PAWTUCKET, R.I. -- I wasn't going to mention anything about this here, I was going to launch in today with a knock-knock joke about UMBC. But before my flight home yesterday, I picked up God Save The Fan
by Will Leitch at a Barnes and Noble on the way to the airport. If you have a two-timeone flight segment coming up, it will last you from takeoff to around when you're supposed to stow your portable electronic items. This book does not have an on-off switch, so you'll be alright.
Leitch and I have a few things in common. We're both awkward, weedy guys who don't do TV all that particularly well. We both share the odd distinction of being anonymous schlubs one day and semi-revolutionary figures a few days later. We both couch our pompous statements in the kind of aw-shucks self-effacement that the format requires (largely as a defense against both ridicule and the next generation of ). I like Bally, so does he
. He was blackballed by ESPN, I was... well, whiteballed, I guess.
Mr. Leitch, and I use that in the same way The New York Times
would, has developed a very defined and detailed manifesto over the past couple of years, and now it's a book. He thinks that sports don't matter really, that they're as escape for us and our buddies to hang out and watch, and that the purity and sanctity of The Games Themselves are outdated notions.
But I disagree: there is poetry and beauty in sport. There is joy to be had in watching athletes, alone or in groups, playing their games well... once upon a time, that was why we bought tickets. The problems started when somebody got the bright idea of taking that poetry and beauty, wrapping it up in a package, and selling it like a product -- if I'm not mistaken, that man was Roone Arledge
and the products were Wide World of Sports
and the postmodern Olympics.
The sequence of events that brought us to this point in history occurred when TV networks realized that poetry and beauty have sort shelf lives, both in terms of spanned attention and salability. It wasn't until spectator sports were sold as an all-consuming lifestyle that this became a true industry. "Casual fans" became a true market segment, and "Sports" -- the theme, the brand, the restaurant, and the defining characteristic of suburban automatons -- became the 24/7 frat party that never had to end. If "Sports" wasn't such a solid and ingeniously constructed product, we wouldn't have preening sportscasters and multimillionaire athletes.
Deadspin, for all its revolutionary overtones, promotes spectator sports as a lifestyle just as much as ESPN does, and is part of the same hall of mirrors. It's as purposely superficial as SportsCenter
ever was, but nobody ever appealed to any sort of mass with intellectual depth. Deadspin reduces football players to kneejerk-eliciting cartoon figures, just like its purported nemesis. That's the central hypocrisy in this book, and in the site as a whole -- Deadspin just doesn't have to worry about market share, investors or the FCC, and can get away with all the blowjob jokes it wants.
I don't think anybody needs saving -- if anything, it's the common language and fabricated culture of casual fanhood that needs to die a slow death. Despite a generation of media conditioning to the contrary, American sports are nothing but small pieces loosely joined, and the pro leagues (and collegiate power conferences, for that matter) can be safely ignored. Lots of people are staging their own silent revolutions, far away from the miniscule "blog" world, and are simply switching them off.
Go ahead, leave the grid, don't be afraid. Try mid-major college hoops, or minor-league baseball, or indoor football, or even local firehouse wrestling. Reclaim the singular connection between fan and sporting event that disappeared when sports became a packaged product, find the poetry and beauty that was lost. You'll just lose out on the common social currency that the NFL, NBA or SEC provide, that very same glue that binds viewers to SportsCenter
and brings the Deadspin commenting community together. There aren't as many people who share an intense love of America East basketball, but you learn to deal with it.
Reclaiming "Sports" in any way -- whether it's the controlling passive-aggressiveness of fantasy leagues or the increasingly ridiculous make-believe mythologies that are the worst kind of "fan fiction"
-- is ultimately a losing battle, but hey, it just might sell a few books. I bought one. Drake.
We're running out of "up" arrows for the No. 1 team in our SoTMM index, I think there's some sort of Boubacar limit but I can't find the manual. In last night's G!O!T!N!, the Bulldogs (17-1, 8-0 MVC) stunned Creighton on the road 68-60
in overtime in front of 17,000 bewildered Bluejay fans. And leading scorer Josh Young leapt out his walking boot after four games to hit the winning basket! With a Randy Newman soundtrack! It was incredible!
But it's worth mentioning the incredible job Drake did on Creighton superfrosh P'Allen Stinnett
. The Bulldogs limited the two-time MVC Newcomer of the Week to an 11-minute, five-foul, two-point night that was easily the worst performance in his 18-game college career. They'll shut you down, they'll shut you up, they're Drake! Cal State Northridge.
In an alternate reality, I was in Chicago, watching the Matadors take on Chciago State in a seemingly meaningless nonconference siesta. My ambitious "Basketball Train" idea, which would have taken me from Reno to Chicago to back home on an Amtrak (plenty of time to read books), was postponed until next year, so I could get in my upcoming Texas swing.
What I missed was perhaps the defining, damning moment in the Big West season. CSN, picked sixth in the conference, had raced out to a 5-0 start in conference (13-3 overall), and had already beaten league favorite Santa Barbara on the road, as well as re-emergent Pacific. Going out to Chicago and losing by eight
(and being outrebounded by eight) to a sad-sack independent -- especially when national attention was starting to roll around -- probably wasn't the best thing for the school, and in turn a league that fights for respect on a daily basis.
But the upshot is that Pacific and UCSB are probably feeling a lot better about their chances to win the Big West autobid today.
And we didn't forget! We didn't!How 'Bout™
Western Michigan? The Broncos lost seven nonconference games so they're off the radar for the moment (but they beat Davidson!). Now they're 4-1 in the MAC West and starting to hit their stride, winning three in a row. David Kool
scored 18 and Western beat Central Michigan by 20
in yet another Compass Classic.
This game is also significant because CMU (7-10, 2-3 MAC) has finally fallen out of our State Top 20, dropping from No. 16 to No. 27 overnight. We get a lot of letters about how flawed our system is because of the presence of CMU anywhere neat the Top Anything, but their strength of schedule was pretty high for a while. Plus, the Chips' win over Michigan and its decent performances against teams ranked high early are starting to degrade properly. So UMass is back in, as it should be.
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