Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

THIS IS NO GAME: WHEN FACTS MATTER, SPORTS NON-FICTION IS A GOOD PLACE TO TURN, a guest post by Andrew Maraniss

Everything we hunger for in this country right now – racial and economic justice, environmental sustainability, a stable democracy, managing COVID – requires a fundamental commitment to seeking the truth and acknowledging basic facts.

As this year’s theme for Teen Librarian Toolbox states, #FactsMatter.

It’s such a timely theme. And such an indictment of so many of our neighbors that we even have to say it.

With so many powerful institutions profiting from lies, “alternative facts,” and conspiracy theories  – from Fox News to corners of the Internet to the Republican Party  — it falls on the rest of us to push against the rising tide of misinformation and hate in whatever ways we can.

I’ve chosen to do it by writing books for young readers that extol the enduring values of truth, equity, and justice through the lens of sports.

Maraniss with Perry Wallace

My first book, STRONG INSIDE, is the story of Perry Wallace, the Vanderbilt basketball player who desegregated the Southeastern Conference in the 1960s and later became an esteemed law professor. My second book, GAMES OF DECEPTION, is the story of the first U.S. men’s Olympic basketball team, which played at the 1936 Olympics in Nazi Germany. My third book, which just came out this week, SINGLED OUT, is a biography of Glenn Burke, the first openly gay Major League Baseball player and inventor of the high-five. I’m writing a book now on the first U.S. women’s Olympic basketball team, to be told in the context of the women’s rights movement of the 1970s.

Why sports? First, I’ve been hooked as long as I can remember. I taught myself to read as a five-year-old by examining the back of baseball cards. The first time I cried of happiness came when I was 12 years old and Cecil Cooper delivered a game-winning hit for the Milwaukee Brewers in the 1982 playoffs. One of the biggest thrills of my life came in 1998, when I was able to take batting practice at Yankee Stadium as a member of the media relations staff for the Tampa Bay Rays. I went to college on a sportswriting scholarship and my ‘day job’ today is in the Athletic Department at Vanderbilt University.

But more important than any of that, what I value most about writing about sports is that it’s a genre that is highly accessible to just about anyone. When a young person picks up a book with a baseball or basketball player on the cover, it’s likely that they’re not going to feel intimidated by the subject. But once they dig into the story, they’ll realize the stories are not about scores and statistics or tired sports clichés– but about the denial of justice to so many in America and around the world, whether by racism, fascism, antisemitism, homophobia, or sexism, and the critical difference between being a bystander and upstander in the face of such injustices.

Because sports-related nonfiction offers “windows and mirrors,” (the term originated by Dr. Rudine Sims Bishop) a peak into the lives of other people or a reflection of the reader’s own place in the world, they provide valuable opportunities for empathy and understanding. And the audience for sports books is probably as broad or broader than any other genre –  no parameters on age, gender, sexual orientation, economic status, geography, academic achievement, race, or religion.

But within that universality, there is also a subversive element to the best sports books. For many people, the sports world has been seen as American as hot dogs and apple pie – where old-fashioned notions of patriarchy, patriotism, and white supremacy have traditionally gone unchallenged. So what better genre than sports to shine a light on the everyday elements of American life that have perpetuated injustice? These are the stories where the truth shines the brightest.

The lasting lesson of both STRONG INSIDE and GAMES OF DECEPTION, books that deal respectively with the civil rights movement here and the Holocaust in Nazi Germany, is the same: the profound danger of standing by and doing nothing when injustices are perpetrated against others. I think of that lesson often when I hear people criticize modern-day athletes for taking a stand for justice, whether it’s NFL players taking a knee or WNBA players supporting a Senate candidate. If the big truth to be learned from these monumental periods in world history is to speak up, then how can one fault athletes, citizens like anyone else, for using their platforms to call out injustice? When Fox commentator Laura Ingraham tells LeBron to “just shut up and dribble,” we see clearly that she’s not just missing the lesson of history, but actively suppressing the truth.

For those who haven’t succumbed to the notion that the truth is irrelevant, it’s easy to spot the liars. But we must also to turn a skeptical eye toward those who call for unity or civility. Of course, both concepts sound reasonable and are desirable long-term outcomes. But as Perry Wallace once told me, “reconciliation without the truth is just acting.” Any efforts toward unity and civility must include truth-telling and acknowledgement of facts as necessary preconditions. Unity and civility without justice are just other names for oppression.

The best nonfiction books – even sports books! — name the problem, praise the real-life heroes, call out the real-life villains, and pose direct questions where facts determine the right answers.

Now more than ever, #FactsMatter.

