Cruising cool intersections

Two examples of why the NYT is so damned interesting

Today, and two days earlier, the New York Times ran feature stories below the fold on A-1 that you never could have anticipated. And therein lies the reason I spend about $600 a year to have the NYT’s national edition thrown on my front lawn in L.A. every morning. Virtually every day I will find something that surprises me — usually a story whose roots lie at the intersection of two subjects or two beats.

Cruising cool intersections

Cruising cool intersections

If you didn’t catch these, come along for the ride. My observations within the text are in caps.

The first story ran on March 7. It was written by Benedict Carey, a specialist in health issues who the NYT swiped from the Los Angeles Times last year. Carey found a good story at the intersection of his beat and sports. He started with the much-reported fact that there is little “team chemistry” on the New York Yankees, then made use of his sources to remind us that there is little correlation between such emotional considerations and success in baseball.

He started the story with a four-graf description of the Yankee clubhouse:

‘CLOSE DOESN’T ALWAYS COUNT IN WINNING GAMES’
By Benedict Carey
March 7, 2005
1,730 words

TAMPA, Fla. — The most extravagant collection of celebrities this side of Oscar night meets in a windowless bunker every workday before 9 a.m.

Here in their stocking feet are Jason Giambi, who has emerged at the center of a nationwide steroids controversy; Alex Rodriguez, who has been fending off insults in the news media from opposing players; Kevin Brown, the pitcher who last year broke a hand by punching a wall; and, a few lockers away, the newcomer Randy Johnson, the 6-foot-10 pitcher whose first visit to New York as part of the Yankees resulted in a public scuffle with a cameraman. Looming nearby, always, is the principal owner, George Steinbrenner, who on Feb. 26 vented his anger at Giambi’s agent, using a profanity when referring to him and producing more tabloid headlines.

Yet at the eye of this hurricane, the clubhouse feels as sleepy as a back porch on an empty afternoon. This is not a team on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Nor is it one that — like its archrival, the world champion Boston Red Sox — exhibits the kind of passionate team cohesiveness that analysts and many sports psychologists consider critical to success.

NOW THE EVERYTHING-YOU-KNOW-IS-WRONG “NUT” GRAF:

But social scientists who have studied group performance under pressure say that often it is decentralized groups (like the Yankees) that prove more resilient than strongly connected ones (like the Red Sox); they are better able to weather outside criticism and internal quarrels.

Evidence from personality profiles and from studies of military, corporate and space flight crews suggests that looser ties between group members can be a strength, if the team includes individuals who can generate collective emotion when needed. And the Yankees have several of them.

ENTER AN EXPERT WHOSE KEY VALUE IS REMINDING US THAT BASEBALL IS AS MUCH AN INDIVIDUAL SPORT AS A TEAM ONE, FAR DIFFERENT THAN FOOTBALL OR BASKETBALL.

“So much of psychology and sociology emphasizes the importance of communicating and creating strong bonds to improve group performance, but in a lot of situations that is just not how it works,” said Dr. Calvin Morrill, a professor of sociology at the University of California, Irvine, who has studied group behavior in competitive corporate situations and in high schools. “Baseball is an odd mix of an individual and team sport, and an ideal example of where a diffuse team with weak ties to one another may help the overall functionality of the group.”

THE NEXT GRAF STATES A FACT OBVIOUS TO YANKEE FANS. BUT THIS IS A STORY THAT IS TRYING TO GRAB A BROADER SPECTRUM OF READERS AND NEEDS TO PROVIDE CONTEXT. AND EVEN SPORTS FANS WOULD NOT HAVE HAD THIS KIND OF PORTRAIT OF WHO SITS WHERE IN THE CLUBHOUSE.

