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About Robert Lipsyte

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By Juan Herrera

Robert Lipsyte was born on January 16, 1938. He grew up in Rego Park, a neighborhood in Queens, New York. His father, Sidney I. Lipsyte, was a principal and his mother, Fanny Finston Lipsyte, was a teacher. Growing up, Lipsyte never wanted to be a sports journalist. His parents didn’t even know much about sports. All Lipsyte wanted to do was write.

After graduating from Columbia University in 1957 at the age of 19, Lipsyte planned to move to California to pursue a career in screenwriting or as an author. Instead of moving, he answered an ad in the New York Times and became the copy boy in the paper’s sports department. Two years later, at the age of 21, Lipsyte became a reporter for The Times.

In 1962, Lipsyte covered the New York Mets’ first spring training. Then in 1964, Lipsyte was sent to Miami Beach to cover the world heavyweight championship fight between the champion Sonny Liston and a young fighter named Cassius Clay. Most people expected Liston to knock out Clay in the first round of the fight, so The Times’ editors didn’t bother to send their boxing reporter to cover the fight. Instead, they sent Lipsyte.

Clay surprisingly won the fight and Lipsyte later became the new boxing reporter for The Times. At around the same time, Lipsyte got the idea for his first young adult fiction novel, “The Contender.” Throughout the next few years Lipsyte covered boxing, including several of Muhammad Ali’s biggest fights, including his first fight with Joe Frazier in 1971.

Lipsyte also wrote about a Nigerian boxer named Dick Tiger, who was a former world middleweight champion. In November of 1969, Tiger returned his medal given to him by the Queen of England in protest because England supported Nigeria in the civil war against the Biafran people. Tiger was Biafran and he fought as a rebel against Nigeria. He asked Lipsyte for his help in returning the medal and Lipsyte agreed to help. Lipsyte called it his most indelible memory.

Lipsyte left The Times in 1971 and began to focus more on writing novels. Although he usually wrote about sports, Lipsyte also wrote several fiction books, including one about his struggles with his weight as a child in “One Fat Summer” and his battle with cancer in “The Chemo Kid.”

Lipsyte won an Emmy in 1990 for his work as host on “The Eleventh Hour,” a nightly public-affairs program on New York’s Channel 13. In 1991, Lipsyte re-joined the New York Times starting his city-side column “Coping,” that he wrote along with a sports column. Lipsyte won the Meyer Berger Award for Distinguished Reporting from Columbia University five years later for his work on the “Coping” column, his second, the first was 30 years earlier was for his sports column. In 2001, the American Library Association also awarded Lipsyte the Margaret A. Edwards Award for his contribution to young adult literature.

In 2013, Lipsyte became ESPN’s fifth ombudsman - a job he held for the length of the 18 month contract.