Too often on American sports pages, we use the long-bomb language of war to talk about games. And too often on the editorial page, we use the slam dunk language of sports to obscure the realities of war. By doing so, we corrupt our honest understanding of both. The symbols and mythologies, the lessons and the metaphors might seem interchangeable — devotion, honor, fortitude — but one is a harmless funhouse reflection of the other. Sports are a kind of necessary human nonsense. War is the abject failure of everything that makes us human.
…Before he became a sports writer, Bill Heinz was a war correspondent. He spent months in the North Atlantic; landed at Normandy; chased Patton across France. He drank with Liebling and with Hemingway and watched American boys felled like trees in the Battle of Hürtgen Forest. That’s what I think made him great. Not just the writing or the craft or the work ethic. But in knowing exactly how much — and how very little — is at stake in sports.
Because every word Bill Heinz ever wrote about sports was informed by what he carried out of that war. By the things he could never forget.