PERSONAL: Born in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada.
ADDRESSES: Office—Globe and Mail, 444 Front St. W., Toronto, Ontario MSV 2S9, Canada.
CAREER: Globe and Mail, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, sportswriter, 1985—.
AWARDS, HONORS: Michener award, for public service journalism; National Newspaper award nomination.
Mean Business: The Creation of Shawn O'Sullivan, Viking (Markham, Ontario, Canada), 1987.
(With Roberto Alomar) Second to None: The Roberto Alomar Story, Viking (New York, NY), 1993.
Power Plays!: Hockey Tips and Trivia, Key Porter Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1993.
Diamond Dreams: Twenty Years of Blue Jays Baseball, Viking (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.
The New Ice Age: A Year in the Life of the NHL, Mclellan & Stewart (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999.
Facing Ali: The Opposition Weighs In, A. A. Knopf (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002, published as Facing Ali: Fifteen Fighters, Fifteen Stories, Lyons Press (Guilford, CT), 2003.
(With the editors of Sport) The Italian Stallions: Heroes of Boxing's Glory Days, Sport Classic Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2003.
(Editor and author of introduction) The Way It Looks from Here: Contemporary Canadian Writing on Sports, Knopf (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2004.
SIDELIGHTS: Canadian sportswriter Stephen Brunt's first book, Mean Business: The Creation of Shawn O'Sullivan, was published when the boxer was still fighting and in mid-career. It follows O'Sullivan from his amateur days and 1984 Olympic Silver Medal to the promotion and marketing that was intended to prime his career and enable the clean-cut-looking white boxer to make his fortune in the United States. Brunt begins and ends the books with O'Sullivan's first professional fight, a devastating defeat, in a story that Canadian Materials reviewer Michael Freeman said has "no happy ending." Books in Canada contributor B. K. Adams wrote that Mean Business "catches the excitement of the early days, but probes the dark side of this violent sport, its promotion and its visceral popularity."
Power Plays!: Hockey Tips and Trivia is a collection of facts, tips, trivia, and even hockey tattoo transfers. Canadian Materials contributor Marsha Kaiserman felt that it "is a well-researched book without any passion," but added that "the pictures alone make this book worth buying for the kids." Quill and Quire writer Stephen Smith called Power Plays! "snappy in the writing and strong in the content," and wrote that "the trivia is more prominent than the tips." But Smith questioned why the tattoo transfers "depict cadavers on skates and leering, toothy deathmasks."
Diamond Dreams: Twenty Years of Blue Jays Baseball is Brunt's history of the team from its beginnings to its triumphs over the Braves and Phillies. Brunt credits businessmen Pat Gillick and Paul Beeston with transforming the team into a major franchise. Of this work, Ian A. Andrews wrote in Canadian Book Review Annual that "this well-written and easy-to-read book provides readers with a good understanding of why Gillick and Beeston are held in such high esteem by the baseball establishment."
Brunt returns to hockey in The New Ice Age: A Year in the Life of the NHL, which is based on the Canadian television series in which he follows the 1997-98 season. In "Making It," the first of six sections, he covers the annual draft and how salaries are determined and awarded. "For the Good of the Game" covers the league's expansion into Tennessee and the rule changes that resulted when star player Brett Hull criticized the officiating. "Growing the Game" explains the marketing and participation of the NHL in the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. In "Our Game," Brunt writes of the difficulties faced by small teams, particularly in Canada, in competing with wealthy American teams. "The Grind" tells of life on the road, and "The Finals" explains the process leading up to the Stanley Cup. Andrews, writing again for Canadian Book Review Annual, declared that Brunt "has produced a lucid and perceptive account of the inner workings of our national pastime."
In Diamond Dreams: Twenty Years of Blue Jays Baseball, Brunt follows the team from their expansion days to their back-to-Back World Series wins in 1992 and 1993. A Quill and Quire reviewer wrote that the author "maintains a tone that is engaging but never sentimental, probably because he interviews exactly none of the players. This occasionally works to the book's detriment, but more often it affords Brunt the right amount of journalistic detachment to avoid the sportswriter's tendency to psychologize."
Facing Ali, subtitled The Opposition Weighs In in Canada and Fifteen Fighters, Fifteen Stories in the United States, was called "a must for boxing fans" by Booklist critic John Green. Heavyweight boxer Ali fought sixty-one fights—with a record of fifty-six wins, five losses, and thirty-seven knockouts—against fifty-one fighters from October 1960 to December 1981; several of these fights are considered classic matches that are still talked about to this day. Brunt profiles fifteen of Ali's opponents in chronological order, beginning with Tunney Hunsaker, who fought Ali before he changed his named from Cassius Clay, to Larry Holmes, who defeated Ali during Ali's fourth comeback. Among the profiles are such prominent names as Joe Frazier, Ken Norton, and George Foreman, as well as lesser-known contenders like Germany's Jurgen Blin, who returned to his job in a sausage factory the day after fighting Ali. Jim Burns commented in Library Journal that Brunt "does an excellent job of bringing his subjects out of the shadow of the Greatest." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote that "although each story varies, Brunt is amazingly sensitive to and respectful of each fighter's own words, no matter how factually wrong or self-serving they might be."
