Wright Thompson is a long time senior writer for ESPN covering multiple sports. His profile is relatively low in Europe given ESPN’s American focus but his excellent 2016 article on Tiger Woods was shared widely in Ireland at least. It gave the best insight into how Woods’ life and career unravelled until the excellent ‘Tiger Woods’ by Jeff Benedict and Armen Keteyian was published last year.
The Cost of These Dreams collects many of Thompson’s best articles but with a central theme running through them – the price and struggles that come with seeking and achieving success. The stories collected here are mostly about the off pitch lives of those involved in sports. It includes some of the greatest figures in their sports (including Michael Jordan, Pat Riley and Bear Bryant) and some relatively unknown characters most notably Tony Harris, a college basketball star who had a mental breakdown that led him to an untimely demise in the jungles of Brazil. The highlight for me is a moving piece about the Ole Miss (University of Mississippi) football program during the ugly time of de-segregation in US education.
Unlike many anthologies, the preface for this book goes beyond the usual platitudes about how lucky he has been to write for X or Y over the years. Instead it is a very reflective and emotional piece about the costs to Thompson’s own personal life of his method of reporting, his constant travel and the resultant time missed with family.
The articles collected here are superbly well written. The book reveals two of Thompson’s great strengths – as a determined researcher/investigator and as a remarkable interviewer. Thompson’s commitment to research is shown most clearly by his dogged pursuit of on of Muhammad Ali’s early opponents who has gone off the grid. He becomes obsessed with finding him and the resulting article is beautifully written. As an interviewer, he achieves remarkable insight into the inner worlds of his subjects who often just happen to be among the greatest sports stars in history.
Many of Thompson’s best articles are also available online and well worth checking out. I’ve linked below to a few, most of which aren’t included in this excellent book:
- 2014 profile of footballer Luis Suarez
- A profile of NASCAR drive Dale Earnhardt Jr
- “Test of Time: In defense of a game that lasts five days”
- “Pulled pork and pigksin: a love letter to Southern football”
- “An obsession realized: Manning and the Super Bowl”
- “Patterson rumbles to glory as Eagles romp”
- “OTL: The Burden of Being Myron Rolle”
- “The last days of Juventus?”
- “O’Neil was the real ‘voice’ of America”
- “Thompson: Contempt for the system”
- “Outrageous Injustice”