In interviews during the first week of spring training, Yankees players said there was no single dominant personality in the clubhouse, no boisterous leader. The diffuse nature of the group seemed evident. The team’s stars have corner lockers, or lockers next to open spaces, and a few of them are centers of gravity. In one corner, pitcher Mike Mussina anchors a group of pitchers and other players. In the opposite corner, outfielder Gary Sheffield centers another small group. And in a third corner, catchers Jorge Posada and John Flaherty sit. A clutch of Spanish-speaking players occupy a bank of lockers in the center of the room. Shortstop Derek Jeter, the team’s captain, made the rounds of the clubhouse on his first day, then settled at his locker like any other teammate: hardly a portrait of the take-charge leader many imagine.

A YANKEE VALIDATES THE STORY HYPOTHESIS

“You could be a fly on the wall in the clubhouse all season long, and if you didn’t know already, you couldn’t even tell who the leaders of this team are,” Flaherty said.

SECONDARY, DEEPER PERSPECTIVE, AMPLIFYING THE NUT GRAF

But the culture in the Yankees’ clubhouse seems to put the team first, in one often overlooked sense: It presumes that front-line players can handle their own problems, and that they will protect the team from controversy, rather than the other way around.

THE MANAGER VALIDATES THE STORY SECONDARY PERSPECTIVE

“I certainly like it” when players take individual responsibility, Manager Joe Torre said in an interview in his office in Tampa. Torre said he made it clear to players that they would not be insulated from criticism, from the news media, from Steinbrenner or from anyone else. He said that he expected players to address controversy or criticism immediately and that his role was not to shield them but to reduce the stress it causes “by letting them know that they’re not the only ones getting criticized, and that it does go away.”

GOOD REAL-LIFE EXAMPLE OF HOW THE STORY’S DYNAMIC PLAYS OUT.

When reporters early last month invited Yankees players to defend Rodriguez from barbed comments in the newspapers that were attributed to Red Sox players, they declined, saying the issue was between him and his accusers. A few days later, Rodriguez shrugged off the comments in interviews and even suggested a mock headline for his response: “A-Rod Doesn’t Back Up A-Rod.”

ANOTHER EXAMPLE

When Giambi, the first baseman who reportedly admitted using steroids, arrived for his first spring training workout, he entered the clubhouse just after the coaches and the other players left for the field. With his career in the balance, and his integrity under question, he faced a swarm of reporters with queries about his personal and professional life for more than 20 minutes. He was the only Yankee in the room.

ANOTHER, ALBEIT LESS INTERESTING, REFLECTION

Johnson, who pushed aside a cameraman on his first visit to New York as a Yankee in January, said, “My understanding of the way it works is that everything you do or say gets noticed, and if you make a mistake you are personally accountable for it.” Johnson made a public apology within days of the incident.

ANOTHER SECONDARY PERSPECTIVE: WINNING BUILDS COHESION MORE THAN COHESION BUILDS WINNING

Winning is more likely to create team unity than vice versa, Torre has said repeatedly, and the evidence backs him up, said Dr. Richard Moreland, a professor of psychology and management at the University of Pittsburgh. Team cohesion is a hard thing to measure in the first place, Dr. Moreland said, and dozens of studies of sports teams find that, although having players who feel team unity helps performance, “it is not a strong effect, compared to the effect of performance on cohesion.”

GOOD SUPPORTING QUOTE

Torre puts it this way: “Look, I was on teams in St. Louis, we would go out 10 or 12 of us at a time, but we finished third or fourth. We got along, we liked each other, all that stuff, but all that meant is you weren’t alone a lot.”

THE STORY MOVES DEEPER INTO THE “BOND” ISSUE. IT HAS SET US UP TO BE ABLE TO APPRECIATE THE FOLLOWING SIX-GRAF DISCUSSION

When a common purpose is shared, loosely tied groups can function better than strongly bonded ones when it comes to containing dissent or bickering, research suggests. In studies of neighborhood organizations and corporate teams, social scientists have observed that members with weak ties can withdraw from disagreements without disrupting the group or their own work.

On a tightly knit team, by contrast, a falling out between key members can divide a squad, forcing people to take sides, psychologists say. “The idea is that any sort of problem is likely to ripple more strongly and quickly through a close group than one with weak ties,” said Dr. Mark Granovetter, a professor of sociology at Stanford. Psychologists who have studied the personality profiles of people who face far greater pressures than winning in October — including special-operations forces and astronauts — agree that those who do well share distinct qualities: they tend to be independent, confident, able to tolerate uncertainty and socialize easily with others.

