Open Season On Sports Blogs

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Open Season On Sports Blogs

Those of us in the blogosphere with our platforms of varying tones and readership took a collective beating last week on HBO's "Costas Now" summit on sports media.

The heated Internet segment on the informative, yet crammed forum was generally a lump dump on sports blogs even with host Bob Costas' attempts to note that not everything on the Web need be tagged as uninformed or malicious.

I'm a fan of Michael Wilbon's. I enjoy his take on sports in general and religiously watch him and Tony Kornheiser on ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption." It seems not a day goes by on "PTI" where Wilbon isn't telling his counterpart how well or how long he's known a particular sports figure. I'm willing to stipulate that's Wilbon's a very plugged-in guy so I just let it pass. But listening to him the other night on "Costas Now" — albeit in an edited sound byte — snub his nose at us unconnected sports bloggers was disconcerting. Here's what he said:

"What are [bloggers'] credentials? Where's the opinion come from — just sitting on the couch?"

I would submit the vast majority of sports bloggers are passionate about what they write, just like those who muse on politics, entertainment or anything else in the mainstream culture. If we are people of reasonable intelligence, can't our positions be sensible and thoughtful even if we don't hang out in the locker room or host a daily cable talk show? Wilbon apparently thinks not. Thank goodness there's still the office water cooler.

From our vantage point it's difficult to defend, as Costas put it, "the tone of gratuitous potshots and mean-spirited abuse" that's employed in many sports blogs. That's why this blogger doesn't go that route. It's also because as a journalist with more than 20 years in newspapers I can't do it any other way.

The big fish is Deadspin.com, which has carved out quite a niche by taking a decidedly caustic take on sports news "without access, favor or discretion." It can be funny, is often acidic and gets more than 10 million hits a month. It's the "South Park" of sports blogs and like the TV show it's not everyone's flavor of the month.

It thus came as little surprise that Deadspin founder and editor Will Leitch took the hardest blows on "Costas Now." Launching the barrage was longtime journalist Buzz Bissinger, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the book "Friday Night Lights" and apparently another antiblog generalist.

"I really think you're full of shit," Bissinger told Leitch. "I think that blogs are dedicated to cruelty, they're dedicated to journalistic dishonesty, they're dedicated to speed."

Blogs, he continued, "are the dumbing down of society," and the general quality of the writing is "despicable."

Wow! I think I'll take my ball and go home now.

Talk about painting a picture with some mighty broad strokes. To say blogs are the "dumbing down of society" is rather simplistic considering questionable taste and shoddy reporting have permeated all media much longer than blogs have been omnipresent. Is there anything more "despicable" than Bill O'Reilly mocking homeless veterans on national TV? And wasn't the "Headless Body in Topless Bar" from a real human being?

The blanket indictment of bloggers as hacks reeks of sanctimony. There's a lot of earnest effort being put forth by well-meaning folks who are just as rabid about their sports as Bissinger or Wilbon. While we may not have the journalistic chops or inside access, we most definitely have the fervor. And isn't that what makes us all fans in the first place?

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