“What can I read now on the train,” my friend texted me about a year ago. “Deadspin sucks now.”
I hadn’t started writing here yet so this fine site wasn’t top of mind. But my friend and I agreed on one thing: Deadspin did suck then, and it still does now. Which is too bad, because it used to be a lot of fun. Launched in 2005, Deadspin was alt-ESPN.com, a self-described place to read “Sports News Without Favor, Access or Discretion.”
And Deadspin delivered on that tagline, primarily because the minds that launched the site were really talented. Will Leitch, A.J. Daulerio, Greg Howard and many other gifted voices (I omitted Drew Magary intentionally, more on him in a bit) carried Deadspin and made it must-read.
Leitch must look at Deadspin today like Buck Weaver ruefully watching Shoeless Joe Jackson amble around an independent league outfield at the end of Eight Men Out: “Those guys are all gone now.”
So it should not have come as a surprise that the biggest thing Deadspin actually accomplished in the last 24 hours wasn’t any of that useless noise, but instead a needless hit piece on Barstool Sports’ PFT Commenter. It will probably also not shock you that the author of said hit piece, Laura Wagner, is a 2015 graduate of Georgetown (“College Democrats,” natch) who used to work at NPR.
The motivation for Wagner’s decision to “out” PFT Commenter by naming him is pretty transparent. She tacitly admits as much in the opening paragraphs of “So Who Is Barstool’s PFT Commenter?” It’s not subtle:
Every so often, some publication or other—often a fancy one—will run a fawning profile of PFT Commenter, the sports satirist who works for Barstool Sports and co-created the wildly popular comedy podcast Pardon My Take…just yesterday, the Washington Post boldly stepped in the footprints of those who came before them with “PFT Commenter rose from an internet ‘cesspool’ to podcasting glory. And no one knows who he is”…despite the fact that anyone with an internet connection and 30 seconds can easily find out his name’s Eric Sollenberger.
Why is Wagner talking about Fight Club? Why is Wagner functionally violating the magician’s code by revealing how another magician’s trick is done? You won’t believe this, but she has an ax to grind:
(T)he real value of PFT Commenter’s shtick imitating a dog-whistling, sexist, message-board idiot is tricking people—or at least certain people, whose opinions matter very much—into thinking that Barstool Sports is not in fact dominated by racist, neanderthal bullies who harass women online, videotape each other in the shower, and call underage girls hot, repeatedly, but is in fact some high-concept gag. This isn’t the thing itself, PFT Commenter’s presence proclaims, in the face of a mountain of evidence that it is.
That’s pretty hifalutin talk from a Deadspin writer, given how Deadspin has largely stayed afloat in recent years on the back of Magary, creator of the “Thursday Afternoon NFL Dick Joke Jamboroo” and author of dozens of columns during his Deadspin tenure that checked just about every box on the cultural insensitivity list. Magary’s whole shtick was lifted from Bill Simmons, a more talented writer who Magary concurrently aped and mocked as Magary created a career from whole cloth on homophobic and sexist jokes.
Don’t believe me? Well, Magary admitted it on Deadspin in October of last year:
I have written for this site for a decade, and if you dip into my back archive, you’ll find posts that are just as shitty as some of the posts that Portnoy had thrown in his face after his ESPN deal surfaced. One time I wrote a post called “In Defense of Female Objectification,” which featured the standard frat bro logic of, “Don’t blame men for being horny! That’s just the way we are!” I also joined in the comments on a post that goofed on high school football player Holley Mangold (sister of former Jets center Nick) for her size and appearance. She was 16 at the time.
The piece this tripe came from was called “The Reckoning Always Comes.” In it, Magary also admits to using a homophobic slur to demean LeBron James, multiple times. And co-founding the Kissing Suzy Kolber blog, which he notes was him signing off on the decision to “jokingly name a site after an incident where a drunken ex-quarterback hit on a woman and made her horribly uncomfortable live on national television.” This mea culpa from Magary went on and on, so long that you wondered how expiation was even possible if the guy was such a, to borrow from Wagner, Neanderthal.
If you read Magary’s “sinner seeking redemption” prose as anything other than a blatant attempt to save his career in the era of #metoo, you’re as big a mark as anyone Wagner called out in her PFT Commenter takedown.
The part about PFT lacks any real substance, anyway. This site has occasionally had its gripes with Barstool – mostly apparel related – and there is plenty to critique, but Wagner’s piece attempting to indict PFT for what has turned out to be a radically successful career move just because he doesn’t speak out and rail against every mis-step Barstool has is wrong and as journalistically corrupt as whatever she purports he does or doesn’t do. It seems she has spent significantly more time considering how Barstool may use him as a shield to deflect criticism than Barstool, who likely saw a talented (and funny) person and made him a face of their organization. There’s also an air of jealousy from seemingly everyone associated with Deadspin and other left-leaning websites that can’t fathom why so many guys enjoy a good sports-related laugh, even if it is occasionally crude and, yes, in some cases, grotesque.
To recap, then, Deadspin can continue to employ and feature Magary, the only Deadspin writer with his own link on the site’s masthead, but Barstool is a terrible group of people and PFT Commenter shouldn’t be permitted even faux anonymity because their brand of content is evil.
Glad we got that settled. I’d stay longer, but I need to catch up on Hamilton Nolan’s pithy Deadspin-linked tales of capitalism gone awry.
Thank God for Deadspin. Fun was always overrated anyway.