- Living out of Bounds: The Male Athlete's Everyday Life
There seems to be no end to the public's interest in the private lives of celebrity athletes. The recent headlines and reports about Tiger Woods's private issues are only the latest examples foreshadowing yet another batch of biographies about the golfer whose life still unfolds. A look at the archives of the Journal of Sport History also shows that there is no shortage of auto/biographies that, at times, have received mixed reviews. Thus, Overman's book promises to be of interest to both scholars and the general public. Like previous biographies, this work too has its strengths and weaknesses, but the novel approach of analyzing and synthesizing biographies, autobiographies, memoirs, and diaries of several athletes certainly is intriguing.
Overman's objective was to create a composite of the male athlete focusing on his life outside the lines. The result is a Gestalt of the male athlete's biography based on the almost phenomenological premise of the book that "the essence of the athlete's life is a shared experience" (p. xvii). Overman maintains such an essence can be distilled from biographical accounts despite the mediated character of the experiences.
The author analyzed about seventy auto/biographies of mostly American male athletes with careers in a variety of sports spanning more than a hundred years of sport history. A look at the index reveals that Overman drew on some of these works more often than others. For example, Lance Armstrong appears on thirty-one pages, Arthur Ashe on twenty-three, Bo Jackson on three, and Greg Louganis on one page.
The twenty-eight-page preface and introduction address important theoretical considerations including the use of auto/biographies as sources and the author's delimitations. Overman's analysis would have been even stronger had some of this epistemological and methodological discussion carried over into the text. The book's nine chapters are organized to follow the athletes from their initial socialization into sports, to becoming a professional athlete, and the often-difficult process of retiring from the limelight. Within [End Page 478] this story arc, each chapter highlights a particular topic including public life/private space, sex and sexuality, race, and the athlete and his body. A historical perspective is especially prevalent in the chapters on gender and race issues.
The number of books analyzed is impressive, and each chapter topic is anchored in relevant sociological scholarship. At times, the staccato rhythm of vignettes from various athletes leaves the reader yearning for more depth. Overman rarely devotes more than a paragraph to any one athlete at a time, and some paragraphs pack pieces of information from a dozen or more athletes. But the illustrations work well to support the finding that some aspects at the core of the male athlete's experience appear to remain relatively constant across time and sports. Yet, Overman is careful not to overstate this notion, noting several times that although some themes emerge, examples can be contradictory and do not form a master narrative that fits all individuals.
Given the shortage of scholarship in sport history on gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender athletes, it is commendable that the book includes a discussion of homophobia (drawing mostly on Dave Kopay's autobiography) and the experiences of Reneé Richards. Nevertheless, some generalizations in the introduction seem at odds with Overman's sensitivity to gender and sexuality elsewhere in the text. That the men in this selection did not mention eating disorders or reflect on the energizing effect of a workout on their body neither means that "male athletes simply do not make these kinds of observations" nor that "these issues don't appear in the life stories of young male athletes" (p. xxii).
Experts of a particular athlete may not find new insights about that individual, but even keen biographical readers will not be familiar with all of these men including lesser-known athletes like professional bowler Carmen Salvino, gymnast Bart Conner, or soccer's Shep...