Almost two weeks ago now, Dan Shaughnessy wrote that little satire on Curt Schilling’s blog 38 Pitches in his Boston Globe column, and just about everyone with a computer has had something to say about it, including one who's turned Shaughnessy's dagger back toward him. At this point, piling on could only make matters worse.
But then again, read our blog description, and you'll know it makes sense.
I promise I'd intended to scrap this moster altogether until I saw this. I'd have dropped it if Shaughnessy had dropped it. But he didn't. So I won't. This proves to be an appropriate backdrop for this post, as you will see should you be so brave.
Quickly, before I get to my real point, I’d like to add my two bits to this huge-ass sack of quarters that is Shaughnessy's tiff with Schilling.
To preface: If I’ve ever read a Dan Shaughnessy column before now, it’s probably been once or twice, max. And I wouldn’t connect Shaughnessy to the work regardless. So as far as I know, he could be the toughest, most biting, interrogative columnist there is.
That said, the digs at Schilling’s fans--those lapdogs, sycophants, and suckups--are just a tad hypocritical coming from a print writer. Let’s think about this: What elevates athletes to idol status in the first place? Sure, a lot falls on the fan. But maybe there’s a group of people—say, like, members of a particular profession—who, as a primary function of its existence, exalt athletes through poetic portraits texturized by themes of heroism and godliness. Maybe there’s also a group—could be the same one, for that matter—who, also as a primary function its existence, facilitate this exaltation by feeding athletes soft, open-ended questions tailored to augment these godlike portraits. Oh but wait--there is such a profession. And I believe it's called sports journalism.
Maybe Shaughnessy’s part of the problem; maybe he’s part of the solution. Regardless, my implication of Shaughnessy in the sins of his pandering colleagues is no more flagrant than his blanket characterization of sports bloggers and commenters, is it not? And how accurate does he really believe that characterization is? Why do print journalists keep pretending that internet communication is still some cultish phenomenon perpetuated by an eclectic few?
Mostly, though, I’m baffled that he connects fan idolatry to Schilling’s blog, seemingly to imply that an athlete blog would only perpetuate this sentiment. Call me crazy, but I think it would do the opposite. After all, whose creation was "bloody sock" Schilling? The sports media--absolutely. And whose creation is "kinda-dopey video game lover who writes pretty averagely" Schilling? That would be Schilling himself, of course.
It’s been years since journalists could convince us on a whim that Athlete A is a villain and Athlete B is "one of the good guys" based on some spotty anecdotes and a specious set of values. In fact, the real heroes of younger sports fans are those athletes like Allen Iverson who overcome the villain label with which journalists so eagerly tried to brand them and ultimately challenge our concepts of conduct and charity. And it's the players like David Eckstein who are fawned over in the press as some contrived ideal of toughness and workmanship that become our running jokes. In a time more like our current one, what would we have seen in Joe DiMaggio? Something more complete and more humbling I'm sure.
This is to say we no longer have use for the abridged version of our athletes. We want straight-from-the-source, good with the bad. And wouldn't you know, we're finally getting it. Private life, public life--there's no such thing. Apologies to the Shaughnessys, but it'a permanent change and a pretty awesome one at that.
But moving on. I'd like to talk about bloggers and journalists.
The Fire Joe Morgan rebuttal to the Shaughnessy column was just the latest in a series. In recent months, they've rebuked a number of journalists who, without provocation, deride bloggers, blog readers, and progressive-minded sports fans on the whole. Bloggers, among other things, have been likened to homeless people (which, by the way, also needlessly offends the homeless, but that’s a preachy post for a different night and probably for a different blog). The contempt that mostly festered before is all blowed up.
The popular and sensible angle tells of a sports journalism establishment threatened by uncredentialed shmos who might scoop them or cut into readership. A few years back, ignoring bloggers was easy. The blogger was little more than the pestering voice in the back of a journalist's head trying to deconstruct all his temples. It was equally faceless and nearly as silent. The average Johnny Newsstand probably hadn't heard of a blog. And if he had, he used the proper term "weblog" and even then he put it in quotes. Now some of those same people trust the authority of blogs over the New York Times. Print journalists themselves seem to be the only ones left in the world who see blogs as the rinky dink toys of the wannabe Times columnist. Poor guys--if they would only realize how foolish they seem before reality hits them too hard. But we can't be asked to protect them.
Yet why the venom? It isn't about job security or career advancement. At least not entirely. I don’t think the Shaughnessys and Murray Chasses are so much interested in defending their territory as they are in defending their legacy. As the other pisser in this pissing match, we have too much to learn from their example to write them off as they've done us. Ultimately, we’re no less vulnerable to the same insecurity that's swallowing these established journalists. And we could reproduce this stagnancy and these petty digs if we aren’t careful.
