell (pictured) and Roberto Clemente (12 of 14)

    I could never make up my mind who my ultimate sports hero was. One day it was Willie Stargell. The next day it was Roberto Clemente. Playing baseball what seemed like every day, I had to make my choice. Did I windmill my bat while waiting for a pitch, like Stargell, or put my foot deep in the batter’s box and rub out the lines, like Clemente? I tried to perfect both. I was undeterred when neighbor kids were respectful of my game but wondered why I chose colored players to look up to. Honestly, I never understood the question. Willie and Roberto weren’t just the best; they were greatness.


    Mark Cuban is the owner of the Dallas Mavericks.


    Credit: AP Images 

  • Stephen F. Cohen on Frank Beard (13 of 14)

    If heroes inspire you to do—or, as in my case, not do—something, in sports mine was a teenage golfer named Frank Beard. Our chance encounter at a tournament in Paducah, Kentucky, in the mid-1950s, when we were about 16, changed, in the sport’s idiom, my life’s trajectory. At the time I was a Kentucky junior golfer with an obsessive ambition to be a professional player in the mold of Ben Hogan or Dr. Cary Middlecoff. Being paired with Frank, whom I’d never met, in Paducah ended all that.


    Stephen F. Cohen is a professor of Russian studies at New York University and Princeton. His most recent book is The Victims Return: Survivors of the Gulag After Stalin.


    Credit: Augusta National/Getty Images 

  • Dennis Kucinich on Jim Thorpe (14 of 14)

    The Potawatomi Indian, Wa-tha-sko-huk, “Bright Path,” was dead. Descended from Chief Blackhawk of the Sauk and Fox. Vaulted over often insurmountable barriers of race and poverty from the one-room cabin of his birth near Prague, Oklahoma, to the Olympic Stadium of Stockholm, Sweden, where he won gold medals for the United States in both the decathlon and pentathlon. This native son of the Thunder Clan, who clad himself with thunder and ran with lightning on the track and baseball and football fields, was Jim Thorpe.


    Dennis Kucinich represents Ohio’s 10th District and is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.


    Who was your sports hero growing up? The Nation wants to know—send us your reflections on the athletes who have inspired you. We’ll publish a forum of reader responses on our community section front.


    Credit: Bain News Service / Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division 

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