Full Of Sound And Fury

jaymariotti

So, it’s mildly amusing that AOL decided to take one of the most universally loathed sportswriters and give him a platform. I don’t know what drove the decision to hire Jay Mariotti for AOL Sports other than the desire for what I’ve personally called “The Rush Effect”*: people will click to be outraged at what he writes, but since page views are what matter, it will be a success either way, no matter how blatantly wrong he is.

In my original note about Mariotti’s debut at Awful Announcing on Sunday, I snarked about Jason Whitlock, which, in retrospect, isn’t exactly fair to Whitlock for a couple reasons:

  1. Whitlock, from what I can tell, has a fanbase.
  2. He also is right on occasion. Rare, but that’s better than Mariotti’s ratio.

Now, everyone is weighing in: Brian followed up at AA in the AM, MODI is calling for people to speak out forcefully at SOMM, and Deadspin’s Rick Chandler employed some good old fashioned snark and mockery.  After reading his introductory column, with some fashionable talk about how behind the newspaper world is (predictable) and spoiling a movie ending (yes, everyone could probably guess that the dog bites it in the end, but that’s still bad form), he goes into some victimhood:

I resigned after the Games with a calm, professional letter, a decision that came mere months after I’d signed a contract extension. I guess I hurt some feelings. The boys called me a “rat,” forgetting those 5,000 columns through the years. They accused me of using Beijing as vacation time (“Hey, kids, let’s ditch Hawaii and hang out in a Communist country.”). They let a few staff writers, who should focus on doing better work, react with rage reminiscent of Glenn Close in “Fatal Attraction.” All because I handed back about a million bucks and wanted something more.

Well, I don’t know. I suppose that if you happen to take potshots in print and on TV at professional athletes and their coaches without daring to set foot in locker rooms any longer, the beat writers and columnists who do might be tired of taking shit aimed at you. When your paper uses your resignation to ramp up a subscriber drive, you might want to consider where your ego ran off the rails.

Jay, bless him, does no such thing.

I’m working for a company, AOL, that attracted 54 million unique visitors to its programming content sites in November and ranks fourth in traffic among Internet news sites. As established writers keep moving Web-ward, it will cause consternation among a few members of the sports blogosphere, some of whom think they own the Internet when, as everyone knows, Bill Kurtis owns the Internet. I’ve never bought into this “mainstream media vs. bloggers” blood war because, in my mind, we’re all writers. The best young writers provide compelling takes on sports. The losers wake up each day and attack (choose your ESPN target), an approach that can’t attract much audience beyond a few neurotic souls in sports media. Now hear this: I’m a bit too busy to hate bloggers or, really, anyone but terrorists and certain Illinois politicians. I just think they should be writing about Steve Smith, not Stephen A. Smith.

Well, we would, Jay, and happily, but the problem is that you, Stephen A. Smith, and many others have gone past the point of no return — you, through your writing, TV appearances, etc., in which you spout off, define the prism of sports for so many people and propagate coverage that makes the writers, reporters, and pundits as news-worthy as the athletes.

The angles taken by big-box columnists in an out-dated 80s narrative style and the focus of ESPN in paying more attention to athlete misdeeds (with a racial double standard to boot) is only part of what makes sports media an unwelcome part of the news when it comes to sports. A monopoly by one network is part of it, but when Ed Werder can take a completely anonymous sourced report and foment two weeks of Terrell Owens nuttiness, ESPN can ignore the civil suit against Brian Giles of abuse filed by an ex (along with the video), and when all sports websites run wire stories about athletes getting fucking parking tickets, of all things, sports media is as much a part of writing about sport as the competitions themselves.

Mariotti’s wishful thinking is just that — and a refusal to accept responsibility for the things he’s written before. The irony of all of it? His first full column is about Charles Barkley and his DUI, calling him “An American Idiot.”

You’ll have to forgive me if I don’t bother reading.

(*Named after Rush Limbaugh, naturally. I never understood why he had such a large audience as a kid. There are reliable conservatives, but I sense there are plenty of liberals listening just to hear the outrageous bullshit he’ll spout next.)

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He Could Probably See Into Putin’s Soul, Too

Yes, he has apparently won AP's top sports columnist award three out of the last four years. I'm just as shocked as you are.

This man has apparently won AP's top sports columnist award three out of the last four years. I'm just as shocked as you are.