I'm not suggesting that sports bloggers aren't self-critical. I'm suggesting the possibility that we aren't... enough... sometimes. The easy rebuke is also the most fun. The "old man, get off your horse" take is one favorited by this particular blog. And it's effective. So yeah, they are stubborn old men on high horses. But so what? We all know it. Doesn't repeating it play strength in numbers every bit as much as the Chasses play strength in legacy?
I’ve been reading sports blogs probably for less than a year--basically since Matt said, "This Skip Bayless article is horrible; let’s start a blog," about eleven months ago. And honestly, prior to a few months ago, I rarely expanded out beyond our own. It's been a raw and thoughtless process; I am no expert on this business. But it’s become apparent to me that there is an overall mantra, particular to sports blogs especially, that no level of credential, no size of reputation, no number of fans, no title, no honor, no name renders an author or piece any less susceptible to fair criticism. It's the blog in its most exaggerated form--the unfiltered medium through which all angles are visible, articulated, and judged solely for their content. It’s why anonymity (something we at YCS never learned, by the way) works so seamlessly. Our names are irrelevant in regard to the content in our work. Even if someone’s blog handle gets heavy with acclaim, that author—in the realm of public discourse—is shit outside of the work.
Fall back on your praises; prepare to be ignored. The free intellectual market doesn’t allow mental laziness; it doesn’t allow power structures. It sizes up the words for what they are at both the author’s great benefit and great cost. And that’s what has the established journalists wetting their beds at night.
Implied in this made-up sports blog mantra is a mandate to treat the words as a stand-alone creation, detached from the author’s stature and standing. That’s why Shaughnessy’s depiction of the 38 Pitches chatters as overweight, unemployed mama’s boys is benign to most of us. We truly don’t care whether someone is successful, attractive, or rich. We care that their words have substance and insight. If a writer is depraved misanthrope, that's not the reader's problem, until it comes through as sloppy reasoning or narrowness.
I'd imagine most of us agree that the anonymity is, in large part, a good thing. Sure, it strips away individual accountability--though, I would argue, strengthens mutual accountability--and discourages tact and courtesy. But more so, it does away with inequities of personal qualification. Inequities like our tendency to favor opinions of atractive people or tall people or wealthy people or shaggy-haired people who speak with a hazy sort of meandering drawl when they’re thinking hard, which makes them seem smarter in person. Oppositely, I think prominent writers like Chass or Shaughnessy or Simmons or Riley—take you pick—inevitably suffer from a kind of inverted bias. Haven't all of us at some point rejected an opinion simply because we felt obliged to value it on the basis of its author's rep? Or rejected an opinion simply out of distaste for the author? Absolutely.
Now imagine this. You’re Murray Chass. You’ve been covering baseball for thirty-plus years. You’ve had access to superstar athletes that most fans simply dream of meeting. You’ve won award upon award. And you write regularly for the most widely-read newspaper in the country. You are truly at the pinnacle of your profession. After all your toil and rejection through the years, you finally feel you’ve made it. That long-sought validation, attained.
Yet for all you are and all you’ve done, there are people out there—lots of people, people a third your age, people who’ve never had the access or the experiences you’ve gathered—who respect nothing of what you’ve accomplished or what you currently have to offer the public. That cuts deep. It tatters not only you belief in your own accomplishments but your belief in the idea of attainment itself.
So you don’t believe them. Their criticism can’t be a sign of your own inadequacy, but of theirs. They’re naïve and egocentric. They won’t talk so much once life humbles them like it has me. They won’t believe that stuff once they’ve seen the things I’ve seen. You need them to understand that you’re unimpressed. You stubbornly refuse to let their excesses have influence over your own style or your way of thinking. You don't see these excesses as a valid counter to your own but simply as excesses. You go static. There’s no use trying to win these people over because you never will. And after all, you’re thick with the praises of like-minded cohorts--cohorts who don't care about VORP either--who, in your mind, are starkly more rational than those who malign you.
So why reason with the naysayers? Put them in their place the easy way. Belittle them; mock their new way of thinking; mock VORP; aim for the pressure points, the adolescent scars. Call them nerds. Call them fat. Call them… homeless? If you can devalue their existence, then you’ve devalued their work. And they have no recourse--at least none that you have to answer to. So you win.
Now, perhaps, we could say, anyone who enters into such a visible, competitive, and fluid field should expect this treatment. Some might say that any working adult should put notions of praise and attainment out of mind when childhood ends. But few of us are that strong. Nearly all of us, in some respect, will always strive for that feeling of "making it." And when you’re an award-winning writer for the largest newspaper in the country, life grows insular; acclaim always surrounds you; and it just might go to your head a little.