“But they are not too outgoing, not socially needy, not the sort of people who need others for support,” said Dr. Lawrence Palinkas, an anthropologist at the University of California, San Diego, and the chief adviser to the National Space Biomedical Research Institute, which studies spaceflight.

Whether such independent, loosely tied people ultimately succeed as a unit depends not only on strong management, researchers say, but on the presence of individual group members who can circulate through disparate parts of the team, reduce conflict and help generate collective spirit when it is needed.

In one continuing investigation of a highly diverse high school of 1,600 students, Dr. Morrill found that a single 16-year-old white skateboarder had been critical to the reduction of conflict. “He moves between black, Asian, Hispanic and white groups, and he’s one of these kids who’s always bringing good news,” he said. “He’s a very important person in this school.”

KEEPING THE STORY YANKEE-FOCUSED, THE STORY GOES TO NEW ARRIVAL JOHNSON TO VALIDATE THE PREVIOUS SEGMENT

While high schools are hardly baseball teams — there aren’t many A-Rods on skateboards — ballplayers acknowledge the same kinds of people can keep a clubhouse united despite multiple strong cliques. “I can attest that on the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks,” Johnson said of the team that beat the Yankees in the World Series that year, “we had a couple players like that, Craig Counsell and Danny Bautista, that helped keep us playing as a unit.”

THE NEXT GRAF QUOTING TORRE SEEMED WEAK, BUT IT LEAD TO A GOOD EXAMPLE IN THE NEXT GRAF

Torre says he pays close attention to who socializes with whom, and is pre-emptive if he perceives a problem between players or groups. “If I’m uncomfortable with a situation, I’ll ask a player to check it out for me, because as a player you can get in where I, as the principal, can’t,” he said.

In the 1990′s, he said, he often asked catcher Joe Girardi, now a coach on the team, to help head off potential problems between players. Now, he said, he may ask Jeter, Posada or outfielder Ruben Sierra, whom Torre sees as a kind of prodigal son. The Yankees traded Sierra away in 1996, despite his power, because of what Torre called his “self-involved attitude.” Sierra later asked for his job back and returned as a backup player in 2003, a source of good cheer in the clubhouse and one of Torre’s most important conduits to Spanish-speaking players.

Several players also note that Posada, who is bilingual, moves easily throughout the group and may support as well as challenge individual players, as needed. In an interview, Posada acknowledged that he would immediately approach other players if he saw them having trouble, whether mechanical, baseball-related or personal. “If I see a problem, I say something right away,” he said. “I don’t wait two or three days.”

THE STORY APPEARS TO HAVE TROUBLE FIGURING OUT HOW TO END. THE LAST TWO GRAFS ARE VALID BUT LACK THE GRACEFULNESS OF THE REST OF THE STORY.

He may not be able to wait two or three pitches, come October. If the Yankees do go down to the wire again with the Red Sox, a single signal or word from Posada, Jeter, or Torre may be enough to change a game or turn the tide in a series. And no researcher can predict at that point which system will prevail, the centralized passion of the Red Sox or the diffuse professionalism of the Yankees.

One thing is certain for the Yankees, though: if they fail, they will face another off-season of hearing how soulless they are compared with Boston’s band of brothers.

–30–

Here’s Ben’s explanation of how the story came together:

We got the idea to look at the Yankee clubhouse about the time Randy Johnson arrived, and shoved a cameraman. Johnson had come across in previous reports as a stubborn and sometimes testy type who would be joining a team already bulging with big personalities–like Kevin Brown–all of whom would be performing under intense scrutiny, the more so since they hadn’t won a Series in a few years and blew a three-game lead to Boston last year.