Meet the author

New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss writes sports-related nonfiction for adult, Middle Grade and Young Adult readers. His books have received the Lillian Smith Book Award, RFK Book Awards Special Recognition Prize, and Sydney Taylor Honor Award. Andrew lives in Nashville and manages the Sports & Society Initiative at Vanderbilt University. Read more about his books at www.andrewmaraniss.com and follow him on Twitter @trublu24, Instagram @amaraniss, and on Facebook at /andrewmaranissauthor.

About Singled Out: The True Story of Glenn Burke

From New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss comes the remarkable true story of Glenn Burke, a “hidden figure” in the history of sports: the inventor of the high five and the first openly gay MLB player. Perfect for fans of Steve Sheinkin and Daniel James Brown. 

On October 2nd, 1977, Glenn Burke, outfielder for the Los Angeles Dodgers, made history without even swinging a bat. When his teammate Dusty Baker hit a historic home run, Glenn enthusiastically congratulated him with the first ever high five. 

But Glenn also made history in another way—he was the first openly gay MLB player. While he did not come out publicly until after his playing days were over, Glenn’s sexuality was known to his teammates, family, and friends. His MLB career would be cut short after only three years, but his legacy and impact on the athletic and LGBTQIA+ community would resonate for years to come. 

New York Times bestselling author Andrew Maraniss tells the story of Glenn Burke: from his childhood growing up in Oakland, his journey to the MLB and the World Series, the joy in discovering who he really was, to more difficult times: facing injury, addiction, and the AIDS epidemic.

Packed with black-and-white photographs and thoroughly researched, never-before-seen details about Glenn’s life, Singled Out is the fascinating story of a trailblazer in sports—and the history and culture that shaped the world around him.

ISBN-13: 9780593116722
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/02/2021
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Cindy Crushes Programming: March Madness Bracketology

Background: Basketball is my favorite sport. I was lucky enough to live in Joliet, IL which is just an hour away from Chicago. I grew up watching the Chicago Bulls during their prime. It was a magical time.

I also am a Kansas Jayhawk. I went to the University of Kansas for a short while and both my parents and sister went there. The University of Kansas is one of the premier basketball schools in the country. The first Kansas coach was Dr James Naismith who actually invented the game of basketball and KU houses the Original Rules of Basketball.

What is March Madness?

March Madness is the NCAA basketball tournament (Men’s and Women’s) of which the winner is the national champion. Currently the tournament includes the top 68 teams in the country. 32 of the teams are the winners of the conference tournaments held in March which get automatic bids. The rest are picked by rankings and their strength of schedule. It is always hard to figure who is in and who is out. The champion is crowned in April.

Here is the link to the NCAA page about the bracket. It has a nice video that gives more information about how the tournament runs. I also have last year’s bracket so you can get a better idea of how the bracket will look.

https://www.ncaa.com/news/basketball-men/ncaa-bracket-march-madness

How to create a program:

This is hard to program time wise. You have to wait until selection Sunday to do the Men’s Bracket. The Women’s Bracket is released the following Monday. Games for the Men’s Tournament actually start that Tuesday night. I like to have the program start on that Tuesday so I can have the participants both brackets that night.  The Women’s Bracket is not as challenging. The University of Connecticut women have won six times in the last decade. It takes away a lot of upsets. This year should be more interesting as UCONN already is projected to be a second seed instead of a number one seed. Baylor beat UCONN at home which snapped their home winning streak of 98 games. Brackets come out for the men on March 15 and Women March 16.

Steps

  1. Print out brackets.  I like to use CBS Sports Brackets because I think they usually have the best bracket or Yahoo Sports Brackets.
  2. Bring a lot of pencils. You need to make sure the teens will be able to erase.
  3. I like to talk about the history of college basketball and explain what the brackets mean. Each of the four brackets has a number one seed. These are the best teams in the country. The 16th seeds are the worst. The Number 16 team plays the Number 1 team in the first game up. Until 2018 a Number One Seed had never lost to a Number 16. In the Men’s Bracket in 2018 University of Maryland Baltimore County (16) beat Virginia(1).
  4. Explain how to fill out their brackets. Please look over the bracket before you hand them out so you know how to fill them out. For the play in the games I have them circle who they believe will win. For the rest of the games I have them write in t their winners. This part takes the most time. A lot of the teens have no idea how to fill it out. I tell them they can pick different ways. I always like the cutest mascot. It really can work well. I make sure to tell them to not always pick the higher team in the bracket because they are always upsets. I check handwriting on this part because it is really important that you can read them.
  5. I always like to end the program playing a One Shining Moment video which is the song they play at the end of the tournament.

