By the time George Plimpton starting writing for Sports Illustrated in the late ’50s, he’d already made a name for himself running The Paris Review, where The Art of Fiction interviews with famous writers redefined examinations of the creative process. Those interviews—that publication—alone makes for a considerable legacy, but it wasn’t until Plimpton began what he called “participatory journalism” for SI that he found wider fame. First, he wrote about pitching an inning of a post-season all-star game of major leaguers, which was soon expanded into a book, Out of My League. But it was Plimpton’s second foray as an amateur into the world of professional sports that made him a star.
He played third-string quarterback for the Detroit Lions, wrote about it for SI, and the ensuing book, Paper Lion, became a best-seller and made Plimpton famous. He’d continue this routine for years—boxing three rounds against Archie Moore, playing goalie for the Boston Bruins, even playing the triangle for the New York Symphony—and, in true Warholian fashion, became famous for being famous. While all of his adventures are droll—told in his charming, unpretentious prose—nothing measures up to Paper Lion.
Fortunate for us, Little Brown is reprinting all seven of Plimpton’s participatory journalism books, and there is no better place to start than Paper Lion, reprinted with permission from Plimpton’s estate. Please enjoy a piece of sports writing—and New Journalism—history.