The thinking was: the great Yankee teams of the late 1990s were built on this core of dedicated, hustling, reliable and hungry players, like Jeter and O’Neill and Pettite. In recent years that core had shrunk, while big-ego free agents were added, and there were several controversies in the air: Giambi and steroids, the trash talk about Alex Rodriquez, rumors that A-Rod and Jeter weren’t getting along, all of that. Could a shrinking core of strongly committed Yankees hold together this unwieldy mix of mercenaries? Was there a ‘tipping point’ when any cohesion or professionalism would splinter?

This was the working thesis, and I strongly believe in having this kind of framework. The danger is that the thesis does the thinking for you, but my style is to start with some foundation and not take it too seriously and alter or throw it out, depending on what you find. I had to throw mine out in this case. The clubhouse was relaxed, some players truly had no idea about what was being written in the papers. There was no hint of tension. I hung around for three days asking about this stuff, in various ways, direct and indirect.

Nothing,

I understood on the second day that either I had no story or the story was in what I didn’t find. I knew that the whole idea of “cohesion” was pretty suspect, and when I pressed experts on it the concept crumbled. Once that happened I asked why wouldn’t diffuse teams be just as good–I have good sources on this kind of stuff–and soon I ran into an idea called “the strength of weak ties,” a very influential notion in the sociology of group behavior which was first developed by Dr. Mark Granovetter, who is in the story. The idea is covers a whole lot of things, but its relevance to teams is discussed: weak ties mean you don’t get bogged down in personal stuff, you can withdraw from conflicts, etc. Other studies, psych profiles of space and polar expedition crews, also showed that people who did well in these groups were social but essentially independent types: they seemed very much like the pros in the clubhouse.

I interviewed about a dozen players, with varying success–some just brushed me off–and I talked to coaches, and had a sit-down interview with Joe Torre for about 20 minutes. The material from these interviews was very limited; these guys are truly thinking about baseball, but I got scraps here and there, and checked various things with players who I thought were observant and thoughtful, like John Flaherty, Mike Stanton, and (as if to seal it), Randy Johnson.

The toughest part of structuring the story was the set-up at the top–how much description do I put in the lede? At one point I had Flaherty’s excellent quote way up high. I also had to work to make sure the story kept coming back to the clubhouse: to insert the clubhouse stuff throughout so it wasn’t overwhelmed by the expert commentary.

The last section, too, was based on a variety of diverse research, about social networks and individuals moving from one faction to the other. I struggled to put some of that in, but if seemed only to confuse the story and obfuscate social patterns that everyone understands pretty well anyway. So I more or less let the players and Torre tell it there.

Two days later, the NYT entertainment reporter Rick Lyman took us to a more-oft-visited intersection, where Hollywood meets real life. He introduced us to a woman whose life painfully parallels an Oscar-winning movie. This was a far harder story to write than the Yankee piece–more complex to set up. Yet once the writer had figured a way to show the relationship between the movie and real life, the story flowed easily. What to watch for: great choice of insightful quotes, the product of laborious interviewing and contempt for any quote that failed to resonate.

‘FAR FROM HOLLYWOOD, A BOXER WHOSE DREAMS DIED IN THE RING’
By Rick Lyman
2,059 words

THE FIRST GRAF IMMEDIATELY ENGAGES YOU.

SPRING HILL, Kan.– The night after she and her sister finally saw “Million Dollar Baby,” Katie Dallam woke up screaming with her arms flailing, but she quickly went back to sleep and awoke the next morning with the nightmare wiped clean from her memory.

THE SECOND GRAF SOLVES ONE PART OF THE PUZZLE: WHY DIDN’T SHE REMEMBER?

For Ms. Dallam, who has lost the use of a large part of the left side of her brain, such forgetfulness happens all the time.

THE THIRD GRAF FILLS IN ANOTHER BLANK–HOW DID SHE GET HURT? TRYING TO FILL IN BOTH BLANKS IN ONE GRAF WOULD HAVE CREATED CONFUSION.

Ms. Dallam, 45, had been reluctant to see the film, an Oscar-winning drama about a Missouri woman born into poverty who turns to boxing in her 30′s only to end up disabled and suicidal. In 1996, Ms. Dallam was in so many ways that woman — a Missourian born into poverty who turned to boxing only to become disabled and suicidal after taking a savage beating in her first professional fight.

