Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Leitch vs. Bissinger--Yet ANOTHER Blogger's Thoughts

This is a sportsblog, and as we in the blogosphere have come under ornery attack (Like John McCain chasing kids off his lawn) I feel like I should respond in some way.

I know that our literally dozens of regular readers may not read other sportsblogs very often, but you should know that Will Leitch is the man behind Deadspin (though it has become a multi-pronged affair of late, which I understand, but saddens me also). He went on HBO's new Bob Costa vehicle to discuss blogs with Buzz Bissinger and for some reason Braylon Edwards. I know Gilbert Arenas was busy, but couldn't HBO find some athlete who actually blogs a little bit? Pat Neshek could have been made available, for fuck's sake. He's the SUB-MARINER!

If you haven't seen it, go here. Go watch it, and come back. We will wait for you.

First of all, the attack of Bissinger threw the whole thing out of whack. Leitch blogged later that he had an inkling of what he might be in for when he shook hands with Bissinger backstage before the show began. But clearly, when he was booked for the show, the folks at the Costas show didn't say, "Oh, and we'll be quoting extensively from your blog, but not one word you actually wrote yourself. We'll be quoting from your commentors, and so of the weekend subs, and the like. Also, you'll be asked to defend The Blogosphere as a Whole."

Which Will was essentially asked to do. Whilst being called a piece of shit, and being responsible for the dumbing down of America, by a guy who is famous for writing a book about High School Football.

Look, I love sports, and I love well-written books about the pressures of high-school athletes in small town Texas. But it ain't Quantum Physics, is it? No one is worried about America smartening up from reading "Friday Nights Lights" are they? Sports, no matter how well they are written about, are still sports. At the modern, professional level, there isn't research that isn't available in an Elias sports guide; no one has to learn a dead language to write intelligently about sports (thank Mithras!). So the idea of Buzz's, that sportswriting needs to maintain a level of decorum that the subject of the writing doesn't bother to adhere to, is on its very face, silly in the extreme. It is like complaining about a biography of JFK that mentions his womanizing and his Addison's Disease--the press never mentioned it, because they decided it wasn't newsworthy, and how dare you now, in your revisionist history, point them out.

"Newspaper writers decide what is Newsworthy, and we don't need help from amateurs."

Except that they clearly do. Comparing a President to an athlete may seem ridiculous, but imagine a world in which a schoolteacher could run for a State Representative seat, and keep on serving in the Public Interest, until finally reaching the level of President. That person would probably never make as much money in their professional life and Alex Rodriguez does in one year. Money makes these guys important--it puts them in the top 1% of wage-earners in this country, and the fan's willingness to buy tickets, to buy jerseys, to buy special Cable packages, pay their salary. The NFL is so aware of this that they made the very concept of a city-owned team like the Green Bay Packers illegal in their league (with the Pack grandfathered in). We are talking about millionaires acting like assholes, and wasting our money. If they are doing that, the fans who pay their salaries have a right to know what these guys are up to. And there is a reason we don't often know.

Teams own way too much of their press. They pick the radio/TV stations that will be covering their games. If you color-guy rips on the decisions made by the coach too much, maybe your radio/TV station doesn't get the contract next time it is up for grabs. If your beat writer in the local newspaper writes too many negative articles, or prints an embarassing quote, maybe that writer gets shunned, for years! (See Deadspin for some horrific locker room stories from Beat Writers). Who gets fucked in this arrangement? The fans. The teams get their asses covered, more often than not by the people in charge of reporting on them. Reporters who write nice things are made to feel like part of the gang, finally getting to live their dream of being "part of" a professional sports team.

Living in St. Paul, and having subjected myself to sportswriters who wield clumsy, clumsy pens (even with the help of researchers and editors), or were former employees of the franchise they are covering, and reliably take ownership's point of view every single time, or spectacularly fail in their own advice to ownership, or demonstrate racist tendencies whilst writing about a sport they know nothing about, it gets fucking tiresome.

The audience doesn't exist in a vacuum. People find what they aren't getting from their papers, and what they get from their papers is way too often writing soft on both the players and management and ownership. NBC may have a decade long contract with Notre Dame, and that may make old Catholics happy, and while we've always been allowed to criticize that cozy relationship, we are finally able to do so publicly. So suck it, "journalism"--your work is now being rated by your consumers. So sorry if that is a problem for you. Welcome to the free market.

Oh, and as a blogger, I would like to say this one more time: Tom Powers is A Stupid Fat Fuck.

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