'New Breed' Misses the Boat

The New Breed of Athlete By Leila B. Gemme

If I were a sexist pig, I could say that "The New Breed of Athlete" is a dumb book written by a dumb broad who doesn't know a goddam thing about sports. And unfortunately this is the kind of book that is assaulting our senses these days.

"New Breed" presents a number of star athletes--or more appropriately, headline grabbing athletes--and attempts to show what effect each has had on their particular sport. Gemme looks at twelve athletes in all, among them Muhammad Ali, Joe Namath, and Bobby Fischer, with Billie Jean King and jockey Kathy Kusner representing the female side of the sports world.

The book has a number of short-comings. The first problem is its organization. Gemme goes through the life-histories of each of the athletes, which soon become boring in their repetitiveness. In addition, these biographies include a lot of useless information. Approximately half of the book deals with immaterial biographical data, such stuff as when the players were born, where they went to high school, what kind of jobs they had growing up, etc. All of which might have been all right, if it weren't for the scope of the topic, and the fact that the book is only 190 pages.

The major drawback, however, is the way Gemme treats her subject matter. She is trying to demonstrate how each of these athletes has significantly changed everything up to and including traditional American values. But in trying to do so, she looks only at the most superficial aspects of the athletes' lives.

For example, in talking about Derek Sanderson, Gemme states, "Derek Sanderson won't allow sports fans or management to dictate how he wears his hair." She then goes on to say that it is Derek's flashy clothes, lewd lifestyle, and the like that have effected changes in player-management relations, and that have earned him a new kind of respect among sports fans.

All this, of course, is nonsense. Gemme, in dealing only with the more sensationalistic side of these athletes, has failed to delve into the reasons behind their actions. The reader gets no sense whatsoever of why Sanderson behaves as he does. We're only told that Derek acts a certain way, and that's it. The reader yearns for Gemme to go as deeply into the motivations of the players as other books of the genre have, such as Jim Bouton's "Ball Four." Further, by looking at the sensationalistic athletes of the "new breed," Gemme does a disservice to players such as Dave Meggyssey, or more recently, Jack Mildren of the New England Patriots. These players have questioned traditional values in sports, but have chosen different roads than the Namaths and Sandersons, and consequently have not received the same publicity.

In essence, while it is undeniable that there is a new breed of athlete afoot these days, and that there is a genuine revolution going on in the sports scene, Gemme just doesn't tell us what it's all about.

"The New Breed of Athlete" is a Madison-Ave. style approach, cosmetic and facile, to the controversies and changes that the sports establishment is undergoing. After all, what can you say about a book that puts Bobby Riggs in the forefront of the "New Breed" of athlete?