OKAY, THREE GRAFS IN AND I KNOW WHAT THE STORY’S ABOUT. THE QUOTE THAT FOLLOWS TELLS YOU A LOT ABOUT THIS WOMAN.

“It was hard to watch, but it was good, too,” said Ms. Dallam, seated on a sofa in the front room of her sister’s 150-year-old farmhouse in this small town just southwest of the Kansas City metropolitan sprawl. “I tend to be pretty hard on myself, when I can’t remember things or I get lost. But after the movie, I thought, no, I’ve come a long way. I should focus on what I achieved.”

NEXT: HISTORICAL PERSPECTIVE AND A BIT MORE DETAIL ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN OUR PROTAGONIST AND THE FILM.

For a brief period in the late 90′s, the injuries that left Ms. Dallam near death were notorious in the boxing world. Even today, when proponents of the sport talk about its safety, they are quick to say that Ms. Dallam is the only female boxer in America to have suffered anything similar to what happens to Maggie Fitzgerald, the boxer played by Hilary Swank in the film.

HAVING SET THE TERMS OF THE STORY, THE WRITER CAN NOW GIVE US A SECONDARY NUGGET: THE FAMILY’S BELIEF–NEVER VALIDATED–THAT DALLAM WAS THE SOURCE OF THE STORY TOLD BY THE MOVIE. THIS WILL TAKE THREE GRAFS. YOU COULD ARGUE THAT THIS MIGHT HAVE BEEN DEALT WITH A BIT LOWER. BUT THE WRITER TRANSITIONS BACK TO DALLAM’S CONDITION GRACEFULLY.

Stephanie Dallam, a nurse who has been her sister’s prime companion and chief caregiver, said her family believed that F. X. Toole, the author of the short story that was the basis for the movie, must have heard or read about Katie and used her as the seed for his tale. “There are just too many similarities,” Stephanie said of the story, published four years after Katie’s injuries.

They are quick to add that they are not accusing Mr. Toole, who died in 2002, of stealing anything from Katie, merely suggesting that he used her life as the starting point. Maggie, in the story, had a crusty and protective trainer who became a surrogate father and who reluctantly and heartbreakingly helped her die. “That guy in the movie played by Clint Eastwood took the easy way out by killing her rather than having to deal with what her life would have been like,” Stephanie Dallam said.

THE THREE-GRAF TANGENT OVER, WE MOVE BACK TO THE CENTRAL STORY:

Katie Dallam lives in obscurity, her memories playing hide-and-seek in a foggy maze that frustrates and angers an intelligent mind imprisoned by infirmity. Her home is a dark basement apartment a couple of blocks from her sister’s house, and she enjoys walking the weed-lined streets of this small prairie town, though never at night, because the hallucinations are too scary. Until this month, the sisters had not done interviews or even talked much about the fight for years. A scrapbook of newspaper clippings and hospital photos had been tucked away. “I kept wanting to think it was a car accident or something,” Katie Dallam said. “I tried not to think about it.”

WHY WE’RE READING THIS STORY NOW

But the release of the movie, and the way Ms. Swank portrayed the boxer with compassion and accuracy, made them think it might be time to talk with others.

GOOD QUOTE

“Katie lost so much that she used to ask, why am I here, why did I keep living?” Stephanie said. “But now, the other day, she said, well, maybe this is why.”

WRITER RESPONDS TO QUESTION RAISED BY DALLAM’S FAMILY

Mr. Toole’s son, Gannon Boyd, said he did not know when his father wrote the story, as he had been writing boxing tales for years before any were published in 2000. But the world depicted in it, of women’s boxing drawing thousands of cheering fans, came after Christy Martin fought a celebrated 1996 bout on a Mike Tyson undercard and ended up on the cover of Sports Illustrated, drawing national attention and inspiring thousands of women like Katie Dallam to take up the sport.

