I have not watched very many episodes of ESPN’s Around The Horn, where sports columnists from around the nation banter and debate the day’s hot topics in sports and sometimes pop culture. I can say, however, that of the shows I have watched, Dallas Morning News columnist Tim Cowlishaw (@TimCowlishaw) has generally been the guy I most enjoyed hearing from.
First and foremost, unlike too many of his castmates, Cowlishaw never yelled or said or did silly things to draw attention to himself. Knowledgeable and respectful of sports history, he also always seemed to have an apt movie quote or song lyric at his fingertips to make a point. His taste in TV shows — The Wire, Justified, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia and Archer — runs eerily parallel to mine.
Sealing the deal is his interest in hockey and NASCAR, and his polite but futile attempts to inject those sports into the conversation on an ESPN show (we all know the “Worldwide Leader in Sports” cares little for the NHL and only slightly less about NASCAR).
Bottom line: Tim Cowlishaw always seemed to me to be the kind of guy you’d like to sit down and have a beer with, maybe while catching a game or enjoying a dinner. He’d have great stories to tell about his years covering the Dallas Cowboys and Stars, or the San Francisco Giants, and could quote lines from your favorite movies or TV shows.
After reading Cowlishaw’s Drunk On Sports, only one thing about my assessment has changed: I’d still love to sit down with him, to chat about sports or Raylan Givens or maybe Omar Little, but I know we wouldn’t be drinking beer or vodka and cranberry juice. Because as Cowlishaw details in this candid and highly readable memoir, his thirty-five year affair with alcohol ended in 2009 after a tumultuous couple of years that included a DUI and two trips to the hospital emergency room, the first with a blood alcohol level of .266.
Eschewing rehab or AA sessions — although he is quick to point out how important those paths have been for so many — Cowlishaw quit drinking by simply stopping when he finally realized how important it was to his family and his health that he do so. This highlights what to me has always been a terribly important fact: people will not stop addictive behavior until they are ready to.
That’s not to say making that decision is the same as waving a magic wand —*presto* — and the desire to drink is gone. That desire never leaves but no one can tell an addict to stop and have it mean anything (which is why courts ordering Hollywood types like Lindsay Lohan to rehab is such a waste of time). Only the addict can decide when to stop; once the decision has been made others can help but staying sober belongs solely to the addict.
Make no mistake, this is not a doom-and-gloom tale filled with horror stories of blackouts and embarrassing social situations. Like many, Cowlishaw was adept at hiding his drinking in plain sight and his book is filled with self-deprecating humor, such as this thought in the weeks after he decided to quit:
I even wondered if they were starting to miss me at the three liquor stores that I used on a rotating basis. Doesn’t every drunk have a three-store rotation? I used two just off I-35 and one in the Uptown area closer to where I lived so that I didn’t need to buy a fifth of vodka from any of them more than once every two weeks.
— Cowlishaw, Tim (2013-03-17). Drunk on Sports (Kindle Locations 2552-2555). Vigliano Books. Kindle Edition.
The title Drunk on Sports is apt because as a kid, before he started drinking, Cowlishaw was in love with sports. Later in life, as his consumption of alcohol increased he became a highly functioning drunk who happened to cover sports, but now that his drinking days are hopefully ended he’s back to where he started: now a grown-up kid besotted with sports.
There are some very interesting behind the scenes sports anecdotes involving Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones and former head coach Jimmy Johnson, as well as a whale of a dinner with the management of the Texas Rangers. One story I found particularly humorous was how, as the financial collapse of newspapers began to be felt at the Dallas Morning News in the form of employee buyouts, Cowlishaw lobbied unsuccessfully to be let go when his editors and publisher decided he was too valuable to lose.
I believe there are more people like Cowlishaw out there, hiding in plain sight, than there are stereotypical falling-down-the-stairs drunks of TV and movies. Given his visibility on TV and in print, Cowlishaw has used this book to highlight some truths about his life and behavior, and in the process perhaps suggest to others that they do the same for their own situations. He does it gently, candidly, with some humor and above all without an agenda. There is some family history and juicy sports gossip thrown in as well, because when that stuff was happening he was there with glass in hand. That was Tim Cowlishaw’s life.
But it isn’t anymore, hopefully from now on. And good for him.