There have been more than a few hot takes coming from mainstream media members proudly pounding their chests after ESPN’s apparent firing of Bill Simmons, who, like it or not, is the greatest sports writer of this generation. Bill – again, like him or not – essentially created an entire genre of sports writing, became the first blogger to see mainstream success, and is the mind behind some of ESPN’s best work: Grantland and 30 for 30. He’s also a millionaire.
Can you say, jealousy? HEY JEALOUSY! No, not you, Gin Blossoms. I’m talking rhetorically.
First up, Jay Mariotti – apparently still a thing – on Simmons:
“A new century gave rise to sports websites that had to compete against legitimate journalists who actually broke news responsibly, covered games and press conferences on site, interviewed subjects, understood libel/slander law and carried the profession with savvy.”
Sounds like words that came directly from the fingers of Mike Missanelli, who also has a general disdain for those who didn’t pay their dues in the same way that he did.
And now, Les Bowen:
Derp. Derp. Derp.
I’m not sure I can possibly have any more disdain for high-horsey sports writers who act like sports are more important than they really are and that there is simply no room in sports reporting (or entertainment, if you’d prefer) for those not trying to hide the fact that they got into the business in the first place because they loved a particular sport or team. Because here’s a little secret: 90% of sports reporting is complete bullshit. Most of what sports writers and sports media outlets consider news or legitimate commentary are trade rumors, quotes from players, the five-W facts (the who, what, where, when and why of a game), overly-serious punditry, and hacky yarns spun from the fabric of said BS. Very little of what goes on in sports media is even remotely important relative to, you know, actual news– like politics, business, crime, international relations, etc. For most reporters, the biggest story they’ll get is a hot roster or trade scoop, usually given to them by an interested party, such as a GM or agent, sometimes passed along with the intent to misinform or as a negotiating tactic. Though the dedication to the craft is commendable, and while I’m certainly not condoning bad reporting on even the most frivolous stories, it reeks of naivety when people like Missanelli, Mariotti and Bowen treat sports, a form of entertainment, like they’re on the level of some of the aforementioned topics. It’s akin Giuliana Rancic delivering a finger-wag in objectivity and restraint LIVE FROM THE RED CARPET WITH THE BEAUTIFUL KYLIE JENNER, WHOSE DSLS ARE OH SO REAL!
Simmons was the first writer, on any sort of scale, to tap into the mindset we all have as sports fans. You don’t have to like the fact that he seemingly can’t write a paragraph without mentioning the Celtics, but dismissing that style is insanely close-minded, if only because his knowledge of the NBA, specifically, is unrivaled among more traditional writers and pundits. Hidden inside a comparison to Larry Bird there’s usually an incredibly astute observation or complex nugget that you won’t find elsewhere. The fanboy approach it’s couched in is more an authentic voice than a particular “style.” What’s the great harm in sports writers – or, more generally, people who write about sports – making their allegiances known, especially now that there are so many outlets delivering the basic, ostensibly unbiased facts? Sports writers are fans, too. Or at least they used to be. Somewhere in their years of journalism school, internships, press conference transcriptions, and deadline deliveries, many traditional writers completely lost touch with their audience, which is one of the reasons why people like Simmons, or blogs like this one, have found success. With the exception of the truly weighty stories (Ray Rice or Aaron Hernandez), even the most publicized sports stories (Deflategate) are nothing more than fodder and intrigue for the entertainment medium they serve. There’s nothing wrong with that – I LOVE ME SOME INTRIGUE – but let’s not pretend this is all something it’s not.
Fuck off. All three of these guys love to roll out jabs about not paying dues yada yada yada, and yet they completely gloss over what I would argue is the far more impressive effort of marketing yourself or your work, standing out from the crowd, and figuring out a way to earn a living without first covering swimming in Iowa for two years in your 20s. 30 years ago that was the only way to get into the business. Today, it’s probably the path I’d least recommend. I’m biased here, obviously, but I’m quite proud of the fact that five years ago I was sitting in an office at a small online marketing company and now I’m sitting in my house with my dog at my feet and a turtle head creeping out the back and writing about a topic that interests me. I imagine any other blogger, or YouTube celeb, or new media member, feels the same way. Whether you’re Bill Simmons or a hockey blogger with 400 readers, you still have to earn your audience. As for Simmons, he bartended when he wasn’t busy pioneering modern sports writing. Quite honestly, I respect that sort of thing a whole lot more than a guy just doing what he’s told long enough to get a gig covering a decent team. Bowen uses “market” and “”brand”” as if they’re bad words. Anyone who lives outside the bubble of sports writing or reporting in general views them as necessary skills.
Ian Casselbery, writing for Awful Announcing, a site that never would’ve existed if things remained the way they were, agrees:
This feels like an opinion taken from 2004, maybe even earlier. Your eyes might get itchy from the dust being blown off it into your face.
Dismissing online writers as “fanboys” is willful ignorance, deliberately overlooking the time, work and care that goes into the content most of us consume these days. No, many of these writers didn’t pay the same dues that traditional media laid forth, such as covering prep sports, doing office work, or performing stringing assignments. But they often worked for free, churning out content to be competitive, hoping for a break from the rare outlet that provided paying work.
First of all, his thoughts weren’t misconstrued, because I specifically wrote that I was critiquing Bowen, not ripping Hochman. Second, Simmons is probably better than anyone on Earth at putting sports into societal context. Just because Les doesn’t get the references doesn’t mean Simmons and many others aren’t doing it.
Horseshit. Simmons was making over $3 million per year at ESPN. My guess is that Bowen makes somewhere around $80k. He’d pull a hammy jumping at an offer to transcribe Simmons’ unedited prose for money like that, even though he acts as if Simmons is the Floyd Mayweather of this particular craft. You know, sonny, you couldn’t give me all the money in the world to behave like a reprehensible being… that writes about sports in a way that makes it seem as though he enjoys them. Right. And just for transparency: I’d blow a donkey, daily, for $3 million per year.