After the program: I like to have a prize for the teen who had the best bracket. This means waiting until after the Championship Game. I do a simple scoring which I give each right answer one point but you can do it a lot of ways such as one point for round 1 and 2 and then up the points for the later rounds. This is subjective. I make them write a score for the final game to be a tie breaker but have never had to use it.  I call the winner and give them a random prize.

Final Thoughts: This was an easy program for me since I know a lot about basketball. If you are doing it for the first time, I do recommend learning more about the tournament to be prepared to help the teens. There are often questions. The teens who like sports love to do this program and try to out basketball trivia on me which is fun.

Editor’s Note: You can also use the March Madness bracket format to do a book themed program. Here’s an older post about this.

Book Review: Jerkbait by Mia Siegert

Publisher’s description

jerkbaitEven though they’re identical, Tristan isn’t close to his twin Robbie at all—until Robbie tries to kill himself. Forced to share a room to prevent Robbie from hurting himself, the brothers begin to feel the weight of each other’s lives on the ice, and off. Tristan starts seeing his twin not as a hockey star whose shadow Tristan can’t escape, but a struggling gay teen terrified about coming out in the professional sports world.

Robbie’s future in the NHL is plagued by anxiety and the mounting pressure from their dad, coach, and scouts, while Tristan desperately fights to create his own future, not as a hockey player but a musical theatre performer. As their season progresses and friends turn out to be enemies, Robbie finds solace in an online stranger known only as “Jimmy2416.” Between keeping Robbie’s secret and saving him from taking his life, Tristan is given the final call: sacrifice his dream for a brother he barely knows, or pursue his own path.

How far is Robbie willing to go—and more importantly, how far is Tristan willing to go to help him?

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I overuse the phrase “rage blackout.” I’m sure I’ve claimed that 2/3 of all things in existence have given me a rage blackout. I’m easily annoyed. BUT. BUT. This book gave me a rage blackout. The parents are AWFUL. The way Robbie’s teammates treat him is AWFUL. And did I mention that the parents are AWFUL? Because they are. But we’ll talk about them later.

 

Tristan has always felt like he’s lived in Robbie’s shadow. Though they both play hockey (and their former hockey player father is their manager), Robbie’s the star, the one who will be drafted and go on to a huge career. But not if it gets out that he’s depressed. That he’s tried to kill himself three times. That he’s gay. At least, according to their monster of a father. All of that is bad press for Robbie, so the obvious thing to do is cover it up, not address any of the very serious issues, and focus on that goal: getting drafted. Sure. Great parenting. Your kid will be fine. You’re doing a good job. 

 

(You can come join me in my rage blackout—it’s kind of satisfying to get so mad.)

 

I could yell for paragraphs about their cruddy parenting and extreme denial, but I won’t. You get the idea already, I’m sure, that they suck. They pull him from the hospital early after attempt number one so he doesn’t miss a hockey game. They cover up the truth with lies, don’t do anything to help Robbie, and basically blame Tristan for what’s going on with Robbie AND make him responsible for watching over him to prevent future issues. Tristan, who quits hockey after some epic homophobic bullying, just wants to focus on his burgeoning theater career. He loves theater, has a knack for singing, dancing, and acting, and wants to grab the opportunities in front of him. But that’s hard to do when you’re supposed to be keeping your depressed wreck of a brother from committing suicide. Things become even more complicated and convoluted when Tristan learns Robbie is gay. Robbie is terrified of what coming out will mean for his life and his career—but not so terrified that he doesn’t out himself in an effort to save Tristan from some bullying. His teammates react just as terribly as you can possibly imagine. And when his parents find out? It’s a nightmare.

 

There’s a lot to talk about with this book. Siegert is tackling big topics: teenage sports careers; being not just a closeted gay teen but a closeted gay teen athlete; sibling/twin relationships; depression and suicide attempts; crappy parents; crappy friendships; homophobia; stigma with mental illness, and so much more. Plus, the book takes a big twist near the end when Robbie gets the brilliant idea that the answer to all of their problems is running away to go stay with this older dude he met online. That never turns out well, does it? And in this case, it REALLY, REALLY goes badly. Though it ends on a hopeful note, this is not a light read at all. It’s pretty much the worst case scenario for all things with the exception of the way Robbie and Tristan grow closer and more supportive of each other. It’s a dark, upsetting, frustrating, painful look at the pressure on teen athletes, at what happens when mental illness is ignored and untreated, and at how horribly scary coming out can be, especially for teens whose parents are hateful and unsupportive. Bleak but powerful. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781631630668

Publisher: Jolly Fish Press

Publication date: 05/03/2016