Normally, I don’t write a whole lot of posts about media folk leaving their outlets, particularly when it’s people I loathe both reading and seeing on TV — like former Chicago Sun-Times columnist Jay Mariotti — because everyone else and their mother will have written something about it online before I figure out something coherent, if not interesting, to say about it.
But when the departure of such a figure is being celebrated and used as a subscription sales tactic, that’s gone well beyond the usual parameters of a high-profile departure.
The paper is running a semi-article/column on the White Sox commenting about his leaving. There are reader letters being published. The web editor for the sports section is explaining that a tiff over who got to write an Obama/Cubs column that went in Rick Telander’s favor may be why Mariotti offered his resignation. Hell, one of the letters from a Deadspin commenter and his picture are featured on the rag’s front page. Even his former editor, Michael Cooke, is writing announcements like this one (boldface emphasis mine):
The Chicago Sun-Times had the best sports section in the city before Jay Mariotti came to town — that’s why he signed up with us — and his departure does not change that.
We still have the stars — respected veterans such as Rick Telander, fiery newcomers such as Greg Couch, quirky voices like Carol Slezak, not to mention seasoned beat reporters tracking the Cubs and White Sox toward their eventual collision in the World Series, plus the Bears, the Bulls, the Blackhawks, and all the other teams that make Chicago the sports center of the nation. We could have a World Series in Chicago in a couple of months … talk about excitement!
The Chicago Sun-Times and suntimes.com will continue to have the scores and the stories before anyone else, anywhere, and the deepest and most comprehensive stats and standings. We wish Jay well and will miss him — not personally, of course — but in the sense of noticing he is no longer here, at least for a few days.
A paper, like a sports franchise, is something that moves into the future. Stars come and stars go, but the Sun-Times sports section was, is and will continue to be the best in the city.
I wonder if the Sun-Times and its staff would like to tell us how they all really feel about the man. That is colder than a witch’s teat, and rival Telander isn’t holding back either, talking to the Chicago Reader about it:
“Because the damage a ‘humorless loner,’ as you described him [I did], can do to an overstressed sports department is incalculable.” He said the sports department lost its cohesion and became “sinister and secretive and fuck your buddy. It was the worst possible teamwork conditions.”
Yikes. Look, this is hellishly amusing to me, watching a media meltdown and human nature in an embattled industry lash out against what appears to be a singularly loathsome figure among the ranks of newspaper columnists — so much so that rumors of him heading to Boston are causing angst among that city’s sports fan — but let’s face it, it’s also brutally unprofessional.
You’re likely to respond, “well, so was Mariotti,” and you’d likely be right. However, there’s got to be some semblance of decorum regarding the departure of a hated figure — the enmity in the pages of the paper and the airing of dirty laundry tells me a lot more about the staffers still on the masthead of the Sun-Times’ sports section that it does about Mariotti. We already knew a sizable contingent (if not the majority) of Chicago sports fans disliked his Lupica-style attitude about not visiting the locker room and tendency to stir shit up for kicks (nothing is more annoying in a columnist than a reflexive contrarian.)
But the dirt-dishing about Mariotti’s tantrums seems, well, beneath a professional journalist. I was a solid reader of the Sun-Times and the Chicago Tribune in college (my small little school had this newspaper program where students got free copies of those two papers plus USA Today, the New York Times, and the Des Moines Register), and while the latter is certainly the more tabloid of the two, this kind of pissing match just goes further than it ought to.
Maybe this is the natural outreach of sportswriters like Mariotti inserting themselves into the news cycle via TV appearances and outsized presences online and in print — he became just as much of a media story for his ranting and raving as those he covered, so now he is a public figure and, in this realm of Chicago sports infamy, everything goes when you are universally hated.
Does Mariotti deserve it? He probably deserves every trashing his former co-workers give him and more, but you’d think his editors and the others who are happy he’s gone would be a bit quieter about it, not because they ought to be automatons, but because this isn’t the way these things should be handled internally. Release a statement without the personal digs, leave the gossip about the departure to your competitor, and move on.