Review of
Matt Hern, One Game at a Time: Why Sports Matter (Oakland/Edinburgh/Baltimore: AK Press, 2013)

In one of AK Press's newest releases, Matt Hern, a radical urbanist from East Vancouver, sets out to convince people – sports fans and critics alike – that "sports offers us an arena where we can resist neoliberal logics and bodily encounter liberatory ideals". For someone like myself, who is as passionate about sports as about radical politics, it couldn't get much better.

Unfortunately, Matt and I are not perfect matches. In his book, the sports I'm mainly interested in (soccer, tennis, track and field, swimming, skiing and other winter sports) receive either little attention or none at all, while I have only limited interest in what Matt seems to prefer, namely American football and martial arts. I also don't consider trash-talking a necessary part of the athletic experience (to be honest, I can't stand it), and – despite Matt's best efforts to portray it as joyful and authentic competition based on trust and camaraderie – I don't really get a kick out of watching people being beaten to a pulp. I also find Matt's account sometimes overly anecdotal (reports about playing video games with friends and the correspondence with his editor included), while, at other times, things become pretty abstract ("Because this disrespect of bodies and materiality is so intersectionally experienced, and shows up in so many guises and costumes, disassembling it has to come both asymmetrically and asystematically, but also consistently").

Having said all this, I'm excited about more radicals addressing sport in a serious manner and tying it to their politics, and Matt's book is an important contribution. Also, Matt's main argument is certainly convincing: as radicals, we can only relate to sport in productive ways if we acknowledge its political significance rather than maintaining the tired old stereotype of it being little more than a meaningless cultural sideshow. So, no matter what your favorite sports are, whether you perceive boxing to be violent or not, or which kind of prose you prefer, this is a book you should read if you have any interest in sports' political dimensions or need convincing that they exist.

Oh, and the book's design must not go unnoticed – the chapters' intro pages are among the nicest I've seen.

Gabriel Kuhn

(December 2013)