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:
- Whitlock, from what I can tell, has a fanbase.
- 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.)