I know Bill Plaschke writes columns so ridiculously stupid that critiquing them and ripping him is like bringing a rocket launcher to the knife party, but I’ll be damned if mocking him for claiming he could judge the attitude of the USC football team just by observing them slouching and such ain’t fun.

STOP JUDGING ME LIKE THAT. Just go read.

Bring Out Your Poles

costanza

I still got a lot of problems with you people.

Political:

1) DC reporters, writers, and talking heads: where the fuck do you get this “we are a center-right country” shit? Johnny Mac tried to label Black Eagle as a commie pinko socialist and WE STILL VOTED FOR HIM. Stop moving the fucking goalposts for the Democrat. It’s nice to know you found a supposed spine after taking it up the ass for eight years from the Caligutard, but Black Eagle isn’t even in office yet. Sit down and shut the fuck up.

2) My fellow Californians: you let your inner hick show on Election Day and it wasn’t pretty with Proposition 8. You were dumb enough to fall for the “it’ll be taught in schools” crap.

3) To Congress: What the fuck do I pay your salary for? I vote to send a critter to the House and two senators and you can’t even do your jobs by investigating the abuses of the Chimp in Charge? Then, to truly demonstrate your incompetence, you give Hank Paulson complete control over distributing my money in a bailout without ensuring it has to be loaned out. Moronic or crooked? Which one?

4) Oh, Sarah. Stay in Alaska until you can form a complete sentence, OK?

5) Dubya. Where to begin? Your charming way of saying nuclear, your thirst for unnecessary war, or your handing out of political spoils to cronies in order to politicize entire departments. And let’s not forget: it’s 2008 and, like Kanye said, you don’t care about black people. Heckuva job, Bushie.  Take your ass back to Texas and let’s never hear from it again.

6) Wall Street Execs. You sounded like Dubya at Katrina when you testified and pleaded for your bailout in front of Congress: “No one could have predicted the collapse of this scale.” You got high living off the hog and now we’re subsidizing your fucking losses, and you’re still giving multi-million dollar bonuses. Can we implant a sense of shame?

Sports:

1) Fox. Worst. Telecasts. Ever. From football to baseball, you fail miserably and in every capability with the gimmickry.

2) ESPN. Good with games, lousy at actual journalism.  You realize you put yourself out there as a “news” source? That means you don’t get to ignore stories when you want to. (Brian Giles sued by his ex for abuse, ignoring the “Favre talked to the Lions” story until Brett the Jet wanted to deny the rumor, Ed Werder and the Cowboys.)  I long for the days of CNNSI or the return of Sports Tonight, to at leave have something of an option.

3) Mike Shanahan. Thank you, once again, for failing to place any emphasis on defense. Your offensive genius has obviously been predicated on the backs of Terrell Davis, John Elway, and a Hall of Fame offensive line. Now, if you lose out on a playoff spot on the last day of the season for the second time in 3 years, I’m going to be furious.

4) Everyone Even Considering Themselves an Analyst on TV. There are too many of you fuckers with not a whole lot to say. NFL Today, NFL Countdown, Football Night in America — the economy is suffering, why shouldn’t you? You can afford to survive the recession.

5) The BCS. Much like the Wall Street execs, a bunch of greedy, money hungry fucks more interested in preserving the big piece of the pie rather than actually giving the fans what they want. And we still watch it. Maybe I shouldn’t be bitching at the BCS conference commissioners, maybe I should be griping at myself for buying into it.

Share your grievances here. It’s safe.

The Jump To Conclusions Mat Has Way Too Many Footprints On It

burressphone

Look, I’m not going to state that the facts out there surrounding Plaxico Burress’ shooting himself in the thigh aren’t there. It’s monumentally stupid of him to be carrying a gun illegally, only having a permit that had expired in Florida and at the very least, not applying for one in either New York or New Jersey. The fact that it went off in his pants suggests he has no clue about how to operate the safety on a gun, which is even more disturbing.

But I can’t help but sit back and want to smack the usual suspects like Bob Costas, Mike Ditka, and the rest of the NFL studio show crews make the usual suggestions about how players shouldn’t be allowed to own guns, and that they shouldn’t be out late after certain hours. Witness Ditka on the guns bit:

“This is all about priorities. When you get stature in life, you get the kind of contract, you have an obligation and responsibility to your teammates, to the organization, to the National Football League and to the fans. He just flaunted this money in their face. He has no respect for anybody but himself. I feel sorry for him, in the sense that, I don’t understand the league, why can anybody have a gun? I will have a policy, no guns, any NFL players we find out, period, you’re suspended.”

