It's been almost two years since Jay Mariotti last wrote a sports column or appeared on ESPN. In that time, sports media's ur-controversialist—a pioneer of the sportswriters-being-dicks-on-television genre—has pleaded no contest to misdemeanor stalking and assault-related charges stemming from a hair-pulling fight with an ex-girlfriend he will only identify as Allison W. He has spent hours upon hours cleaning up beaches to satisfy the terms of his probation. He has done a handful of forgettable podcasts and radio interviews. He is still aimlessly tweeting his opinions to his 800 or so followers about sports scores and other sports media issues.
He's also written an e-book, The System, available on Amazon, first published in February 2011 and then updated during the first half of 2012. Why, I recently asked him via email, did he go this route? He explained that the e-book was a way of letting friends, family members, and media members know the truth about his case. "I couldn't have been more precise and meticulous in explaining everything," he told me in an email.
What I really wanted to know, though, was what Jay Mariotti was doing with his life now. The other day, he tweeted:
I'll say it once: living in LA by beach in $2m home, enjoying life, talking to media outlets and industry people. If I want to work, I will.
— Jay Mariotti (@MariottiJ) June 12, 2012
But for whom? Last September, we had a few conversations about his doing some work for Deadspin. I dangled the (faint) possibility of full-time employment. The discussion went nowhere (we'll get to his version of our chat and mine later on), and he never wound up writing anything for Deadspin. Or for anyone else, for that matter. What follows is my attempt, based on a few increasingly hostile exchanges and a close reading of his terrible book, not only to examine why Mariotti is currently jobless but to explain why, in a sane world, he should forever remain that way. I present this as a cautionary tale for other sportswriters, both young and old. There is much we can learn from the biggest asshole in media.
Lesson No. 1: Facts Sometimes Obscure The Truth
Facts are very important to Jay Mariotti. He has faith in facts, as you'll see. Facts inoculate. The System (an e-book available on Amazon) was initially and briefly marketed by the author as a meticulously detailed account of the facts surrounding his domestic violence case (from his side) and the crumbling state of sports media (also from his side), cobbled together over the months when he was no longer working for his previous employers AOL Fanhouse and ESPN, both of which parted ways with Mariotti after he was accused of assaulting Allison W.
The facts presented in The System contend that Allison W. was a distraught individual from the moment he met her, prone to binge-drinking and carousing and manic outbursts unbecoming of a 40-year-old woman. But he still dated her for eight months because, he claims, he felt ending the relationship would put his career as a sports entertainer in jeopardy. She regularly abused him and once even punched him in the chest 22 times. (From the book: "This is a woman who once punched me 22 straight times in the chest during a meaningless discussion—I am a heart attack survivor with a stent—and I counted each punch aloud.") It was indeed an abusive relationship, Mariotti writes, only he was the victim. These are just some of the facts that Jay Mariotti claims were overlooked or misrepresented in his case. He writes in the book that at one hearing, he counted 35 lies while Allison W. was on the stand. Jay Mariotti is lied to, and lied about, by many, he claims, both in and out of The System.
A brief list of others who have lied to him:
- The police
- Allison W.'s lawyer
- Writers at the Chicago Sun-Times
Luckily, we have this space here to address some of the facts about Deadspin that Jay Mariotti presented in his updated version of The System, an e-book available on Amazon, meticulously written to present the facts:
But then sports people have to deal with Deadspin. Long operated by maggots who aren't taken seriously by those who are serious, Deadspin represents everything that is sick and psychotic about sportswriting. In late summer of 2011, I decided, on a whim, to play a little game with the Web site that had lied so much about my case and declared I was going to jail for 12 years. The editor at the time, A.J. Daulerio, put out word through Fox Sports' Jason Whitlock that he was interested in hiring me. Preferring to slurp blood from a rotted snake carcass, I had zero interest, even if he was paying millions—when, in truth, his site barely could pay nickels. But while visiting New York with a friend, I agreed to meet with Daulerio just to look the creep in the eye.
- Deadspin never reported, even from a secondary source, that Jay Mariotti was "going to jail for 12 years."
- I did not "put out word to Jason Whitlock" that I wanted to hire Jay Mariotti. Whitlock contacted me first and suggested I reach out to Mariotti because he felt that there was a chance he would (and should, according to Whitlock) write for us.
- We offered Mariotti $1,000—20,000 nickels—per column.
