Ask a Literary Lady: Defying the Jock/Nerd Stereotype!

Dear Literary Lady,

I’ve never understood the stereotype that people who love to read are unathletic, or that jocks don’t like to read. In the spirit of the Olympics, I’m challenging that and want your help. What are your favorite examples of authors who love sports and athletes who love books?

– S.B., St. Paul, MN.

Dear S.B.,

Hear, hear! I’ve often wondered about the prevalence of this stereotype myself. I think the “jock”/”nerd” dichotomy is a vestige of our early school days (when kids are unceremoniously labeled “indoor” kids and “coordinated” kids). I suspect that it’s kept alive over the years by a strong dose of pop culture. In my personal experience, the stereotype doesn’t seem to be true at all—many of my most well-read friends are also the most athletic, and my friends who don’t read also don’t play sports—I think they just stare at their phones all day.

Maybe that’s why my ears perk up whenever I hear an example of someone who is equally at home in a library or a gymnasium; who has an impressive book collection and an equally impressive amount of hand-eye coordination; and who is both a nerd and a jock and very proud of it.

Here are my favorite examples:

1. Ernest Hemingway
Perhaps no other writer in history has ever made such a strong point about defying the stereotype of a bespectacled, spindly, unathletic scholar. Hemingway was a football player in school, a boxer, and an accomplished outdoorsman. He didn’t, however, consider any of these activities “sports.” In fact, Hemingway famously claimed that “there are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.”

2. Ken Kesey
The author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, and noted LSD-culture icon wasn’t just any old competitive athlete—he went to the University of Oregon on a football scholarship, switched to wrestling while there, and almost qualified for the U.S. Olympic wrestling team. A dislocated shoulder kept him from the Olympics, but it also kept him from being drafted. His inability to serve afforded Kesey the opportunity to take writing classes from Wallace Stegner and volunteer for a study at a veteran’s hospital.

3. LeBron James
He’s one of the greatest players in NBA history and he likes to read to maintain focus before games. James read the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins before the Miami Heat playoffs in 2012 and the Divergent series by Veronica Roth during the 2015 playoffs. James is not solely a fan of fiction, though—he’s put down his fair share of biographies and nonfiction novels.

4. Amar’e Stoudemire
Stoudemire is so committed to reading that he’s penned his own series of children’s books, STAT. What’s more, his passion for promoting literacy and education prompted the basketball star to get the word “Read” tattooed on his forearm.

5. Haruki Murakami
Writing and running are interwoven passions for one of Japan’s most decorated authors. Murakami has completed a marathon every year since his thirties, and he shares quite a bit of his pavement-pounding wisdom in his memoir, What I Talk about When I Talk about Running.

6. Harper Lee
She may have kept to herself, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t keep herself active. This Pulitzer prize-winning writer was an avid golfer. In a 1980 interview, Lee said that she and her sister would often play golf together, and Lee did much of her creative thinking on the course. It must have helped, too, that few people would have dared to bother the Lee sisters while they were playing a round.

7. Andrew Luck
He’s the quarterback and the go-to guy for good reads for the Indianapolis Colts. The NFL quarterback began by making personalized book recommendations to his teammates, encouraging them to read everything from novels to biographies. In April of this year, he officially launched his own book club to share his top page-turning picks and engage with his fans about books. As if Luck couldn’t be anymore endearing, he gave a shout out to his mother for many of his favorite reads.

Now I’m dying to know from all the readers out there—who are some of your favorite athletic authors and bookworm-y sports enthusiasts? Let’s add to the list!

Love and paperbacks,

Literary Lady

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