WATCH HOW DALLAM BIO TRANSITIONS OUT OF THIS GRAF COMPARING HER TO THE FICTIONAL FIGHTER. THE STORY IS NOW ON A CHRONOLOGICAL GLIDE PATTERN. YOU’LL FOLLOW IT ANYWHERE.

Katie is a half-foot shorter and stouter than the Maggie described by Mr. Toole. Her sandy hair is cropped, with more than a hint of red. The freckled face fits neatly with Mr. Toole’s description.

Her childhood was spent in bare-bones university housing with her student parents, who divorced. There was an older brother, now dead of drug and alcohol abuse, described by Katie as “real scary, in a crazy kind of way,” who would beat his siblings. She remembers growing up fearful, hungry to feel safe.

She got a bachelor’s degree in art and loved to paint watercolors of flowers and landscapes. “But I thought, what am I going to do with a degree in art?” she said.

So, after years struggling with alcoholism, she went back to school, got a master’s degree in counseling psychology with a 4.0 average and took a job helping others overcome their addictions.

She enjoyed working out with weights, spent time in various gyms and started sparring with men in a Kansas City gym. After less than two months of instruction, her trainer, for whom she has few tender memories, suggested a professional bout. “I thought, well, why not?” she said.

An up-and-coming Kansas City boxer named Sumya Anani – known as Island Girl, because she had once lived in Jamaica – needed an opponent for a fight in a fire hall in St. Joseph, Mo. She agreed to a bout with Katie, who was quite a bit heavier.

Just one day after receiving her boxing license, on Dec. 11, 1996, Katie got into the ring with Ms. Anani. “I saw Sumya coming at me and her arms were swinging really high, like windmills, and I thought, hey, the men don’t box like that,” Katie said. She remembers nothing more of the bout.

I APPRECIATE THE FACT THAT THERE IS NO PURPLE PROSE, NO OVERWROUGHT HYPE, JUST A SIMPLE DESCRIPTION OF THE BRUTALITY. THE READER FILLS IN HIS OWN BLANKS.

Videotapes show that Katie never put up much of a fight. Ms. Anani broke her nose early in the first round and continued to pummel her through most of four, two-minute rounds. A lawyer hired by the Dallams told them he counted more than 150 blows to Katie’s head.

WRITER INTELLIGENTLY GOT THE FIGHTER WHO BEAT DALLAMS

“Katie is always in my thoughts,” Ms. Anani said in a recent phone interview. Ms. Anani, now one of the sport’s stars, holds several championship belts in various weight classes from different sanctioning bodies. “When I saw that movie, I didn’t know how it was going to end and when it did, I thought, wow. What I remember about the fight is going in there scared myself, because she was so much bigger than me.”

Near the end of the final round, the referee stopped the fight as Katie hung from the ropes. The referee, the ringside doctor and Katie’s trainer later said that they saw nothing that led them to believe she had been injured enough to stop the fight earlier.

Stephanie, who watched with horror from the rear of the hall, recalls cries for blood from the crowd.

In the dressing room, Katie collapsed. Her admitting form at the hospital in St. Joseph described her as comatose, responding only to “deep painful stimuli.” Subsequent surgery involved taking off the top of her skull to drain blood that had accumulated and repairing a vein that had burst deep in her brain.

ANOTHER GREAT QUOTE, SO MATTER-OF-FACTLY SPOKEN

“They told me she probably wouldn’t make it and, if she did, would most likely be a vegetable,” Stephanie said. “The next call I expected to get was a request for her organs.”

For three days, Katie stared into space, or looked blankly at people she should have known. Finally, she began to speak, angrily, asking to see people long dead, like her mother. Years of memories were gone.

GOOD DESCRIPTION

After a week, she was transferred to a rehabilitation clinic. Photos show her with eyes puffed, a ventilation tube in her throat and a shaved head crossed with ghastly Frankenstein stitches.

YOU CAN SEE HOW CRUCIAL STEPHANIE IS TO THIS STORY, FILLING IN KATIE’S BLANKS

“Basically, she had to learn to do everything all over again,” Stephanie said. “She had to learn to walk. She had to learn to read. She had to learn everything.”

