NPR sports show host likes the give and take

AMHERST – It might be only a game, but for Bill Littlefield, it’s also a way to meet interesting people and find interesting stories.

Littlefield, host of the weekly WBUR-FM radio show “Only a Game” on National Public Radio, will speak at the Amherst Public Library today at 7 p.m.

He’ll read from recent and older commentaries from his radio show, take questions from the audience – the best part of such appearances, he says – and even try to sell a few copies of his recent book, “Only a Game,” a collection of commentaries from the show.

“I might even go into the basement and see if there are some old books I can sell,” he said, joking during a recent telephone interview.

Littlefield said he would limit his set speech: “I will get to questions from people just as quickly as I can because that’s the real fun part of these events.”

People, he said, love to give their opinions about sports and love to hear what he thinks of those opinions.

“The only excuse for this sort of thing (a public appearance) is for everybody to have some fun,” said Littlefield.

“Only A Game” has appeared on NPR stations for over a decade. Guests have ranged from writer John Updike to former athletes like Muhammad Ali and Bill Bradley, a former U.S. senator.One of his favorite parts of the show is introducing people to sports about which they might never have heard, such as wife tossing (no kidding), skillet tossing and underwater polo.

Ideas for future shows often come from listeners, and he hopes to get some in Amherst.

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“There are a number of things that listeners have given us. You’d probably be surprised at the number of times listeners have suggested stories to us, and they’ve turned out to be terrific stories,” he recalled. “The most significant thing is the encouragement to keep going. It’s great fun to hear from people who say they listen every Saturday morning . . . Radio is weird in that way: You don’t know unless people tell you that they’re paying attention.”

Littlefield’s favorite sport is soccer, but he understands that even it is just a pastime.

“Why should we care? Why should we care about any diversion, any art? What’s poetry? Why should we care? Because it delights us. Painting, sculpture enrich our lives and touch us in an emotional and intellectual way. “The problem comes when we take things so seriously that we forget it’s meant to be a diversion.”

In other words, it’s only a game.