Friday, June 27, 2008


Today was Will Leitch's last day editing the popular sports blog Deadspin.

Of all the stuff that was posted over the last two days, I found a couple of things quite interesting.

For starters, Will actually got noted author and aspiring television commentator (maybe not) Buzz Bissinger to do an interview. Well, it was more like an e-mail debate. Some of it shows Bissinger's ignorance as to what sports blogs (and blogs in general, I would assume, since many political blogs are more biting and mean-spirited than the worst sports blogs are) really are, and it also casts Bissinger as quite ignorant about sports.
Obviously, the biggest is that sports should not be treated with seriousness. I think Friday Night Lights proves the point of just how serious sports is in our culture.
Listen. I think the world of Bissinger's work. Friday Night Lights was positively brilliant, and his non-sports work is very good, at least as far as non-sports work goes. He was clinically insane when he appeared with Leitch on Costas Now, but most of us have gotten past that by now.

But this is just wrong.

Much of what happens in Friday Night Lights happens because people take sports too seriously. The people who spend 16 hours a day preparing for their next opponent like someone's going to die if they lose are taking sports too seriously, too, but at least they are getting compensated insanely well for their work.

We don't get compensated for watching. As fans, our job is simple. Watch. Consume. Enjoy. With the over 200 channels on my television, I have a choice. When Saturday afternoons roll around in the fall, I'll have around 30 games to pick from every day. I'll have football from 11am until after midnight. In October, as the NHL season rolls into action, I'll have over 50 games every week at the touch of a button. That's how I choose to consume sports. With plenty of choices, I'm hardly ever at a loss for entertainment. And it brings me great enjoyment.

I love seeing the best athletes in the world compete against each other. I love the tactical discussion that arises when a football coach calls a pass play on third-and-inches, or when his counterpart rushes seven defenders against a five-receiver set on a big fourth-quarter play. I like reading stuff from people who know sports talking about the decisions made by coaches and athletes. I get a kick out of everyone ripping on Kyle Busch. He's an idiot, but he's damn good at what he does, and he's a lot of fun to watch, in part because he doesn't put a lot of time into molding the perfect public image.

I love making fun of people who take this stuff too seriously, because I firmly believe I don't. I take my job seriously, because thousands of people in this area enjoy the programming our radio stations put on the air every day. Every decision we make about that programming affects them, and we have to remember that every day. While it's entertainment, it's serious business for me, and it should be.

Sports isn't serious business for me, and it's not serious business for 90 percent of this country. For people who work in or around it, Bissinger's argument makes sense. But it's such a small segment of our population that it's not worth addressing the way Bissinger does.

It would be like Rush Limbaugh pandering to the Ron Paul supporters. There's a reason he hasn't done that, and it's the same reason why he's the most popular talk radio host in the history of talk radio.

I was also struck by Leitch's own farewell. Somehow, through the three or so years he did Deadspin, he never forgot the initial purpose, which was to rail against those in sports who were too full of themselves for their own good.
The tributes this week have been completely silly — we mean, we're just leavin' a darned blog — and still awesome and, most important, bone-shatteringly funny. That's all we wanted Deadspin to be all along; a place where people could slip away from their life for a while, dig in, have some fun, then head back to the regular life, where bills must be paid, family must be attended to, jobs must be (slightly) acknowledged. You know: Kind of like sports themselves. Life is difficult. Life is scary. Diversions — real, palpable diversions, places where you can go away and frolic, and then return to the world the way you found it, for better or worse — are rare, and should be cherished. That's what sports are. That's what we hope this site has been. That's what we're certain it will continue to be.
We all have lives. We have jobs. We have cars that die for no reason (and now we have fuses that we have to pull out of our cars when they're not running in order to keep the battery alive - ack). We have kids. We have family crises to deal with. We have those nights where we make epic outdoor plans, only to have an inch of rain fall from the clouds at 4:30 in the afternoon. When reality slaps you across the mouth, you want something to take your mind off the pain, even if only for a little while.

When Parkersburg, Iowa, was leveled by a tornado, there was a reason that the town eventually started cleaning up the turf at the high school football field. It wasn't so the kids would have someone to hit on Friday nights in September. It was so they would have their community gathering place back. Yes, to a certain extent, this validates Bissinger's argument. Sports do have a huge place in our lives.

However, those Parkersburg citizens are not going to watch the local boys win at all costs. They're going to enjoy themselves, whether the home team wins or loses. The score will be hugely important only to the participants and a select few spectators who wind themselves up too tightly for a high school football game.

It's a place to hang out, and for a couple of hours, maybe they can forget that the process of rebuilding house and life will take a lot longer than anyone could possibly understand.

Good luck, Will. Thanks for helping us understand what sports should be about. And may your Cardinals rot in NL Central hell.

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