There have been many great sportswriters. My current favorite is Mike Lupica, who writes a column in the New York Daily News. Mike has also broken out and written books like Million-Dollar Throw and The Big Field, but these are "sports" books, so that you have no illusions. No one is going to confuse Mike with Robert Olen Butler, but he is more a "write what you know" kind of guy, keeping with the famous Hemingway philosophy. Hemingway wrote about fish, guns, war, and women and he did pretty well with that; Mike Lupica is doing pretty well himself and does not require commendations from pretentious literary types.
Still, I understand the perception of sportswriting and sportswriters well enough. Four of my books have been published, and they all fall into the "literary ficiton" category. This doesn't get me anywhere fast, but they were books that I believed in and care for. Each book I have written is like a precious child to me, and I still love them dearly even after they leave home and are out on their own, but I do have one book that I have kept locked up in a dark room, like Rochester's wife for fear of discovery. It is a sports-themed book about growing up a New York Mets fan, and I have been working on it on and off for years, but keep stopping because I decided to invest my time in the others. It is that simple.
Sports has a deep place in the collective American imagination. There are people more loyal to their teams than to spouses or girlfriends. They live, eat, sleep, and breath team colors. They dream of championships and meeting their favorite players. Sports is deeply woven into the fabric of American culture, and perhaps that is why academic types despise it so much. They know they would never find anyone with the same allegiance to Beowulf, Paradise Lost, or any of the other stuff they try to ram down undergrad's throats. As my friend (a blue-collar worker) has always said to me, "See how many people watch the Super Bowl and compare that to how many people go to your poetry readings."
One other story comes to mind here. Years ago I was teaching in the English department of a college in New York City. One of my colleagues had come out with a book about baseball. We were talking about it one day, and a senior member of the department overheard us. "You have a book?" he asked my friend. When the older fellow saw the cover and realized what the subject matter was, his enthusiasm was lost as was the sparkle in his eyes. With a grumpy, "Well, good luck with that," he turned and walked away.