On Sports Blogs

I've mostly stayed out of the meta-discussion concerning the nature and validity of sports blogs.  I do what I do because I want to, and people can choose to read what I write or not.  In the particular case of ClipsNation, it would seem that a long tail is in effect - the Clippers do not receive a lot of newspaper coverage, so the (admittedly limited) audience that is interested in Clippers news and analysis is eager to read what I write, in spite of (or is it because of?) my lack of journalism degree or access.

But the exchange that took place on HBO last night on Costas Now cannot be ignored.

In a segment discussing the role of the blogosphere in sports, Costas convened Will Leitch of Deadspin, sports writer and author Buzz Bissinger of 'Friday Night Lights' fame, and Cleveland Browns tight end Braylon Edwards (who neither blogs nor reads blogs - what, they couldn't have gotten Gilbert Arenas?)

I highly recommend that you read the post by Ken Tremendous on Fire Joe Morgan right now.  It's a pitch perfect summary of the incident.  And given that he was in fact interviewed for the tape segment that preceded the panel discussion, it would seem that he has some skin in this game.  Likewise, you should probably stop by Deadspin, as they have compiled a nice list of links as well as posting the video, not to mention Will's post mere hours after the show.  Talk about skin in the game.

From my own perspective, let me say that I met Will at the blogging conference in Las Vegas last November.  (The Clippers were 4-0 - it was a good time.)  He's a very clever and savvy guy.  Interestingly, two solid days of panel discussions invariably returned to the same topic that was at the heart of last night's Costas debacle - why do traditional journalists hate the blogosphere so much, and its corollary, so what?  I will also say that I don't really agree with everything that Deadspin does, and told Will as much.  But Deadspin doesn't represent all sports bloggers any more than TJ Simers represents all sports columnists.

The irony of the proceedings on the Costas show was almost too much to take.  Bissinger, with a manila folder of incriminating blog posts, lamenting the mean-spirited lowering of the discourse, springing a trap about CW Heinz that was both pointless and failed to trap Leitch -

Bissinger:  Have you even heard of WC Heinz?

Leitch: Yes.

Bissinger:  Have you read anything he's written?

Leitch: Yes.  I read 'The Professional.'

Bissinger:  Have you read any of his sports columns?

(And at this point he no longer allows Will to respond, probably because he's worried that the answer will again be yes, or possibly because he hasn't heard anything Will's said so far, so why waste time waiting for a response.)

Honestly, what was the point of that?  Was his intent to illustrate that Leitch was an illiterate slob?  If so, he failed, as he proved to be somewhat, you know, literate.  Was his point that Leitch is an unworthy successor to so brilliant an author as Heinz?  Well, let's face it, Steinbeck existed, and if those who cannot write as well should not ever try, there will be no more writing.  Besides, while Heinz was undeniably a sportswriter, his best known work is the novel 'MASH' (co-written with Richard Hornberger under the pseudonym Richard Hooker).  Heinz was clearly the kind of talented author who would have his voice heard regardless of his background or training - no one limited him to writing about sports.  Talent is talent, and some of it may very well be writing on blogs today.

Costas, for his part, decided to conflate comments on blogs with blogging, failing to recognize that newspaper websites have been furiously adding commenting features to their websites to try to take advantage of the passion and interplay that is inherent in blogs.  For the host of a show on HBO to bemoan the use of the F-word by a COMMENTER is beyond ridiculous.  One imagines a similar discussion on a network news/talk show a decade ago, predicting the death of good, clean, family oriented entertainment on television because of 'Sex and the City.'  "Good heavens, the things that Kim Cattral says!  It gives one the palpitations."

The ultimate irony still belonged to Bissinger.  In blaming Deadspin for fomenting a disrespectful and vulgar environment, he opened by unceremoniously interrupting Will to say he was 'full of shit' and proceeded to drop multiple F-bombs and a slew of other profanities.  If he had only come across as a cranky old journalist, it would have been one thing.  The truth is he looked much closer to insane.  There's a difference between "It is unfortunate that the tone in the sports blogosphere is often hostile and disrespectful and I feel that you should strive to foster a more civil atmosphere" and "Fuck you for dumbing down America, you fuck face."  The latter, Bissinger's approach, is a bit like shooting all the people who oppose stricter gun control laws.

In the end, there remain several things that are as true today as they were yesterday, and Costas Now served very nicely to illustrate some of these things. 

The blogosphere is big and diverse, and there are terrific blogs and there are horrific blogs.  But it's not my opinion about them that matters.  This is the ultimate meritocracy, and the public is free to read what they want to read.  And unlike newspapers, where finite column inches dictate that salacious writing might push out serious journalism if it sells papers more effectively, this is not a zero sum game.  Mean-spirited, rumor-mongering, hot-girls-of-the-SEC blogs don't have any impact on ClipsNation, nor on the New York Times.  If someone wants to read about ogle the hot girls of the SEC, I'm happy they've got a place to go.

Ultimately, those journalists with degrees and contacts and 35 years of experience who feel threatened by the explosion of the blogosphere and the fact that it gives a platform to anyone with an opinion can rant and rave and rail against the demise of journalism all they want, but it won't change anything.  They might was well be telling us that beta max is a better video tape format.  Or that they don't trust Automated Teller Machines.  It doesn't really matter.  More people are reading blogs today than they were yesterday.  And more will read tomorrow than today.  And Buzz Bissinger's tirade certainly hastened that inevitable trend, if only slightly.

I don't pretend to know where all this is going.  But it's pretty clear that if this is a war, I'm on the side that's going to win.

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