FanDuel - WFBC

November 12, 2007

Dancing Monkeys: Steven Wells asks why we can't have sports journalism where you don't have to check your brain at the door.

posted by owlhouse to culture at 11:42 PM - 23 comments

For someone not resident in the US of A, I find Dave Zirin's pieces very thought provoking (and no, I don't agree with all of them).

posted by owlhouse at 11:44 PM on November 12

"Zirin is not your average stats-dribbling, advertiser cowed, editorially hobbled, rose-tinted-blinker-wearing American sports hack. He's founded a pressure group called Jocks for Justice that recently gathered together several sports professionals to speak out about the Jenna 6 case in Louisiana (where, after several racist incidents, six black high-school athletes were threatened life imprisonment for fighting in the playground)." Uh, wow. Just wow. That's where I stopped reading. I can't take this guy (Steven Wells) seriously after reading that.

posted by dave2007 at 12:14 AM on November 13

Although to be fair I think his low opinion of sports journalists isn't far from the mark. But I don't think turning sports journalism into another branch of political writing would really improve matters.

posted by dave2007 at 12:28 AM on November 13

From the article: "advertiser cowed, editorially hobbled" I'm a writer myself. That comment in the article can be applied to writing in any field. I was in computer journalism (if that's not an oxymoron) myself. Any writing field is open to corruption by advertisers etc... I've lost two writing jobs because I refused to pander. (Ironically one of the jobs, that was the exact reason they initially hired me.) That's the big problem. People like Zirin are the exception that somehow survive in spite of the system rather than because of it. There are other voices, in all fields, out there that want to say more, but the majority get weeded out before they can cause too much trouble. (Sadly I am without employ right now. Two fields I write in, sports and computers. I'm screwed in both of them.) Loved the article though. Always nice to see Jackie Robinson getting his rightful props. If I recall my baseball history, he wasn't the first black baseball player to try to make it. He was the first to survive and tough it out and be, as the article put it, a "hardass". There is a direct correlation between the quality of sports reporting and the rise of corporate sponsorship, of that I'm certain. You compare the average newspaper sports story from now to one from, say, fifty years ago. Night and day.

posted by Drood at 01:00 AM on November 13

Wells' prose can get purple at times, but he's right about Zirin. I can't recommend Welcome to the Terrordome highly enough. It's a really great read. And I thought sports discussion without lobotomy was one of the goals of this place.

posted by chicobangs at 02:15 AM on November 13

How, exactly, did Zirin and company "speak out" about the Jena 6? Did they characterize the severe beating of a student by six other students as "fighting in the playground" or are those Wells' words? Hey, I don't condone racism in any way, shape, or form (and, no, I wasn't there to see with my own eyes what happened that day) but to call what happened there a "playground fight" is kind of like calling Rodney King's beating "police questioning." Zirin seems like a intelligent, motivated individual, worthy of some respect, but euphemism has no more place in reporting than any of the other journalistic "evils" brought up in this story.

posted by tahoemoj at 02:40 AM on November 13

I've never heard about David Zirin before, but anybody who pokes around sport looking for rabble rousers and hellraisers is OK in my book.

posted by rcade at 07:12 AM on November 13

How, exactly, did Zirin and company "speak out" about the Jena 6? I found a copy of the statement here. Whatever your feelings about the Jena 6 case/incident/whatever, perhaps it would be better to read the Jocks for Justice statement and then judge, rather than to draw conclusions about its content from a toss-off sentence fragment in an article about Zirin. [edit: p.s. great post, owlhouse -- you've given me some great ideas for the intelligent sports-lovers on my Christmas list]

posted by lil_brown_bat at 07:58 AM on November 13

I have the feeling that there is a little bit of a spark here in search of the gasoline can (petrol to you, owlhouse). Celebrities entering the realm of politics is a sore subject with me. If someone has an informed, fact-based, well thought out opinion on something, then let him or her say it. (The feelings of my fellow SpoFites on my qualifications are about to become known.) My gripe is the press hanging on every bit of drivel spoken about a political concern by someone who can throw a ball well or has a hit song or who does well at the box office. Most of those celebrities who speak on various issues just parrot whatever the currently popular line might be. There are very few who have taken the time to truly know what they are talking about. These few I admire, even though I frequently disagree with them. So fire away, SpoFites. The above was written in a spirit of good will by someone with a reinforced asbestos hide.

posted by Howard_T at 09:43 AM on November 13

My gripe is the press hanging on every bit of drivel spoken about a political concern by someone who can throw a ball well or has a hit song or who does well at the box office. The article says just the opposite. Athletes, especially black athletes, are encouraged to be apolitical. The way to Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods superstardom is never to take a stand on anything controversial. You have to be the anti-Muhammad Ali (or the anti-Jackie Robinson). Do things charitable, but only things for the kids - so it isn't controversial. Never speak out about things like the Jena 6. Never talk politics. There are so few black people in a position where they will be heard if the take a stand. I think it is a shame that many are too afraid of losing some selling power to say anthing meaningful.

posted by bperk at 10:00 AM on November 13

There are very few who have taken the time to truly know what they are talking about. With a few notable exceptions (Charles Barkley, Tim Robbins, etc., come to mind), I tend to agree, Howard. What is worse to me is the mindless American public who vote one way or another because their favorite pop star/athlete/actor says they should. That said, I also think popular radio hosts cause the same thing to happen.

