That the latest issue of The New Yorker includes a lengthy piece about the relationship between Lena Dunham and mom Laurie Simmons is not a huge surprise. Slightly less predictable, however, is a 7 page profile of sports (well, college football) talk show host Paul Finebaum, whose rise to national prominence has neatly coincided with the SEC’s stranglehold on TV ratings, polls and national championships. Reeves Wiedeman goes to considerable lengths to point out Finebaum doesn’t fit the stereotype of a man who wields such influence in the SEC consciousness (Finebaum is “Jewish, bald, prefers MSNBC to ESPN”, references Sartre and apparently prefers Eurythmics and Tracy Chapman to say, Black Oak Arkansas). Such efforts weren’t enough to mollify Deadspin’s Jack Dickey, who finds something distasteful about the New Yorker heaping coverage on a broadcaster whose listeners might include morons, though there’s nothing in Wiedman’s piece to suggest Finebaum actively condones or encourages homophobia or racism (nor is it clear how the magazine is any more or less tainted by the association with Finebaum than by say, a largely uncritical assessment of Kid Rock). But if you’re looking for a disconnect between Finebaum’s intellect and the crudity of some of his most devout callers, Wiedman allows the reader to draw their own conclusions with the following passage about admitted Toomer’s Corner oak tree poisoner / Alabama superfan Harvey Updyke (above).
Updyke was charged with four felonies — two for each tree — and two misdemeanors, for desecrating venerated objects. He pleaded not guilty by reason of mental abuse or defect. (The trial is pending, as Updyke undergoes psychological evaluation.) “I’m fond of Harvey,” Finebaum told me. “He is, in one respect, a big part of our listenership. There’s an element of Alabama fans that wants to act like he has nothing to do with them. But a lot of Alabama fans like what he did.” Potential jurors were asked if they would “make a decision based upon the defendant being a University Of Alabama sports fan.” None said yes, but nearly half admitted to previously rolling Toomer’s Corner. One of Finebaum’s callers said that Tom Robinson’s trial in “To Kill A Mockingbird” had been fairer than Updyke was likely to receive in Auburn. Finebaum has been told he will be the prosecution’s first witness.