Lucky for us he never ran as the GOP candidate for Senate from Illinois. Jesus, who thought this guy would make a good senatorial candidate?  As long as he has the permits (which he apparently didn’t), it shouldn’t have mattered, period. The NFL is not big enough to where it should decide to take away people’s individual rights.

When I witnessesd Costas’ outrage on Football Night in America, I thought, “Spoken like a man who has never understood what it’s like to have to fear for your life.” It took Tiki Barber to correct Costas, by saying that many black athletes grow up in tough situations with gangs where they are protected because of their athletic abilities, and are used to a world where you have to protect yourself — you do not trust security people or the police. I don’t know if this is reflective of Burress’ background, but if you are a black man with millionaire money, you’re going to be wary inside and outside your home.

The situations are not comparable, as Burress was out on the town with teammates Antonio Pierce and either Derrick Ward or Ahmad Bradshaw (depending on who you read or hear)( but it’s silly not to think of how Sean Taylor was killed in his home and Antoine Walker was robbed near his home in Chicago.  Again — those are at home, but don’t you think you would protect yourself even more when you were out of you think you are a target? Yet this impulse seems to elude everyone commenting on the stubject before everything is known.

It is merely another string in Burress being a bad actor; it is part of a narrative to take missed meetings and fines and conflate them into something larger and more insidious. But the cycle hasn’t played itself out yet. Burress still has to be charged, and we have to find out his side of the story, too.  It’s asking too much to back off for a little bit though — there is blood in the water.

Pushing The Narratives

The benefit of my current work schedule is the ability to watch Pardon the Interruption, which remains the only ESPN piece of programming worth investing too much time in.  SportsCenter is not as essential as it used to be; much of the analyst shows focused on individual sports are background fodder. Outside The Lines can be very hit or miss, and is subject to the typical ESPN/mainstream blinders on much of its subject matter. Anyway, back to it.

The Four-Letter’s $3 million a year poaching, Rick Reilly, subbed for Tony Kornheiser on PTI yesterday, via satellite from Denver with Michael Wilbon in-studio in D.C., and parroted what I’m fairly sure may be a common impulse among a certain segment of sportswriters regarding the current state of the baseball playoffs: he stated his preference for a Red Sox-Dodgers World Series, proclaiming the Tampa Bay Rays “bad for baseball.”

We probably need to separate that “bad for baseball” comment into two categories: bad for the sport and bad for the business of the sport. There is a vast difference: any die-hard baseball fan or one who merely follows the sport regularly would say a worst-to-first story is not only good for the sport, but also compelling and justifying smart moves by a front office.  Tampa’s entry into the playoffs already yielded more attention to manager Joe Maddon in SI, a likely Rookie of the Year award for third baseman Evan Longoria, and a front office that assembled a solid starting line-up and a roster of budding stars. That’s good for the sport; it gives some leverage behind the idea that baseball’s uncapped salary structure can still yield good things for teams who use their money wisely.

However, if you look at Reilly’s comment in the business sense, it fits. Tampa was 12th out of 14 AL teams in attendance this year, not helped by the reported shittiness of Tropicana Field, and locals are right to ignore a lousy team in a bad park for a while. That doesn’t change overnight, and it’s also part of the trend of questioning whether Florida is really interested in regular-season baseball. (We really won’t have an idea until both the Rays and Marlins’ new facilities open.)  The Dodgers and Red Sox are two of several “glamour teams”; ones that matter to people outside their home markets (the others, in my eyes, are the Cubs, Yankees, Cardinals, and Braves*.) Those are teams that have bandwagons, intense home fans, and ones who don’t drop loyalties when they move in the age of the Internet and MLB.tv.

Dodgers-Red Sox is an easier World Series to sell, and I’m sure it’s the one Fox is clamoring or as we speak.  The Rays aren’t, although everyone loves an underdog story — because there’s not enough to sell. The lore bheind L.A.-Boston is too much, two big cities, Manny Ramirez back in Betantown, the Sox seeking back-to-back titles, etc.  That’s a narrative that writes columns; that’s how Reilly kind of thinks., and it’s what Bud Selig would love to see. (Philadelphia doesn’t have the same pull as Dodgers-Sox, but it’s better to MLB than the other AL choice.)

