FL: Sports frequently turn up in your stories, often in relation to topics that aren't traditionally sports-related. Why is that? What can sports teach us?
MG: I love writing about sports because they offer such a wonderful opportunity to tell stories. There's a piece in the collection called "Most Likely to Succeed," which talks about how hard it is to predict which college quarterbacks will become good professional quarterbacks—and then argues that this same problem exists for teachers. The sports example, I think, is a wonderful way of making a relatively dry topic (how to find the best teachers) come alive. I think there are a number of really interesting cases where really broad and difficult problems that we encounter in the real world have been already tackled, on a smaller level, in the sports world. It's almost as if the sports world is a kind of training ground for social issues and problems.
FL: In your most recent New Yorker story, you examine the seemingly unavoidable link between football and brain injuries. Do you think football could be made safer and still be America's most popular sport, or is the violence an essential part of its appeal?
MG: I think football can't be made safer and is probably going to die out. Think about it this way. We now have incontrovertible evidence that playing football poses a serious long-term neurological risk to some significant percentage of players on the field. Once that fact becomes widely known, what parents will allow their sons to play tackle football anymore? Especially when there are lots of other sports alternatives that aren't dangerous?
FL: Do you still watch football, or does knowing the risks to the players make it no longer enjoyable? Have you heard from other football fans about how their experience of watching football has been altered?
MG: I'm a huge football fan, and I still watch every weekend. But I have to say that the thrill is gone. I watch someone get hit in the head and all I can think of is what that means for that player's brain. After that article ran, I got tons of e-mails from football fans saying the same thing. It breaks my heart.
What is your favorite Malcolm Gladwell book or story? Share your thoughts in the comment area below.