Over the weekend Nationals beat writer Chico Harlan must have accidentally ingested some sodium pentothal, since he oddly stated in an interview that he "doesn't like sports," which aggravated all five of the Nats' fans.
Harlan was interviewed Washingtonian magazine, which did a little harmless feature on him, but led the story with this incendiary quote that was guaranteed to infuriate some people:
"I don't like sports-I am embarrassed that I cover them," Chico Harlan says. "I can't wait to stop. It is a means to an end and a paycheck."
Surprise — most reporters at major dailies don't usually get first dibs on covering beats that cater to their own interest. But Harlan's not a novice in this industry and being the Nationals beat writer isn't the shittiest job in the world (okay, maybe it is), but he should know the potential for a quote like this to backfire, regardless of how honest it was and what context he used it. And it did. Some Nationals fans are outraged because the young Nationals reporter for the hometown paper may have come off like an arrogant little twat because he has to cover their crappy team and doesn't like writing about sports.
"Sorry Chico but when you earn your paychecks by covering sports, publicly declaring that you are embarrassed to be associated with them is about as dumb as the President making Special Olympics jokes. You might want to move on sooner rather than later as these quotes are bound to be reposted all season long."
Sensing a potential season full of "Fire Chico!" chants and FJM-style dissection of his columns for the rest of the season, Chico slapped together a quick apology and clarification before the unruly online mob could find his home address and start leaving bags of flaming poo on his porch.
Maybe it's worth explaining the conversation that led me to the I-hate-sports declaration. When I first started talking to Harry Jaffe, the journalist who talked to me for the piece, we were discussing my background, my childhood love for baseball, the fact that I played it as a teenager, etc. I didn't want to be portrayed, though, as some central casting sportswriter: the sort who always dreamed of athletic glory, lacked the skills, and chose the next best thing. That's not me. I wanted the make the point that I have other interests, many more. I suppose I made that point with an inartful tap of the sledgehammer.
This is not intended as a defense. Parts of this job are a grind. Parts are thrilling. You lose some hair, gain some Marriott points. But know this: I wouldn't be doing it if I didn't have passion. I love — love-love-love — writing, and love that I get the chance to document so many interesting storylines, characters and dramas. Thanks for understanding.
Unfortunately Chico's apology has yet to reach all the readers, as you can tell from some of the comments recent blog entry:
So sorry that I missed out on the fun in the last post. The fact that Chico would say some of that stuff to the Washingtonian is pretty incredbible to me. The statements themselves, however, don't surprise me in the least. The fact that Chico doesn't like sports has been apparent throughout his coverage of the Nats, and has been a big problem in my view. He doesn't know baseball, doesn't love it. Is he still trying to figure out why baserunners hold batting gloves in their hands? Chico lacks that ingrained appreciation for and understanding of the game that a good beat writer should have.
The bigger shocker to me is how The Post hired a guy like that to take over the Nats beat. It is extremely rare for a big-city paper to hire a guy to cover baseball who has never had a baseball beat before. Barry covered the minor leagues. Look what Marc Carig is doing now—he is covering the Yankees for a second-tier paper; the next step for him will undoubtedly be a beat covering an MLB team for the city's major paper. That's the way it usually works. The Post, meanwhile, hires a guy who knows nothing about baseball, has never covered it before, and who "doesn't like sports." Some commitment, there.
But after all this, it's actually made me more interested in seeing what Harlan does with the Nationals beat this year. Honestly — what paper wouldn't want a guy willing to go out and find the interesting stories instead of dissecting box scores and settling for bland locker room quotes? Especially for that fucking team.
An Apology [Nationals Journal]