The Tampa Bay Rays going from worst to first and capping it with a world championship is just another Marlins team beating Cleveland or the Yankees, or a Diamondbacks bloop single. It’s a blip, and won’t register outside of those of us who pay attention. Of course, you know what happens when the narrative gets openly expressed: the underdog shocks us all, and considering my loathing of both the Dodgers nad Phils, along with a need for Boston teams to cool off, I’m riding the Rays right now.

Fuck the cheap narratives, though. Let ’em do some work. Tampa is full of new stories, and that’s good for the sport.

(*I include the Braves because of their near stranglehold on the South until recently thanks to TBS and the lack of pro baseball anywhere else in that region.)

Rid Of Him

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.

Sure, Blame The Typists Rather Than The Peacock

Usually I make a point of ignoring Bill Dwyre’s columns in my daily perusal of the L.A. Times — they have largely become a tour of fogeyism (outrage over Becky Hammon and Chris Kaman deciding to play for countries not their own in the Olympics, for example) — for some reason, I was bored this afternoon and read a column with its heart in the right place: there was a lot of instantaneous match update action rather than actual writing and reporting on the Olympics, but he takes shots at the wrong people for it, managing to empathize with NBC somehow in the end.

In Chippewa Falls, Wis., Herbie hits a button and yells out, “Hey, ma, Dwight Howard just got the opening tip over Pau Gasol.” Herbie is dazzled that he got the word so fast, and the typist is equally dazzled at the speed he got it there. Neither seems to wonder whether what had arrived was worth the effort on either end.

I sat alongside a bright young reporter for the Washington Post, while the Post’s local interest, tennis star James Blake, played a semifinal match. The reporter typed after each game and hit the send button. Blake served. He won. The other guy served. He won. Tennis is like that.

Noting that it was the middle of the night back in D.C., I asked the reporter why he was doing that, since his audience, at best, could only be 35 insomniacs and 11 tennis freaks. He shrugged and said he had no idea, he just did what he was told.

It is the way of the future, we are told, as if the word “future” always connotes “better.”

This practice has to be scary for Dick Ebersol and NBC. The Olympic god that we worship nightly for two weeks, every two years — that has set the pace and raised the bar and confirmed the tone of the Olympics as one of warmth and joy and celebration of athletic excellence and good sportsmanship — may soon be riding the same horse and buggy as this columnist.

Dwyre, the reason people are looking for these things online is the fault of Ebersol and his bosses at NBC — the refusal to alter the daily schedule and tape-delay the majority of events to the Western half of the U.S., never mind delaying the U.S.-Argentina hoops semi to preserve the Today show’s 7-10 AM slot across the country, is driving even more people and reporters towards on-the-spot updates of the action as it happens.

Look, I work in television. I know why it happens this way. Affiliate stations loathe delaying local news casts, because that’s where they pull a lot of their local advertising sales, and in a down economy, that’s what you have to try and bank on — sales of ads during the morning news, along with the 5, 6, and 11.  This is why even the Winter Games in Vancouver will be tape delayed despite the city’s location in Pacific time.  The ratings NBC garnered from the Olympics have justified the practice because 8 pm is a set time where people who are not sports die-hards, who have not had the results wrecked for them, will watch — and even if they have heard who won, there is the “you gotta see it” factor added in.  We are talking about corporate owned networks; this is not the CBC or the BBC, they need to bring in the cash to justify the expense.

This doesn’t make the practice right.  The reason Dwyre is lamenting an expansion of the “type it up and post it” ethic is because the core audience for the newspaper writers abroad — sports fans — are not being served by the main television outlet, which decides to hold onto events for half a day before airing them, an absolutely inexcusable matter for a sporting event. Yes, the Olympics are chock-full of soft-focus crap to appeal to people who don’t care about sports, but they are sporting events and ought to be treated as such.  For the responsible network with the rights, this should mean live coverage to all of the country, as much as possible.

Say what you will about ESPN — slaves to stereotypical narratives regarding athletes, in bed with the leagues it broadcasts to an uncomfortable extent, gimmicky, shoddy graphical look — but at least they treat the sports they broadcast as sporting events more often than not.

(Oh, Dwyre, nice cheap shot at the bloggers too — not like I haven’t read that one before. Y’know, the vast majority of us happen to pay rent to someone not a blood relation.)

Beijing: Olympics’ instant gratification has a cost [Los Angeles Times]
Beijing Olympics up 8% over Athens [Sports Media Watch]

(P.S. Yeah, that’s Katie Hoff, Michael Phelps, and Natalie Coughlin at some post-event function in China. I just thought the photo was funny.)