But here’s where this theme gets uncomfortable, I guess. Aren’t we, in a sense, the exact same way? Yes, I realize that those of us fitting the sports blogger stereotype generally adopt more progressive mindset than fogeys like Chass. But are we really so different in how we treat dissention?
"lives in his mom’s basement" ~ " writes on a tablet"
"wears XXXL-sized jersey" ~ "walks with a cane"
"nerdy" ~ "curmudgeony"
"hermit" ~ "racist"
Now’s where I get to hypocrisy. If you’re new to our blog, hypocrisy is the foundation of this blog. We’re full of shit; we’re full of ourselves; we’re full of our opinions. We like to think there’s some value and enjoyment sprinkled throughout our posts, but in all honesty, none of us give our work much scrutiny before we publish. Speaking for myself, I've never particularly worried whether my posts are internally consistent, or whether they jive with previous or future posts. This one, by the way, is no exception.
Basically, I have no apparent right to criticize anyone for sloppiness, egocentrism, or hackiness. It’s what I’m good at; it’s what I do. More so, I have absolutely no right to mount the pulpit to defend established journalists from the barbs of salty sports bloggers. Not only is the practice a staple of this site, but I get immense joy reading the similar work of other bloggers. By no means do I intend to stop reading these posts, nor do I want anyone to stop writing them.
Let me make one thing clear. I don’t for a second overlook the inherent high ground of the devoted blogger over the blowhard columnist. Anyone who truly expends himself to broaden perspective, gather information, and reserve judgment has earned the prerogative to pull the belt on a fatheaded hack flicking lazy platitudes. Which is not at all to say bloggers all fall in category A, and all print columnists in category B, but it fits the examples I’m pulling. I guess it’s just important that we recognize the parallels. Writers in the major print media, for the most part, got where they are by writing accessible material, not by pioneering ground-laying new modes of thought. We sort of just accept that. We’d like to think we can hold them accountable to sloppiness and poor judgment, but in large part, the tact isn’t conducive to a fair reception. Even if it were, no one likes reading opposing viewpoints, much less taking the criticism to heart.
Maybe that’s a problem; maybe it’s not, but it reminds me an awful lot of the often off-putting sentiment of the indie music press in years past. We ask others into our fold by telling them they’re ignorant assholes who value useless crap. It’s a self-imposed catch-22 or double-edged sword or something. Whatever, it’s a hollow invitation. To the outsider, we’d rather harbor our frustration and use it as inspiration. And we do. And it works. It works to amuse us; it works to keep us busy. It works on a number of levels, but it probably doesn't work to fulfill what we claim as its function. The tact won't allow it.
Maybe that's how we like it. I know I do. I could talk a big streak of nonsense about blogging as an outlet to change how people think and to explore a higher level of discourse. But I think we just say these things to help us sleep easier, knowing how much time we waste on this shit. Maybe that's all it amounts to--a way to amuse ourselves, a way to ingratiate each other, and a way to keep it all in the family. The alienating tone spawns more fodder, and it carries on from there. I can't say I mind this much, but it must bug me a little or I wouldn't be saying any of this. Then again, I'm not looking to unify the masses either.
In some respect, I think most of the content in sports blogs is at least a loose response to the work in print media. They use overwrought, flowery abstractions, we use tersely-delivered, quantifiable logic. They use pop culture and cornball analogies to draw laughs, so we use pop culture and cornball analogies ironically to draw laughs. They vilify athletes for run-ins with the law while our heroes are the antiheroes. But is this response too automatic? Do we care more about being right than telling the truth? And when the response to us comes along, will we recognize it?
Soon enough, this press-blogger distinction won't exist. The sheltered pedestal on the print columnist will be gone, and access to a reader base will be even more equitable than it already is. I just wonder as this progresses, whether we will cave to the shoddy human instinct that parcels us out into pockets of the like-minded or if some higher caliber of discourse will take hold in a form more inclusive and accessible than the one we have.
But really, who cares about higher discourse on sports anyway? After all, we have day jobs, and they have nothing to do with sports blogging. That's just something we do on our lunch breaks (and occasionally before or after, but don't tell the boss!). So why is any of this important? Well I guess it isn't, except that I wouldn't want us to end up being the Murray Chass of whatever it is we do. Because every field of work has them. And every worker goes down the same path. We will be no exception.
How, then, will we react when that time comes, when no matter how hard we try, we can't keep up with the logic of the twenty-somethings around us? And when our VORP comes along--whatever that may be--will we embrace that burden or turn our back and rationalize voluntary ignorance? Or will we even recognize it to begin with? Mostly, though, I wonder if we'll be strong enough to shrug off those triumphs and listen to that pestering voice as critically as we write these words today.
Speaking for myself, I'd like to think I will be, but I sort of doubt it. Either way, it's probably out of my control.