It's fitting that it was on Twitter where Joe Cowley finally pushed the wrong buttons and clued everyone in to just what an ass he is. Because it was Twitter that provoked tough guy Joe into throwing his weight around, and getting me fired from the first journalism job I ever had.
I started interning in the prep sports department of the Chicago Sun-Times in August of 2007, just before the beginning of my junior year of college and just after my 20th birthday. They were launching YourSeason, a new high school sports website, and I was part of the first wave of hires to help manage it.
This was the newspaper my parents had delivered to the house when I was growing up. They're still subscribers, somehow. It was where I had always wanted to work. I was usually there past 2 a.m., particularly that first year, writing roundups of Maine South football games and cropping pictures of Whitney Young girls basketball players. I got paid and received credit, which was dope, but my main motivation for throwing away much of the fun stuff associated with the last two years of college was fear. There was a lot of talk about "paying dues" in the Sun-Times's newsroom. My boss, who was only about 10 years older than me, started out on the prep desk at my age and rose through the company. Even with two years of college remaining, I was familiar enough with the scarcity of journalism jobs to have a real sense of dread that I'd be doomed to be unemployed or underemployed after graduation, if not much of my adult life.
I tried to give myself as many outs as possible. I started Tremendous Upside Potential, a Chicago sports blog, that quickly received some dap from Will Leitch-era Deadspin for a 7th Floor Crew post. I also did everything I could at the Sun-Times: I picked up extra hours on the prep desk when they needed help, I wrote guest posts for their Full Court Press blog when the sports editor was on vacation, and I helped run live Bears chats by moderating the type of stupid, often prejudiced comments you routinely see at the bottom of Yahoo articles. I thought I worked pretty hard. About halfway through my second year there, by now promoted to "web editor," it became pretty obvious this was turning into a dead-end job.
The paper had no money. It was up for sale and people were being laid off all the time. There was a two-month stretch when it was just excruciating to be in the newsroom: every week, some higher-up would come down and tap someone on the shoulder. They'd be gone for 10 minutes and return to start packing up their stuff. A lot of these people had been there for many years. Sometimes they cried. Usually, the rest of the newsroom would give a standing ovation. It was a weird time to be about to enter this job market for real. I found I didn't really give a shit anymore, only because I knew there was no upward mobility at the paper.
I was familiar with Joe Cowley well before I started working at the Sun-Times. I never actually met him; most of the beat writers were never in the newsroom, at least not during the graveyard shifts that I worked. I found him to be intolerable in print, but he was so much worse on Twitter. I've seen Cowley characterized as a "wannabe pro wrestling heel" over the last couple of days, which is a very apt description. It wasn't surprising, since the Sun-Times enabled Jay Mariotti and his bullying when he was their star columnist. I found it pretty hypocritical when the paper celebrated Mariotti's exit (who could ever forget Deadspin commenter Pete Gaines on the front page?) but continued to let Cowley do his thing.
Since I was armed with my own sports blog, I couldn't help but call Cowley out on his shit. Here are some tweets of his from 2009 that I posted on TUP:
There was also this, the day after Ted Kennedy died. Cowley, then the White Sox beat writer, was at Fenway with the South Siders playing the Red Sox.
He sucked. He also didn't know anything about baseball. It blew my mind that there were so many hardworking young people at the paper but this bozo was able to keep up his senseless and offensive smack talk with no repercussions.
I responded to Cowley on Twitter several times in April and May of 2010. There was a female White Sox blogger he was constantly attacking. All of those Tweets are gone now that he deleted his account, but I remember him insinuating that this woman only liked and followed the White Sox so she could "get drunk and fall on the players' dicks", or something to that effect. I called him out a couple times. I don't even really remember what I said to be honest, but I did find a Gmail draft titled "tweets that got me fired" from May of 2010. It had two entries:
@ChuckGarfien How awful is @cst_sox in person? Gotta be the worst media member in Chicago now that Mariotti has been exiled. Apr 21st via web
Cowley is not funny, offensive, overly negative. As bad as Jay. If his sports editor knew what the internet was, he'd be fired Apr 28th via web
These were sent from the Sun-Times newsroom, and I'm sure there were more. My Twitter bio also described me as an "indentured servant" of the Sun-Times. That probably wasn't super-smart. Sometimes, 22-year-olds fuck up.
Apparently, Cowley saw my shit-talking and that I worked at the Sun-Times and told newly hired sports editor Chris De Luca. Two days before I got fired, Cowley sent out this tweet:
"Mickey O'Donnell on the prep desk needs to zip it. Big brother is watching you little man."
Two days later, around midnight, I was watching a movie when my boss called me and told me I was fired. I begged for my job back, sending very long emails to De Luca describing all the hard work I had done over the last three years. He didn't care, which I understand. What I did probably amounts to company treason. I deserved my fate.
I was hesitant to go public with this for so long, because A) I assumed nobody cared and B) I didn't want to nuke bridges I had already burned. When I saw Cowley was again the talk of Deadspin on Sunday, though, I figured why not. He's been pulling this shit for a long time with zero consequences. Last time he got into trouble, the Sun-Times gave him a promotion from beat writer to columnist. Now his Twitter account, and his 9,500 followers, are gone, ending whatever "relevance" he had. At the moment, he's just a shitty columnist for a dying paper that nobody reads. For someone who lived to troll, this is probably the worst sentence there is next to losing his job. I doubt that will happen given his airtight relationship with De Luca, but this is a nice consolation prize.