There was a goony dust-up among the brodeo clowns who create and comment on posts over at With Leather today over one of the two football-related pieces to run at Slate today. Charles Pierce’s over-the-top-ish flaying of the Cardinals was mentioned here as an article of interest, and there as an example of what Slate is. That is, per the author, “the preeminent place on the Internet for joyless contrarian douchebags to show off the big words they know but can™t use in conversation, and it™s never more irritating than when they try to write about sports.” I’ll agree with the contrarian part, which is as much and as unfortunate a part of the Slate‘s brand as is leering goonery at WL. In the former case, it makes an otherwise very interesting site occasionally disappointingly predictable; with the latter, it leads to tortured after-the-fact defenses of editorial douchery. It’s the internet, there’s room for everyone, right? Unless it becomes possible to hear blogs talk or smell their Axe bro-care products, I’m good with that.
That means that there’s room to mention one of those conventional wisdom-deflating, quasi-contrarian Slate pieces that actually works. This one was by Josh Levin (in disclosure, I should mention that he’s edited some of my stuff for them), and deflates, among a couple other big-ticket columnists’ tributes to Fitz Sr., Rick Reilly’s deflation-primed ode to the journalistic objectivity of Larry Fitzgerald Sr., the sportswriter dad of that one be-dreaded guy on the Cardinals who keeps putting up 3-touchdown games. (A side note: I’d planned for a bit to write something about Reilly covering his own kids’ progress in a beer pong tournament, via his severely retarded ode to beer pong as “the next great American pastime,” but was prevented from doing so by flu-like symptoms and spiritual malaise-related issues that came over me every time I started working on it) Anyway, here’s Levin doing the sort of plain, smart sports-media writing that makes contrarianism seem worth the work. As a bonus: pretty much all these words are easy to understand. Well, for CSTB readers.
These stories create an image of a sportswriter obsessed with journalistic etiquette, a reporter who pounds out scrupulously honest, evenhanded, undemonstrative copy. Once you dip into Fitzgerald Sr.’s collected works, however, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Reilly and his cohorts haven’t read a word the man has ever written.
Fitzgerald Sr.’s column in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, a weekly African-American newspaper, is less a work of journalism than a proud parent’s scrapbook. Judging by the last two issues, the Spokesman-Recorder doesn’t run straight game stories, meaning that Fitzgerald Sr.’s columns represent the bulk of the paper’s writing about football. As such, the Spokesman-Recorder sports section is essentially a Larry Fitzgerald Jr. tribute page”since 2003, the elder Fitzgerald has written about his son at least 23 times…
Although there are a few exceptions, the vast majority of Fitzgerald Sr.’s articles lack any kind of disclosure, instead identifying Fitzgerald Jr. as a local boy made good. Even so, I wouldn’t go out of my way to criticize Fitzgerald Sr. if Bell and Reilly didn’t build him up as a media ethicist fit for the chairmanship of the Poynter Institute. (Wilbon gets a pass, as his piece doesn’t belabor the point.) After all, he’s writing for a small paper where most of the readers are probably aware of the columnist’s filial ties to the receiver. It’s also hard to argue with what Fitzgerald Sr. has been saying”it’s true that nobody has played better in these playoffs than his flesh and blood. It’s easier to find fault with Bell and Reilly, who’ve concocted a fable about the impartiality of a man who basically acts as his son’s PR rep. Fitzgerald Sr. might not cheer in the press box, but he fashions the written-word equivalent of minutes-long standing ovations.
Why does Reilly want us to believe that the author of 2004′s “Fitzgerald shines at workout” (“The consensus is that Larry Jr. should have won the 2003 Heisman Trophy”) and 2008′s “Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald hits all escalators” (“He is just 24 years old, and he’s already one of the best in the game today”) is “going to be two people during the big week, parent and sportswriter, and never the twain shall meet”? I suspect it has something to do with that sportswriterly tendency to turn good people into faultless paragons of virtue. The point isn’t that Fitzgerald Sr. is a bad guy because he failed to disclose a relationship. It’s that he’s always happily blurred the very line that Reilly et al. say he refuses to blur.