Most of the fifteen fighters profiled in Facing Ali consider themselves lucky just to have fought the champ. The exception is Joe Frazier, who was verbally and physically brutalized by Ali. While George Foreman came to terms with his anger, Frazier never did. He expresses his belief that in contracting Parkinson's disease, Ali is being punished. Many of the men who fought Ali were not professional fighters, but men like Blin who sought the opportunity to fight a champion. Hunsacker, for another, was a West Virginia policeman; British champion Henry Cooper's powerful left hand was developed by his work as a plasterer. Frazier learned to box by training on punching bags filled with clothes and Spanish moss that he hung from trees. Chuck Wepner, who claims he was the model for the fighter in Rocky, was later imprisoned for cocaine possession, and Frenchman Jean Pierre Coopman returned to his sculpting. Both Sonny Liston and Ron Lyle learned to box in prison, and both lost to Ali.
Sports Illustrated writer Charles Hirshberg called the subjects of Facing Ali "men of substance, worth getting to know. Brunt does them justice, but the author has done something even more impressive: He has found something new to report about Muhammad Ali." Globe and Mail reviewer Timothy Taylor said that "the fifteen stories in Facing Ali are elicited with a respect and appreciation that is simply too rare in sports reporting these days. Boxing desperately needs more coverage that combines Brunt's technical knowledge with his writerly interest in those human stories upon which all prize fighting is based."
Brunt is also the author of another boxing book, The Italian Stallions: Heroes of Boxing's Glory Days. This work is filled with archival photos and profiles of Italian-American boxers from the now-defunct Sport magazine. Included are pictures ranging from the giant, mob-backed Primo Carnero to the talented Willie Pep, but the two 1950s icons around which the book centers are middleweight champion Rocky Graziano and heavyweight Rocky Marciano, who retired undefeated. Other fighters profiled are Jake "Raging Bull" LaMotta, Carmen Basilio, and Willie Pastrano. Library Journal reviewer Nathan Ward wrote that "this book does the paisans and boxing fans proud."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Black Issues Book Review, November-December, 2003, Fred Lindsey, review of Facing Ali: Fifteen Fighters, Fifteen Stories, p. 65.
Booklist, March 15, 2003, John Green, review of Facing Ali, p. 1266.
Books in Canada, October, 1987, B. K. Adams, review of Mean Business: The Creation of Shawn O'Sullivan, p. 27; December, 1993, David Homel, review of Second to None: The Roberto Alomar Story, p. 29.
Canadian Book Review Annual, Volume 17, 1997, Ian A. Andrews, review of Diamond Dreams: Twenty Years of Blue Jays Baseball, p. 161; Volume 16, 2000, Ian A. Andrews, review of The New Ice Age: A Year in the Life of the NHL, p. 2245.
Canadian Materials, July, 1988, Michael Freeman, review of Mean Business, p. 120; March, 1994, Marsha Kaiserman, review of Power Plays!: Hockey Tips and Trivia.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), May 8, 1999, Stephen Smith, review of The New Ice Age, p. D11; October 12, 2002, Timothy Taylor, review of Facing Ali, p. 1.
Kirkus Reviews, March 1, 2003, review of Facing Ali, p. 356.
Library Journal, March 15, 2003, Jim Burns, review of Facing Ali, p. 90; February 15, 2004, Nathan Ward, review of The Italian Stallions: Heroes of Boxing's Glory Days, p. 133.
Publishers Weekly, March 31, 2003, review of Facing Ali, p. 53.
Quill and Quire, December, 1993, Stephen Smith, review of Power Plays!, p. 35; July, 1997, review of Diamond Dreams, p. 48.
Resource Links, October, 2000, review of The New Ice Age, p. 51.
School Library Journal, December, 1999, Susan H. Woodcock, review of The New Ice Age, p. 166.
Sports Illustrated, February 17, 2003, Charles Hirshberg, review of Facing Ali, p. 31.
Times Literary Supplement, November 22, 2002, David Horspool, review of Facing Ali, pp. 30-31.
Houston Chronicle Online, http://www.chron.com/ (May 16, 2003), Charlie Bier, review of Facing Ali.
Random House Web site, http://www.randomhouse.ca/ (June 22, 2004), interview with Brunt.
Sunday Business Post Online, http://archives.tcm.ie/businesspost/ (January 19, 2003), Jonathan O'Brien, review of Facing Ali.*