posted by hawkguy at 10:27 AM on November 13

rather than to draw conclusions about its content from a toss-off sentence fragment in an article about Zirin. Those little bendy things at the end of the sentences are question marks. I posed those questions looking for exactly what you provided, a link to the statement. I tried to word what I wrote very carefully (knowing what a powder keg this issue is), not passing judgement on anything but the use of euphemism in the reporting. And thank you for the link, it's appreciated. It was a little late when I got home last night to look for it myself.

posted by tahoemoj at 10:58 AM on November 13

Understood about the question marks, tahoemoj, but let's take a look at the "fighting in the playground" statement, from the article: He's founded a pressure group called Jocks for Justice that recently gathered together several sports professionals to speak out about the Jenna 6 case in Louisiana (where, after several racist incidents, six black high-school athletes were threatened life imprisonment for fighting in the playground). It seemed pretty clear to me that that was Wells' paraphrase (and probably with considerable liberties taken), not something he was quoting from the Jocks for Justice statement. That's all.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 11:39 AM on November 13

Check. I really was just curious as to who characterized the incident as such. No offense or pissery intended.

posted by tahoemoj at 11:47 AM on November 13

you've given me some great ideas for the intelligent sports-lovers on my Christmas list Thanks. I managed to get a copy of Zirin's "What's My Name, Fool" via Amazon a few months ago. It's terrific on Robinson, Ali, Tommie Carlos as well as some more contemporary pieces. My favourite bit is when Charles Barkley is courtside interviewing some college hoops kid who was famous for touting his religious beliefs at every opportunity: "If God loves you so much, how come he didn't give you a jump shot?"

posted by owlhouse at 03:38 PM on November 13

My gripe is the press hanging on every bit of drivel spoken about a political concern by someone who can throw a ball well or has a hit song or who does well at the box office. Gripe away, Howard, I'm right with you. I had a raging argument with some friends last year (Last Christmas in fact) about George Michael using a radio interview to talk about British troops in Afghanistan and how they should be withdrawn at once. The whole thing reminded me of Harry Enfield's Frank Doberman character, one of the self-righteous brothers: "Well, you've got to admire George Michael - he's a consumate singing entertainer who has had worldwide success - but if Michael were to come round my house and start carelessly whispering about withdrawing troops, I should have to say "Oi! Michael! Naaaaooooooooo! I admire your ability to reinvent yourself and turn personal adversity to your musical advantage, but if you're going to waffle on about things you don't understand I'll thank you to Go Outside and wake yourself up before you go go. I respect your musical talent, but you'll forgive me for suggesting that British military strategic command should not be given over to a man who has been caught in a public toilet committing lewd acts and subsequently asleep at the wheel of his car having rolled one too many fat ones. Faith alone does not qualify you to command an army!""

posted by JJ at 06:23 AM on November 14

"Faith alone does not qualify you to command an army" Yours, Joan de Arc

posted by yerfatma at 06:35 AM on November 14

Apparently this British wanker doesn't realize that Hunter S. Thompson actually *WAS* a sports journalist for ESPN before his drug fueled life came to a crashing halt. Nor has he ever cried after reading one of the superbly written "sports mirrors life" emotional pieces from Rick Reilly in the back of SI.

posted by SDWingNut at 10:05 AM on November 14

Apparently this British wanker doesn't realize that Hunter S. Thompson actually *WAS* a sports journalist for ESPN before his drug fueled life came to a crashing halt. HST was a sports journalist long before ESPN was a gleam in its papa's eye -- sports journalism was where he got his first big "gonzo journalism" exposure, waaaay back when. He was legendary for the kind of line-crossing that Wells is talking about, so I'm guessing that Wells did, in fact, know that HST was a sports journalist. Maybe not, though -- maybe he is just a wanker.

posted by lil_brown_bat at 10:18 AM on November 14

Apparently this British wanker doesn't realize that Hunter S. Thompson actually *WAS* a sports journalist for ESPN before his drug fueled life came to a crashing halt. Nor has he ever cried after reading one of the superbly written "sports mirrors life" emotional pieces from Rick Reilly in the back of SI. Wells' point seems to be that muckrakers like HST are too few and far between (and the 'wanker' issue would be more with HST for suggesting his own profession was full of idiots) and that pap human interest "geez-athletes-and-sports-are-great" garbage the likes that Reilly spews are supportive of this point. And it's true. Sports reporters for the most part are the most predictable writers going. They shun anything that rocks the boat.

posted by WeedyMcSmokey at 12:02 PM on November 14

"Faith alone does not qualify you to command an army" Yours, Joan de Arc Nor apparently does serving in the Texas/Alabama Air National Guard

posted by cjets at 01:17 PM on November 14

Kind of a stretch. The only voices he hears are Rove and Cheney.

posted by yerfatma at 01:54 PM on November 14

Hunter S. Thompson's career as an ESPN writer is like Emmitt Smith's career as a Flamenco dancer. His earlier body of work is much more impressive. The stuff HST did for ESPN, while occasionally fun, was nowhere near the caliber of writing he did earlier in his career, whether it was about sports, politics, or the general state of the country. If you want a glimpse into the real world of Hunter S. Thompson, look far beyond ESPN. There's a whole other dimension to the man and his letters. And, I have to ask: Rick Reilly made you cry? Really? Are you sure you weren't already crying about something else, and just happened to pick up the back page of SI?

posted by The_Black_Hand at 03:48 PM on November 14

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