The Anniversary

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The Anniversary

Let me explain what this is about.

I started this blog about a year ago after being urged by a speaker in an 8:30 Monday morning Intro to Journalism class to start one. I didn’t know what I was going to do with it, but I knew I liked sports enough to write about that.

So I have.

This blog takes its name from the famous Teddy Roosevelt quote:

“It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly...who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself in a worthy cause, who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who have never known neither victory nor defeat.”

I liked it as a celebration of sport and an explanation that rationalized what I would be doing, not as part and parcel of the arena itself, but in observation of it, and it has always, as I write, research, and edit posts, reminded me of that.

I know that what I say or write about what people far more athletic and dedicated to physical pursuits really doesn’t mean anything; the pageantry, pomp, and circumstance all melt away before any game. Storylines artificed by columnist, journalist, and pundits alike are subsumed by the glory of these games.

And that’s really what sport is about: glory. Whether it’s in the one moment on a pitch in Pakistan when the goal is scored in the 87th minute, or in the walk-off home run at Wrigley Field, or in a great block in the Pop Warner game in the autumn breeze down the street, people play sports because they offer the opportunity for moments, games, seasons, years, and decades of glory.

Sports give us the chance to hold the joy crystallized in a moment like that in our memories forever, and infinite chances for other scintillas of glory. In failure, there is glory, too: valiant losers hold their heads high, and the heartbreak involved in a close loss is as potent as the soar of the spirit a win induces.

And then there is the flip side of glory: shame. Schadenfreude is a commodity, whether it comes from mocking another fan’s favorite team or watching a hated player strike out with runners on in the bottom of the ninth. The morals of sport exalt those who do things the “right” way, respecting rules, competitors, and the sanctity of the game, and reserve scorn for those for do things the “wrong” way, bending the rules or besmirching the essential spirit of competition.

Sport is where I find much of my human drama, with a cast of millions from every imaginable paradigm. These are people, we often forget, living, breathing, thinking people who commit their heart, soul, and body to their avocations or professions, and just happen to do it on fields and through playing games. No one is an automaton; these people are not bits and bytes, but breaths of pathos here and there.

The glory, the drama, the shame, the emotion: all of this is wrapped up in the other forces we recognize as shapers of society. Race, gender, class, nationalism, individualism, unity: sports give us ways to let these concepts mingle and stir, and it is often on a playing field, especially in American society, that the first societal changes emerge from the miasma wearing a jersey.

Sport is important, and relevant, fraught and freighted with the hopes of billions of people who play, watch, exult, cry, and generally revel. Sports fascinate.

And, for me, they provide an outlet.

I’ve always loved writing for writing’s sake, something I realize more and more each day. I luxuriated in books as a young child, poring over stories of ironclads in my elementary school library; I chortled at the humor in the Harry Potter books I learned to love and learn from as I passed through my early teenage years; now, I relish the details of language, the little twists and turns in a well-written story, the images an author can paint with the right words, the emotions one can evoke with mere words.

But I’ve been using my words to describe sports for almost as long as I can remember. My mom remembers me narrating virtual gridiron clashes while holding the brick that was the NES controller and playing my first few video games; to this day, when I play Madden or any other sports game, I feel compelled to announce what’s going on, to craft story arcs for my digital dopplegangers.

My first work of fiction involved Brett Favre and Reggie White; my exploits on soccer fields and hardwood floors in my younger years remain valuable to me less for the athletic performance and more for the stories and what I take from them.

I observe sports closely, enjoy them thoroughly, and have thoughts and opinions about them constantly. With this blog, I’ve finally gotten the forum to let some of those things spill from my grey matter to black words on white backgrounds.

And, since one year ago today, when I used a Clipse song to introduce myself, I’ve been quite happy to have it. I’ve ruminated on all and sundry, from another Clipse-track-as-title piece on Alex Rodriguez to an early acclamation of Chris Paul, from an examination of how the Heisman Trophy has been awarded recently, one of my best early posts, to some perspective on a USA Today piece from last fall, the first piece to earn a link from a bigger blog.

The first time I made Deadspin’s Blogdome, there was definitely celebratory jumping. Since then, I’ve been back a few times, sometimes as the top link; finally, this week, one of my posts became the link for a full post. I’ve been linked to by the excellent Every Day Should Be Saturday for helping coin “quarkback” and a little ditty about Jamar Hornsby, TrueHoop linked to my piece about fines and flops in the NBA, and I got one huge link from ESPN, which I’ll get to later.

Because of my interest in the sport, The Arena also has strong national college football content, and some of my best work has been on The Hangover Cure, a weekly series of postgame recaps. As a University of Florida student, I’m always attuned to the Gators, and that’s given me the opportunity to wonder what kind of pro Tim Tebow would be, speculate about their speed, and smile through the storm. (I’ve even live-blogged Florida’s spring game.)

Live blogs have become my milieu more than anything else; I love pouring thousands of words of as-it-happens analysis into a subject, and I’ve been told I do it quite well. There are 19 entries under live blog on my site, and they range from just about every Florida Gators football game this year to contemporaneous accounts of a never ending game via GameCast, the politics-and-football preview section in the Orlando Sentinel, the 2008 WNBA Draft, the NIT Selection Show, and Rick Reilly on PTI.

