I DON'T GET IT. What this country needs is a good, quotable, sports figure; someone who smacks of controversy, who is colorful, who is witty, who tells it honest and straightforward - and what happens when just such a phenomenon comes along? He gets panned, that's what.
All Brian Bosworth did was write a book and you'd think he stomped on the flag. It's like he voted Nazi. Like he used his influence to get in the National Guard."The Boz - Confessions of a Modern Anti-Hero," published this week by Doubleday, has been ripped from sea to shining sea. Reviews are hitting somewhere between astonished and apoplectic. Bosworth is being blasted for being outrageous, for telling it how it was playing football, and going to school, at Oklahoma; for detailing the often sordid recruiting process; for taking editorial stands against such things as the NCAA, the president of Oklahoma, Fred Akers, John Elway, and white guys who dress poorly - and for excessive bragging.
Bosworth's philosophy, as reflected in the book, seems to be close on both a spiritual and intellectual level with Billy Clyde Puckett, the protaganist in "Life Its Ownself" and "Semi-Tough," two novels written by Dan Jenkins that enjoyed wide critical acclaim. The only difference is that Billy Clyde is a fictional character. The Boz lives, breathes, and plays defense for the Seattle Seahawks.
It's understandable that a lot of people mentioned in the book are outraged. Small wonder that OU coach Barry Switzer has blasted the book, and any number of Bosworth's former teammates, who have taken exception to tales of their free-basing cocaine and shooting machine guns on campus, whether they're true or not.
What's hard to figure is why the nation's media has come down so hard on the book.
A columnist in Colorado writes that Bosworth's "antics are overdone and tasteless." A columnist in Texas - Bosworth's home state - questions his sanity. And in The Sporting News, columnist Art Spander wonders what an egomaniac is doing diving into the literary world.
"This book is one for the ages, the ages from 8 to 12," writes Spander. He says Bosworth is using the book as a vehicle to shout, "Look at me. I can paint my hair orange. I can get drunk. I can use dirty words."
"I can use dirty words, too," writes Spander. "Here's one: Bosworth."
That's too cutting to be witty. What is witty is Bosworth's book. He says things in there you wish you'd have said.
Most people go through life thinking up great lines after the fact. Only hours later, when you're in the shower, do you come up with the perfect comeback to the guy who took your parking space.
But Brian Bosworth, in his book, comes up, time after time, with the perfect retort.
He is funny. He is entertaining. He is witty. He even says stupid things - about his weird haircut, for instance, - that still have you laughing out loud.
The reason for all this is Rick Reilly, the writer who collaborated with The Boz on "The Boz." A lot of the time, in these celebrity-tells-all books, the job of the collaborator is basically to arrange the celebrity's words into coherent sentences and paragraphs. Reilly, a writer at Sports Illustrated, goes well beyond that. He has Bosworth talking like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
You can imagine Bosworth when he read his words after Reilly got through with them. "Yeah," he says to himself, "that's what I meant to say."
For an example, here is how Bosworth describes sports writers: "There's a difference between writers and reporters . . . Reporters are short fat 'wanna-be's.' They wanna-be players or they wanna-be coaches and they can't, so all they do is rip . . . Most columnists are just wanna-be's with their picture in the paper. Columnists are people who have an opinion on everything and don't know jack about what they're talking about. Most reporters are guys who would interview a widow before anybody had told her that her husband is dead . . . Writers, on the other hand, are cool. Writers are professionals. For one thing, they can write - unlike reporters, who think they can but instead just turn out columns of phlegm. For another thing, writers don't look like Oscar Madison from `The Odd Couple.' Some of them actually dress decently. For a third thing, they treat you like a professional."
Bosworth - and Reilly - ought to get credit for writing a book that is actually enjoyable to read. You don't have to agree with what he says to still want to defend his right to be entertaining - and produce something that isn't mostly phlegm.