Lesson No. 2: Be Brash, Be Aggressive, But Be Humble
Most of us who've followed sports media are familiar with Mariotti's shtick, both as a columnist (contrarian agitator) and as a shouty head on ESPN's Around the Horn ("annoyed know-it-all," as he generously describes himself in his e-book). If you plan to go this route in the industry, please be acutely aware of the implications—namely, that you will no longer be a journalist; you will be, effectively, an entertainer, an actor playing a part. This will hinder your ability to be taken seriously (by those who are serious) but you will convince yourself otherwise. You will mistake your own ubiquity for something more meaningful. Being emptily and loudly provocative is lucrative work for some, but not many, and it's becoming less and less interesting as sports media evolve.
Jay Mariotti has had many bosses throughout his now-dead career, and the ones I talked to all spoke highly of his work ethic and occasional graciousness. But most were also aware of his stupefying arrogance and politely summed it by saying things like, "It's only black and white with Jay—there's no gray." Be gray. Gray is good. Gray keeps you grounded and human and prevents you from responding to normal questions by emailing delusional, "Baby's First Noir Screenplay" shit like this:
Don't you get it? I covered 14 Olympics, 24 Super Bowls, every sports event imaginable many times over. I've been to every continent but one. I had more frequent-flyer miles than Clooney in the movie. I worked in a city with neurotic fans, corrupted media people and crooked publishers and editors. What's wrong with a break?
If I wanted to be working, I'd be working. I needed some time off, and I love living here, riding my bike, soaking in SoCal, hanging out with trusted friends and a good, honest girl. I write every day, rooftop doors whipped open to the beach breezes, no bad deadlines, no bogus headlines, no asshole sports owners trying to sabotage me. Life's great. Really.
I responded with more questions, explaining that I was writing something about his current state of affairs. He made vague noises about a libel suit. I said I had a hunch he couldn't afford a lawsuit. He responded thus:
Hunches don't work. Facts do.
I have more $ than you'll see in your lifetime. Don't push it.
Lesson No. 3: Never Write An E-Book Trashing Ex-Employers, Most Of Your Industry, And An Ex-Girlfriend Who Accused You Of Ripping Out Her Hair Extensions
It's tacky and weird and even though Mr. Mariotti claimed in an email that there was an "e-book craze" at the time he published The System, an e-book available on Amazon, it has probably come and gone already, if it ever existed in the first place.
Plus, even in a meticulously fact-filled e-book such as Mariotti's, you still run the risk of publishing dogshit like this:
- "[Tim Armstrong] was about to sell AOL, which was trying to rebound as a content-based company after a dramatic free-fall in the previous decade, to media mogul Arianna Huffington for $315 million." (Fact: AOL acquired the Huffington Post in an effort to rebound as a content-based company. Not the other way around.)
- "How dare AOL tell dozens of writers, many with families, that the sports operation was a long-term project, only to turn around and quickly dump it. Had I known at the time, I would have fought the company legally and launched a crusade for those writers, many of whom had come to me when offered positions and asked if the operation was legit" (Fact: Jay Mariotti was not in a position to launch a crusade against AOL in the name of FanHouse's writers, having been charged the previous fall with two counts of domestic violence, two counts of domestic violence with injury, one count of grand theft, one count of false imprisonment, and one count of vandalism.)
- "I was becoming a foodie: Osteria Mozza, MB Post, Hungry Cat, Cut, vintage burger places, Roy Choi joints, Gjelina and Tasting kitchen in my neighborhood. One night, we saw the Red Hot Chilli Peppers perform in a downtown club." (Fact: Christ, Jay Mariotti sounds like an asshole.)
- "I should have gone straight home on Aug. 20 [after his initial fight with Allison W., but before the altercation in which he pulled out her hair extensions] and moved on to a life of more stable companions. But knowing she was intoxicated that night and had talked of suicide, I was worried about gang members and homeless people who sometimes lingered not far from her Venice apartment. ..." (Fact: This is the same man who claims he was repeatedly bruised and bullied by a 40-year-old woman. Somehow I don't see him holding off the Shoreline Crips.)
- "Thousands of miles from daughters, parents and friends, I often felt like Chevy Chase in the movie when he was an invisible man." (Fact: This guy was a professional writer, once upon a time. "I often felt like Macaulay Culkin in the movie when he was home alone." "I often felt like Steve Martin in the movie when he was a lonely guy." "I often felt like Billy Bob Thornton in the movie where he wasn't there.")
- "People deserve honest, high-quality competition and entertainment, and my aim has been to crusade for the commoner's interests. That mission should never change for any of us." (Fact: FUCK YOU in the face, Jay.)
