The Sporting Life 

Zach Dundas, author of The Renegade Sportsman, explains his wild journey into the underbelly of American sports culture.

Page 2 of 3

Dundas: You know, in retrospect I probably over-emphasized the drinking, mostly just to be funny and set the right tone of serious unseriousness. People seem to be pretty struck by that as they read it. I think it's important to note that even among the Hash House Harriers, the so-called "drinking club with a running problem," there are people who are teetotal. I guess I'm saying that it's a matter of attitude and approach rather than overall consumption.

Indy: Which one of the sports you discovered has the best chance of eventually reaching a wider audience? (And is that a good thing or a bad thing?)

Dundas: Bike polo and roller derby are both becoming full-fledged international sports, with established competitive calendars and broad, deep groups of players and fans. At the same time, I think both could remain relatively underground and still be very healthy and vibrant.

Certainly, within both sports, you would find a wide range of opinions about the best way to evolve. There are some bike polo players who can't wait to cash that first Red Bull sponsorship check, and others who fairly vehemently want the sport to remain grassroots-controlled. It's possible that there is a viable middle ground. I think roller derby, which has seen such phenomenal growth and yet has remained amateur and player-owned, is in the process of finding out.

Indy: How did growing up in Montana, and your time in Missoula, contribute to your view of sports culture?

Dundas: I think Montana fosters an appreciation for the DIY approach to life. That can mean playing in your own band, or it can mean shooting, gutting and skinning your own deer. It means that some people do both those things, which is a combination that, as I have discovered since moving to Portland, is sort of lost on people elsewhere. Even in the 21st century, Montana remains a fairly unmediated, authentic place. And I think Missoula, specifically, obviously exposed me to both great writers and great sportsmen and -women from an early age—it does not seem remarkable to me, at all, for someone to be both a serious outdoors person and a serious reader. I am neither a great writer nor a great sportsman, but I'm trying on both counts.

Indy: Aside from soccer (see excerpt on last page), what'd you play during your time in Montana?

Dundas: As I say in the book, I am not personally a great example of the Montana lifestyle, but I certainly did a bit of fishing, an extremely small and unsuccessful amount of hunting, some wilderness hiking, some rafting, some mountain biking, all that. When I was a kid, I played a bit of basketball (I was terrible) and briefly started at linebacker for the city champion Roosevelt Rebels flag football team. What can I say? I was a nerd by choice.

Indy: Knowing your passion for soccer, what's your expert analysis heading into the 2010 World Cup, and who do you think will ultimately hoist the trophy in South Africa? (Needless to say, your answer will constitute the entirety of the Indy's official World Cup preview.)

Dundas: Everyone is looking to Spain to stage a defining performance and make good on their promise as the most stylish and tactically sophisticated team in world football. They have the horsepower, but also a history of flameouts on the big stage. Likewise, the best player in the world right now, Lionel Messi, has never really proven himself with Argentina, and he must cope with having crazy Diego Maradona as his coach. Holland has potential to be a beautiful team. I don't think we'll see a repeat of the French and Italian tours de force of 2006—those teams are past their sell-by dates. England finally has a brilliant manager, but I remain unconvinced. Sadly, I don't think the African teams will show much beyond their usual flashes of brilliance and their fatal inconsistency. While I don't believe the United States will make it past the Round of 16 (or beat England this coming Saturday), I do think we have a team to be proud of. We've got players who have roots in Mexico, Haiti, Nigeria, Canada, Brazil, Scotland and elsewhere, many of whom made a conscious choice to represent the U.S. We've got white dudes, black dudes, Hispanic dudes. It's not the old suburban-collegiate soccer factory anymore, either. Clint Dempsey grew up the only Anglo kid playing in the all-Mexican leagues down on the Texas border. Landon Donovan grew up poor in California. Jay DeMerit got zero attention coming out of college, paid his own way over to London and painted houses for spending money while he scrapped his way up through the minor leagues, all the way to the Premiership. Win or lose, this team is the real America.

Indy: You make a detailed comparison between mainstream sports and 1970s stadium rock in the book. How's that work, exactly?

Dundas: The overblown, grandiose and occasionally silly nature of major league sports somehow recalls Jefferson Starship to me. Meanwhile, I was trying to write about people who are the modern-day sports equivalent of The Slits.

Indy: Have you sworn off mainstream sports entirely?

Dundas: Not at all. I am really enjoying the NBA Finals, and looking forward to abandoning society, more or less, for a month of World Cup action. I think it's great that the best in the world have an outlet for their skills. I just think everyone else needs an athletic outlet, too.

Zach Dundas reads from The Renegade Sportsman Tuesday, June 15, at 7 p.m., at Shakespeare & Co., 103 S. Third Street W.

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