Odeven releases Jerry Izenberg-centric book in honor of his 90th birthday
“Have you ever heard of Jerry Izenberg? Did you know he was one of Muhammad Ali’s best friends? Did you know he covered 53 Super Bowls and 55 Kentucky Derbies, and sat with Nelson Mandela in the stands during a boxing match at the Olympics?”
If you ask JAPAN Forward reporter Ed Odeven to succinctly summarize some of the best parts of the legendary sports writer’s career, that’s where he’d start.
In honor Izenberg’s 90th birthday, which occurred last September, Odeven knew he wanted to do something special to give back to the man who has provided sports fans around the world such rich and elegant content throughout his career.
The project began in the form of 15 articles on a WordPress blog, and kept growing from there until Odeven decided to take the leap and write a full-fledged book.
“I expanded on that quite a bit for part one of a book,” he recalled. “I thought ‘There’s enough here to make this project more meaningful than just a collection of articles.'”
He entitled the finished product Going 15 Rounds With Jerry Izenberg: A Collection Of Interviews With The Legendary Columnist, a nod to the writer’s passion for boxing. A full rundown on the book can be found at https://edodevenreporting.com/2020/09/12/book-announcement-going-15-rounds-with-jerry-izenberg/.
“I wrote it for a few reasons,” Odeven explained. “One was to explore Jerry Izenberg’s career because I followed his writing for many years myself, and I wanted to learn more about him. I think the quality of his career is amazing. I would encourage anybody to pick up any one of his books and just to explore what he has done too.”
He also hopes those who teach the journalism craft, as well as students of journalism, can look to his book for inspiration. He hopes to help those who read it better themselves not just in their careers, but the stories they write as well as they learn from the way Izenberg went about covering sports.
Izenberg went above and beyond the box score. Sure, what happens during the game is interesting, but he wanted to dig deeper into who these athletes were and find the more meaningful stories to share.
One anecdote included in the book is about a time when, during the Barcelona Summer Olympics in 1992, Izenberg took a look around the stands while attending a boxing match. He spotted Nelson Mandela, the former President of South Africa, taking in the sights and sounds.
“Mandela was just taking in the environment, taking in the atmosphere,” Odeven said. “So Jerry walked up to him and asked for an interview. To be in the right place at the right time is one thing, but he was bold with people who are world figures and world leaders. So they sat side-by-side like they were at a movie theater, just hanging out. And they spent half the day watching boxing.”
Among the things the pair discussed that day was Mandela’s early life when he was involved with boxing himself and the group of boxers at the Olympics at the time.
Izenberg simply treated people the right way and formed long-lasting relationships with them. One of the things about Izenberg that struck Odeven most is how he never lost sight of what was most important in life.
“He has a very strong moral compass,” Odeven said. “He’s very outspoken against racism, against bigotry, and against greed when he’s being interviewed or when he writes his own column.”
He recalled how, in the years following the tragic plane crash that claimed the life of former Pittsburgh Pirates star Roberto Clemente, Izenberg would make regular trips to Puerto Rico to interview people from all over the island.
How he wrote extensively about Negro League players, and was a strong advocate for those players to be awarded the honor they deserved of being elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Only toward the end of last year did Major League Baseball finally recognize the statistics from the Negro Leagues and add them to official MLB records.
“To me, that’s the coolest thing is seeing someone passionate about their career and using their talent in a way that makes an impact for society and for readers,” Odeven continued. “In the last 70 years, he’s probably seen more sports, interviewed more people, and written more about the landscape of North American sports, as well as the global sports evolution, than anybody who’s still around.”
Now, Odeven hopes his book can be a small part in ensuring the legacy of one of sports media’s greats lives on for generations to come.