Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Who's On First? The Heavy Hitters of Sports Journalism


We do not cover sports here at Daily Rev, though we firmly support a public health initiative to completely eradicate jock itch. But recently we noticed that home run no. 715 is being treated as an event of equal public consequence with the earthquakes in Java and the continuing Hell in Iraq, so perhaps it is time to do a sports post. This being a blog, we will perform the blogger's paradoxical function, which is to direct the reader away and towards other sources—in this case, our murderer's row of sports journalism.

I, personally, like sports. I used to be a big fan of pro baseball and the Yankees in particular, until two things happened: I grew up and baseball grew down, became corrupted and false to the game. It's happening all over our culture—baseball is not unique in this. I love music, and especially singing, too, yet I find that American Idol infects music with the poison of arrogance, competition, and that FOX News-attitude of surly contempt for all who make an effort at art. This is not what art, or sports, are about—not at all.

So Barry hit no. 715. This, of course, is the same roided-up diva who declared in a Playboy interview many years ago that going into a batting slump is exactly like being raped. I recall writing a furious letter to Playboy back then to object, but it, unlike Bonds' disgraceful comment, was never published.

But let's get back to the media aspect of this, because there are some surprises there. Some of the best American writers and journalists are, or started out as, sportswriters. Let's look at a few.

Keith Olbermann: the host of MSNBC's Countdown program, he is one of the most lucid writers, commentators, and social observers out there. If you have cable TV, watch his show regularly, and bookmark his blog at msnbc.com. He began his career at ESPN, and still actively follows the sports beat.

Rick Reilly: Voted sportswriter of the year 10 times, and for good reason. He is a clarion voice of sanity and insight. A talent like this is alone worth a subscription to SI, which has otherwise sold out to the pandering of cheesecake swimsuit hotties and the lionizing of megamillionaire frauds. Another outstanding SI writer to look for online, who hasn't gotten the same level of recognition as Reilly, is John Rolfe, who combines a wry, couch-potato humor with a trenchant view on the divorce that is occurring between fans and the games they love. If you're a sports fan and are looking for an advocate in the media, you can't do better than John Rolfe.

Mitch Albom: Some of you may have noticed that I dabble in the production of what is generically called inspirational literature. It's a genre that gets a lot of (often well deserved) ridicule for its Hallmark sentimentality and banal spirituality. Fortunately, there is a writer like Mitch Albom around. Albom is a sportswriter from Detroit who basically resurrected the field of inspirational lit with a single book, Tuesdays with Morrie, a rigorously unsentimental story of an old man's death and a young man's (Albom's) rebirth. He followed this success up with The Five People You Meet in Heaven, and continues to write about sports for the Detroit Free Press.

Phil Mushnick: In one of the unlikeliest of forums, that acidly right-wing tabloid The New York Post, this man has been a fountain of freethinking, anti-corporate insight for some two decades. If you haven't been exposed to his piercing observations on big media and the monied poison of egomania that has infected professional sports, just take in a few of his columns, and you'll actually be tempted to subscribe to the rag that contains his challenging wisdom.

This is just a sampling of some of the talent and independence that's out there in the world of sports journalism. We need more frequent doses of that independence, because this is one area where the blogosphere hasn't carried the ball as well as it has with its para-coverage of the Bush administration and the Iraq War. I am hoping that we're reaching a tipping point on this, too, however: American sports are so roiled in corruption, so deeply in the pockets of corporate interests, to the point where fans can't even recall what their team's stadium is named this year (let alone who's on the team), that a backlash similar to what the polls are telling us about public feeling toward the Bushies can't be far off.

The best way to start it is simply to stop supporting the corruption. Get your baseball fix from attending youth league or minor league games (it's a lot cheaper, too); turn off the cable channels that promote the decadence; and turn your back and your wallet on the Disney sports media and its corporate sponsors. I'd personally like to see this backlash happen so quickly that Barry hits no. 756 in an empty stadium with no cameras rolling. Then he can complain all he wants about feeling raped to a locker room with no microphones or scribes. Soon may that day dawn.

1 comment:

Van Arsdale said...

Just connected with John Rolfe myself. He has a column on SI.com declaiming ESPN's inclusion of spelling and poker in its broadcast pantheon, while turning its back on hockey. Funny, incisive, thought-provoking, and most of all fresh. Since I had literally never heard his name before I Googled him and came across your blog entry comparing him to Rick Reilly, whose intelligence and humor set him apart from every sportswriter of his generation. (He was also way out ahead on the Tiger Woods story, writing the definitive story on Tiger and Dearly Departed Daddy Earl -- the capital letters are meant as a tribute, not some lame, mocking gesture -- that still stands up today, fifteen years after it was written, as the essence of their relationship. But I digress.) Obviously I'm going to have to read more Rolfe. And if you want another hilarious sportswriter, check out Norman Chad. Find him under the heading -- mordantly brilliant. Ironically, he also works as an "analyst" on ESPN's poker coverage.