There’s an opaque quality to the TV-ready class of sports pundits that is largely the result of the dumb-ass rules of shout/countershout sports television. I have no idea if, say, off-mic Skip Bayless is anywhere near the howling mongoloid nightmare that he becomes anytime a microphone is within a few yards of his person. So performative is his on-camera personality — and that of pretty much all of the Around the Horn/ESPN stalwarts — and so transparently doofy the stuff he’s usually discussing that it’s hard to figure out if there’s anything going on inside that’s less abrasive than what’s presented outwardly.
Jason Whitlock, though, is a guy who always struck me as actually kind of living his role. The empty provocations he offers on the radio, TV and in print — the outsized self-importance; the opportunistic demagoguery (this was pretty weak, too) — have always seemed somehow organic to me. They’re not fake, but that’s not a compliment.
That said, even Big Sexy knows a clown when he sees one. Or two. His column on L’Affaire Bissinger at Fox Sports is surely the best thing I’ve read by him — that is a compliment, but means pretty much nothing — and manages to get pretty well at what’s ridiculous about both Bissinger and Leitch.
Ninety minutes before Bissinger’s eruption, we shared a car service from our hotel to the Equitable Center Theater where Bob Costas’ live town hall meeting on the changing landscape of sports media would take place. It was my first in-person meeting with Bissinger (“Friday Night Lights”), and I found him bright, intense, straightforward and likable. He told me on the ride over that he hated blogs. I told him that blogs weren’t going anywhere and we might as well learn to live with them and enjoy them.
On camera, Bissinger told Leitch that he was “full of sh**” and that deadspin was contributing to the dumbing down of America. Bissinger cussed, berated and railed against a mostly imaginary enemy. More than anything, Bissinger betrayed his own immense intelligence and surrendered the moral high ground to someone who couldn’t find it with a map, compass and Mother Teresa serving as a guide. His points were lost in all the sound and fury signifying good TV.
He turned Leitch into a martyr, a role he plays well. I scan deadspin two or three times a week. It is not representative of all (or even most) blogs. Romenesko, thebiglead, profootballtalk, joeposnanski, thestartingfive.wordpress, joesportsfan and AOL’s fanhouse are just a few of the blogs less dedicated to humiliation and self-book-promotion than deadspin.
I used to be a more regular reader of deadspin until the site published a post suggesting that a prominent sportscaster was spotted at a Super Bowl party texting a woman late at night for a hookup. Allegedly one of Leitch’s correspondents looked over the married sportscaster’s shoulder and read the text message.
I don’t have any doubt the gossip was posted on deadspin because the national sportscaster is despised by many sports fans. Bloggers, like journalists and writers, play favorites. Leitch’s site troubles a lot of journalists, traditional newspaper writers and broadcasters because we are often the target of his humiliation. Some of us don’t have the time, patience or inclination to help promote Leitch’s book, which spends an inordinate amount of time telling prominent, successful, well-spoken African-Americans that they’re not really black.
Again, bloggers are no different from writers or journalists. There are good ones and bad ones, fair and unfair ones, moderately accurate and horribly inaccurate ones…Bloggers might be inspired by their loathing of traditional media, but they are not the cause of our growing irrelevance. We did that with our refusal to adapt to new technology, our clutching of political correctness and the transparency of our agenda-driven “objective journalism.” We opened the door. And it won’t be closed with bluster and anger.
This might be a case of a blind/outrageously-self-important squirrel finding a nut — and the “political correctness” thing is a non sequitur — but Whitlock seems so on point in this piece that I wonder why he doesn’t hold himself to a higher standard elsewhere.