Of course, I’ve live-blogged sporting events, too, including a late-night effort on the United States’ gold medal men’s basketball game and an interesting live blog of the playoff round of the U.S. Open that was also a live blog of a live blog of a live blog and is the most-viewed post I’ve written.

I try to spice up those live blogs with humor, but some of my funniest stuff is in gentle parody and mocking, whether in open letters to Todd McShay and Brett Favre, in scripting alternate versions of NBA commercials,  in developing new words and in applying for head-coaching positions.

 

Some of my best work, on the other hand, is serious, thoughtful, nuanced, and personal. I tapped into my memories of Sundays past to explain why I would be rooting for Tiger on Open Sunday, and I used my experiences on soccer fields to discuss the case of Jericho Scott. I wrote a long, complex piece on changing my allegiance as a basketball fan, and I’ve marveled at the power of the moment before, like when Jason Lezak hit the wall. I even rejoiced in the start of the Aaron Rodgers era with a vaguely allusive post.

I try to view sports not just as basic, popular entertainment, but as a powerful force, and I try to capture that in what I write. But in the world of sports blogging, with a thousand different and valuable voices, it’s easy to get outshouted.

I don’t use any profanity on this site, I don’t post anything that I feel would be unsafe for work viewing, and I don’t link to anything that isn’t in line with what I want to do with the site. In the realm of sports blogging, where pictures of attractive women are almost expected and profane rants are often great hooks, I have no problem with others posting those things, but I have not and never will.

Because of that, and because the adage in blogging, and, really, most media, is that content is king, I don’t get hits like other blogs do because I refuse to compromise my content for hits.

The first post on this blog was a year ago today, and The Arena has accumulated just under 50,000 hits since then. About a quarter of those hits came from the ESPN link I mentioned (scroll down to 9:43 AM), and though I’ve had a number of posts go over a thousand views each since then, thanks to links from bigger sites, I’m convinced, talking to other bloggers and observers of the blogosphere, that it isn’t my content that’s the problem.

Instead, I want to build a community.

In my travels on the Internet, I comment on all manner of sports blogs. I’m part of the commentariat at Deadspin, The Big Lead, EDSBS, and I read many more. I know how much fun that is for me, and how much that adds to the site. (And I know that helping out can help strengthen that community, too.)

I know there’s no way I can instantly match the followings those blogs possess. But I know more than a few people who read The Arena on a regular basis, and I’ve gotten compliments from all sorts of people on things I’ve written; I’d love those people to leave comments. I want to turn occasional readers into frequent visitors, and one-time link-followers into occasional readers.

In that first post, my first words were, “This is mine and yours.” It still is, and will always be, mine, because writing is cathartic and therapeutic for me. These posts are mostly things I have bouncing around my head, and it’s both a joy and a relief to let some of those words spill onto the canvas of this blog; I think about sports far too much for those thoughts to be left to fester in my brain. (If I did allow them to stew, I think I might turn into Skip Bayless, and the world doesn’t need one Skip Bayless, much less two.)

I want your feedback, your criticisms, your brickbats, and your chortles. If you disagree with me, tell me why; if you agree, tell me why. If you enjoy a turn of phrase, I’d be happy to know what it is; if you see a mistake, point it out to me. Commenting is as easy as putting a name and email in those lines at the bottom of a post. It will never get you spammed, and it may just result in a better post or an argument more valuable than the post itself.

If you have ideas for me, I’d love to hear them; if you have content for me, I will always consider using it. I’ve been holding off on introducing content I didn’t write until this post, but I have something creative that was sent to me ready to post and welcome submissions of all types.

I know you have your circuit when you browse the Internet, and I know it would take a lot for my little blog to supplant the things that you actually need to do. I try to throw links to posts up in my Facebook status and have reworked some of them as Notes, but I would love for that traffic and those comments to come back over here.

If you bookmarked thearena.wordpress.com or thearenablog.net, and came back every so often, I would be grateful; if you read a post or two, I’d be eternally grateful, and if you commented, I might buy you a small animal. (I said might.)

I know a great many smart, opinionated, and talented people, and though I think I’m a good writer, I can always be bettered by the views of that cast of characters. And, yeah, having other people around is fun and makes this a little more worthwhile.

My thoughts go into this on a daily basis, and those thoughts will continue to be dedicated to this, regardless of whether The Arena gets a million or a dozen hits a day. I have all sorts of new ideas for features, including one joint venture with Melt Your Face Off that you can read more about here and some new recurring bits I’ll trot out this week.

You remember that Roosevelt quote from above? There’s another, related one that I like:

Criticism is necessary and useful; it is often indispensable; but it can never take the place of action, or be even a poor substitute for it. The function of the mere critic is of very subordinate usefulness.

There’s a lot that’s wrong with sports blogging: homophobia, misogyny, racism, stereotyping, and intolerance run rampant in a forum where anonymity provides a cloak to those who would hide behind it and spew vitriol and invective.

I started this blog in part to prove that the essential task in sports blogging need not be done as crudely as it is done elsewhere. For a year, I believe I’ve done that.

And I’m proud of that.

And I’m proud of this, a little thing that I started on a whim and have turned into my one of my favorite things to do. I genuinely enjoy this, and I’m happy to share it with you.

So, please, join me in wishing The Arena a happy anniversary.

And then come back.

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