This is BALLS DEEP With Big Daddy Drew (Balls® is a registered trademark and has been used with the expressed written consent of AJ Daulerio). It's gonna be like an SI Point After column, only with dick jokes. Enjoy.
By now, you've noticed the motto of this fair website is "Sports news without access, favor, or discretion." And, if you've read Leitch's book (31 used and new from just $14!), you know why he chose that exact phrasing. The inherent catch-22 of a sportswriter's job lies in access. You can't brutally criticize athletes and expect them to give you any access. But, if you go the other way and soften your treatment of athletes in order to maintain access, then you end up looking like a jocksniffer (Hi, Stephen A.!).
Most sportswriters get around this by mixing and matching. They're effusive in their praise for the handful of guys that give them decent quotes. They save their most gleeful invective for the handful that don't. The site motto acts as a formula. If a reporter has access, he's likely to fall into favor with an athlete, and in turn exercise discretion. If you take access out of the equation, then favor and discretion never have to come into play. No favoritism. No grudges. That's how this site operates, and it's how you end up seeing pictures of Matty Leinart rocking the puffy vest as the legendary "fifth member" of 98 Degrees. What a cockpumper.
But there's another reason access is frowned upon round these parts, and it lies in Rick "Mr. Punderful" Reilly's criticism of the blogfolk from last week. Let's revisit the money quote:
There's some good journalism, and some really horrible crap on there from guys holding down the couch springs in their mother's basement that have never been in a lockerroom but are pining on this and that.
Reilly assumes that, if you haven't been in a locker room, if you've never had access, then you can't possibly have any sort of valuable insight to offer on sports. This is wrong, of course. I'm pretty sure Bill James didn't set foot into a locker room before changing the fundamental nature of baseball scouting forever. He didn't need to see Rich Garces' tits in order to glean insight as to how he pitches (though I've heard Rich Garces' tits are AMAZING). Shit, he didn't even need to see him play on TV.
But Reilly inadvertently also touches on something else here. He's drawing a distinct difference between a fan writing from home and a "classically trained" journalist, as he says, writing with access to the event, athletes, etc.
And there is a difference. But it's not the one he's thinking of. Reilly is what I like to call a privileged sportswriter. I'm not saying he's rich, or snooty, or anything like that. (Full disclosure: I went to prep school and own a handful of Brooks Brothers shirts. Because I'm gay, you see.) What I mean is that, in his position, Reilly has access to privileges that you or I, as normal sports fans, don't have. He gets to go to the Masters, VIP-style:
I was covering the Masters recently, was in the press room, in the clubhouse, on the course...
He gets to go golfing with Bill Clinton. He gets to ride in an Indy 500 race car. He gets to walk up to Sammy Sosa's locker and dare him to pee in a cup for him. He gets to do all that.
And that's why he sucks.
If you're a privileged sportswriter, you're experiencing sports in a completely different way from normal, everyday fans. They don't get to do any of that shit. If they want to go to the Masters, they have to pay thousands for tickets off eBay, then stay in some Days Inn 45 miles away from the course. If they want to ride in an Indy 500 car, they have to go to Dave & Buster's and dump $3 into the bastardized version. If they want to go golfing with Bill Clinton, they have to find a big-titted blonde hooker willing to blow him at the turn. If they want Sammy Sosa's urine, they have to purchase it at his memorabilia show. They watch sports at home, or in bars, or at house parties.
The difference between how Rick Reilly watches sports and how you watch them is wider than Tony Parker's vagina, and the fact that he fails to appreciate that difference makes him weak. Don't get me wrong. I'm glad there are reporters out there who have access. You need only read Tom Callahan's book about Johnny Unitas to appreciate that. Or read Reilly's own account of the death of referee Kenny Wilcoxen. Both are brilliant pieces. Neither could have been written by us basement-dwelling mongoloids.
But there's a kind of sportswriting out in Blogfrica now that also has value to me, as a fan, specifically because the people writing are non-credentialed jackasses, just as I am. They experience sports the same way I do, so I'm more apt to connect with what THEY'RE saying than with the dude who gets to hang out with Phil Mickelson at the pitch and putt.
They're talking about sports WITH me, rather than trying to lecture me about whatever unique, enlightened perspective they discovered watching from their privileged viewing platform. Sometimes I need the latter. Other times, I don't. The whole reason people like sports blogs is because it's regular fans shooting the breeze with other regular fans. It's a viewpoint some columnist with unlimited clubhouse access can't share, and often looks down upon, as Reilly does, because it's "uninformed."
But that lack of access can prove valuable to a reader as well. Take, for example, MJD's smorgasbord. He goes to watch the games at a bar. He encounters bartenders that fuck up toggling between games. He sees waitresses he'd like to bang. He runs into incredibly annoying Steeler fans (They're everywhere!).
I relate to that guy. He and I could, like, hang out and shit. I like reading it. I don't always want to hear from an expert. Sometimes, I want to just hear from a guy who thinks Joey Porter is a total fuck.
If MJD started taking private jets, Lupica-style, to sit in the front row of any major sporting event he wanted (and my sources at Yahoo tell me he'll begin doing this starting June 1), I'd lose that shared experience that made me connect with him as a reader. Something would be fundamentally altered in our gay little imaginary relationship. He wouldn't be a peer anymore. He'd be, like, a journalist or something. Above me. His experiences would be isolated from mine.
And while that undoubtedly has its own value, we fans sometimes need to hear from other fans. It's why blogs and self-publishing are important. Because, as illegitimate entities, bloggers often see sports the same way we do: at home, drunk, and masturbating to this surprisingly decent Mena Suvari ass shot during the half.
Bill Simmons used to be a non-privileged sportswriter. The guy didn't become the most prominent sportswriter in America because he had Peter King's contact list. He became popular because he was a fan first and foremost. The fact that what he did was revolutionary at all tells you everything you need to know about the lofty perch from which most sportswriters observe both their subject matter and their plebian readership. But then Simmons moved to LA, gained unlimited access to any event he pleased, and became a sort of all-powerful superfan, writing things like:
I watched the festivities over at my new boss Jimmy Kimmel's house, in a living room featuring a 100-foot big screen with accompanying 42-inch, widescreen plasma screens on either side (all that's missing are cocktail waitresses, hopefully coming next year). Thanks to split-screen on the widescreens, Jimmy can show as many as five games at once, with people coming and going all day, with enough food and drink to handle the entire neighborhood. The lesson, as always: It's good to be the king.
Good for you, asshole. Glad you could watch the games from the command bridge of the Starship Kimmelprise. But what the fuck do I care? How the fuck am I supposed to relate to that shit? I got one TV, and half the time I have to switch it to fucking Noggin to accommodate the drunken midget living with me. Fuck your kingdom.
This isn't about selling out. This is about people in the mainstream media failing to recognize the fundamental difference between privileged sportswriting and the kind of shit you find here on Deadspin, and why the latter is important. And the fact that people like Reilly continually try and disparage it (and can't even think of a new metaphor to do so) serves only to put them at an even greater distance from the general sporting public. It doesn't have to be that way, and that's what makes it all the more annoying.
Then again, maybe it can't be avoided. Maybe the people covering sports now are just as distant from the fans as the athletes they cover. It's no coincidence the bulk of ESPN's programming now involves sportswriters talking to one another. They're the only people they can identify with. You certainly aren't part of the conversation. In the introduction to "Johnny U," Tom Callahan wrote, "That's the thing sports will never get back. Once, the players were one of us. They lived right next door. They don't anymore."
And neither does Rick Reilly.