The damage to the left side of her brain also affected her right arm and right leg, causing her to tremble and walk oddly. Her vision was affected, leading to weird nighttime hallucinations that persist. When Katie left the clinic, and realized that she would never be able to go back to her job, she decided to kill herself, she said. Doctors told her to be careful not to get her pulse rate too high, so she waited until she was alone and exercised furiously. But her shattered brain held firm. Later, she decided to save her medication and take it all at once.

PARDON ME FOR REPEATING MYSELF BUT ANOTHER GREAT QUOTE–IT FITS PERFECTLY INTO THE NARRATIVE

“Fortunately, the part of her brain that lets you lie had been damaged, and she just couldn’t lie,” Stephanie said. “So when somebody asked her, she told exactly what she planned to do. We moved her in with me that day.”

STORY GOES TO THE LESS FASCINATING BUT OBLIGATORY ISSUE OF WOMEN’S BOXING AND SAFETY

Rick Kulis, founder in 1998 of the International Female Boxers Association, said that he expected the success of “Million Dollar Baby” to make the sport even more popular, because it depicts the deep desire many women have to box. He does not think the movie’s ending will hurt, he said, as people understand that serious injuries in women’s boxing are extremely rare and that regulation has become more rigorous in recent years.

“There’s been only one woman who was seriously injured,” Mr. Kulis said.

But that was in the sport’s earlier days, he said, when gross mismatches were more common.

Sue Fox, a police officer and former boxer who runs the Women’s Boxing Archives Network from her home in Washington State, said mismatches happened between women fighters just as they did between men. “Sometimes, they’re innocent,” Ms. Fox said. “Unfortunately, there are some unscrupulous things that happen here and there, too.”

The Dallams contacted a lawyer after the fight, convinced that Katie had been set up as an easy win for a much better fighter. They cannot believe no one stopped the bout earlier. The lawyer eventually told them that under Missouri law, a person accepted the risk of such injury simply by stepping into the ring.

NOW STORY TURNS TO KATIE’S DAY-TO-DAY EXISTENCE

Today, Katie lives on her Social Security checks and whatever family members can add. Periodic spells of despair persist, the sisters said, requiring a daily regimen of antidepressants.

Her days are filled with walks, trips to the store and her artwork, which she has embraced with renewed fervor, taking regular classes at a community college.

GREAT, PAINFUL MOMENT-WRITER TELLS AND THEN SHOWS

She still struggles to find words, growing increasingly frustrated and angry when she cannot. “There’s some of my early work over there behind bars,” she said at one point, gesturing toward a pair of watercolors. Then, realizing that was wrong, she scrunched her face in frustration. “Not behind bars. What’s the word? What’s the word?” She pounded a fist into her palm. “Behind glass!” she blurted, smiling.

Her early floral watercolors have been replaced by what her sister calls monsters. Katie has no name for them.

A bright red painting shows a hunched beast with jagged teeth hovering over a smaller, terrified figure. A memory of the fight? Of her abusive brother? Katie said she did not know. “I just start working and what comes out comes out,” she said.

ANOTHER GREAT PIECE OF DESCRIPTION

Skeletons drip with blood. A series of bronzes on a table outside her sister’s garage show various beasts, including a human figure, contorted in agony, with the head of a bull.

“He’s very angry, because he’s trapped and he knows he can’t get out,” Katie said.

THE SENSE OF EXHAUSTION IS PAINFULLY TRANSMITTED

Someday, she said, she would like to have a show in a gallery. Then, she stared into space, searching for a word. “What was I saying?” she asked. But the phantom hovered just beyond reach and, finally, she sighed and gave up, exhausted as always from a few hours of any brainwork.

GREAT QUOTE BUT AN EVEN GREATER SET-UP BY THE WRITER, UNDERSTANDING THAT THE AUDIENCE WOULD BE LOST WITHOUT CONTEXT

Scientists believe that the part of the brain that produces art, the intuitive part, the visionary part, is on the right side. “I may only have half a brain,” Katie said. “But at least it’s the right half.”

–30–