Lesson No. 4: Jay Mariotti Is Not Only a Detestable Human Being for Many Reasons; He Is Also A Worthless, Incompetent Sports Media Creature And Should Never Be Emulated By Anyone, Let Alone Hired By Any Media Company At This Time, Even For Nickels
Here's a recent addition to The System, a meticulously crafted e-book that, gravid with facts, tells Jay Mariotti's side of everything and is available on Amazon:
As we sat down at a midtown restaurant, my agent inspected him and whispered, "He's stoned. I think he's on heroin." My agent was dead-serious. We talked, and Daulerio had little to say except to mumble that he wanted me to author a three-part series that would destroy ESPN, his longtime punching bag and psychopathic obsession. When I said no, he then suggested I be the site's media critic. That actually interested me for a nanosecond — but only if I could critique Deadspin, too. That seemed to perplex him further, and while he said he'd have no problem with my criticism of his site, the discussion went nowhere.
Here are some facts: As we sat down at a midtown restaurant (The Dream Hotel, a second choice after the Carnegie Deli), Jay Mariotti was introduced to me by his then-agent, Reed Bergman of Playbook Inc., who struck me not so much as a person but a bad toupee with a human attached. Reed sat next to me the whole time, so I presume the whispering occurred while I was in the bathroom. I now know what Mariotti was thinking at the time, or at least what he claims to have been thinking. He was thinking, or he claims to have been thinking, that he'd rather "eat alien vomit" (as he put it in an email to me) than write for Deadspin; that he'd rather "slurp blood from a rotted snake carcass" (as he put it in his e-book); that he'd rather "eat snail snot" (as he put it on Twitter). If he was thinking any of this when we met, it didn't show. All I saw was a guy dressed in a blazer and jeans, the standard uniform of the middle-aged white guy in transition, though on him the effect was more "hungover community-college theater instructor."
I had spoken with Reed and Jay over the phone, and the agent picked up where our conversations had left off, emphasizing that he thought Jay Mariotti and Deadspin would be a good partnership and that we shared a lot of the same ideals. He said that the purpose of today's meeting was to discuss the initial freelance work, but that he hoped it would lead to negotiations about something more long-term. Ahem.
My initial pitch to Jay over the phone was for him to write like a human being, for once, and chronicle the challenge of reinventing himself and saving his career. I was hoping for self-awareness and honesty. I thought maybe he'd been put in the frame of mind to take proper stock of himself and his work. Mariotti felt that he'd already done so in The System, the meticulously fact-stuffed e-book available on Amazon, and so when I proposed the ESPN posts in our meeting, they were, to me, a backup plan. We had agreed that ESPN's place in journalism was wobbly, and that the bigger the company became, the less it would be able to call itself a journalistic entity. This idea morphed into a possible role as a media critic, and he did snicker when he asked if he could write about Deadspin in that capacity. Yes, I said, reluctantly, but I could tell we were headed nowhere fast—not because Deadspin was or is beyond criticism, but because it was becoming clear Mariotti hadn't changed at all. He was totally oblivious to how useless his skillset had become.
"You want page hits?" he said, as if he had an idea of what that term meant. "I'll get you page hits."
Jay proposed a bigger role at Deadspin. "I could post other blogs," he said, as if he had posted many blogs before.
When I asked him what kind of blog he would post, Mariotti had an answer. He picked up a copy of that day's New York Times. He leaned over and showed me the front page. He rapped his fingers on the bottom half of page one, where a story about the Boston Red Sox was featured. "Look at this," he said. "The Red Sox are featured on the front page of The New York Times." He looked shocked, disgusted, even. "That's something I could post a blog about."
Imagine the page hits, his look said.
This is when I realized that Jay Mariotti was fucking hopeless—more hopeless than any of those "dead-tree" sportswriters he'd spent the last few years of his career pitying and heckling for their inability to adapt to the new media landscape, as he had supposedly done. Nothing has changed since our conversation. He is as appalling as ever. Just a week ago, he felt compelled to tweet that Tim Sullivan, the recently fired San Diego Union Tribune columnist, lost his job because "he wrote like an old fart. Got to stay young."
This is my plea to the world—to sports journalists and editors and radio show producers and podcasters and itinerant vacuum cleaner salesmen, to everyone, young and old. Do not employ Jay Mariotti. Do not let him write for you. Do not let him talk on your show or your podcast. Do not let him sell your vacuum cleaners. Let us do everything in our power to ensure that Tim Sullivan makes more money than Jay Mariotti for the rest of his life. That mission should never change for any of us.
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