Thursday, May 1

I come not to bury Buzz Bissinger, but to pity him.

I know that some people -- quite possibly Deadspin's Will Leitch himself, if recent comments are any indication -- are sick of the whole Buzz Bissinger vs. Will Leitch dust-up and the resulting flap it created in the blogosphere. For my part, I know Bissinger has almost certainly been called every nasty name in the book for his comments basically writing off sports blogs and the people who contribute to/comment on them as classless, mean-spirited knuckle-draggers, so I'm not going to join in with that, except so far as to say this: I thought it was amazing how, in that clip, Bissinger's purpose was ostensibly to call out bloggers for being profane, mean-spirited, and obnoxious -- yet as Kyle King points out, by a wide margin, Bissinger was the most profane, mean-spirited, and obnoxious person up on that stage. (Second place, unfortunately, going to Bob Costas.) In his attempt to rain hellfire and brimstone down on the vulgar barbarians of the sports blogosphere, Bissinger instead got right down there with them.

But there's something instructive in that, because it demonstrated -- inadvertently, I would assume, but I could be wrong -- the crux of this whole argument, and the thing that we all know scares Bissinger the most: There really isn't a whole lot of difference between what he does and what the sports blogosphere does. He's got his opinion; we've got ours. Now, Bissinger gets published in the New York Times and writes books that are turned into movies, while I try to steal just enough time from my day job to earn a few cents from Google each day writing fanciful yarns about Nick Saban's farts -- but turn out the lights and we're just two plain-looking, rather profane guys with opinions on sports.

The difference, of course, is that Bissinger went to an elite prep school, was an editor of the student paper at Penn, and won a Pultizer, and I've done none of those things. But if Buzz says that, say, Tony Romo is a good quarterback and I say Romo sucks, none of those academic or professional highlights make Buzz any righter than I am. And the thing is, there was a time when that might not have been the case, because people like me didn't have an outlet to hold forth with our opinions, so all we could do was read people like Bissinger and his colleagues and decide which of them we sided with the most. But now we don't have to do that. Buzz is understandably angry that his position at the top of the heap is in danger of being usurped, but in expressing that anger, he demonstrated that -- ta-da! -- he's no different from any of the rest of us. His elite Northeastern education may have given him more knowledge, credentials, and access than any of us will ever get on our own, but apparently it didn't give him enough manners to keep "I think you're full of shit" from being the very first words out of his mouth directed toward Will Leitch.

So it's ironic that Bissinger should claim to be so offended at the tone of the blogosphere. Yeah, plenty of what's written or commented on sports blogs is crude and profane, occasionally even crude and profane only for crudeness and profanity's sake, but a lot of what's uttered every day in conversations across America could be described exactly the same way. Not to get all high-minded on you, with an American-flag curtain and "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" playing in the background, but one of the most basic bargains we make as citizens of the freest country in the world is that in exchange for our rights to say what we want to say, we often have to hear stuff we don't want to hear. And that bitter-with-the-sweet aspect is exactly the same in the blogosphere. I don't want to blow too much sunshine up the blogosphere's ass -- actually, I feel like a gigantic tool for even using the word "blogosphere" -- but I think anything that's managed to stay that reflective of our democracy, warts and all, must have some positive aspects to it.

For all his implied claims to being wiser and more mature than the rest of us rabble, Bissinger apparently couldn't muster the wisdom or maturity to do what the rest of us do when confronted by a comment, or an opinion, or a tone we don't like in the blogosphere: Simply roll our eyes, maybe mutter "douchebag" under our breath, and move on to something we do like. And the reason he couldn't do that is an abiding terror that that something we don't like might be him. Why he chose to respond to that situation by presenting himself as unlikably as possible on Costas's program is anyone's guess -- maybe that was his way of steering into the skid -- but if his aim was to convince us that he's classier or more knowledgeable than any of the rest of us, he not only failed, he pretty much convinced us of the exact opposite.

Here's what Bissinger convinced me of: that he's someone who loves sports. That he loves writing about sports. That he has strongly held opinions. So strongly held, in fact, that he sometimes gets really pissed off and curses about them. In other words . . . a fan. A fan like me, even. That's all; no more, no less.

My devotion to this blog -- which has never earned me more than a few hundred bucks a year and the occasional link from SI.com's Campus Clicks -- should indicate pretty clearly that being Just A Fan is OK with me. I like not having to put in a set number of hours at a newspaper; I'd rather watch a Georgia football game from the stands than the press box. If all I ever am is a fan, I'll still be satisfied. Bissinger, apparently, isn't satisfied with Just-A-Fandom, and that's his right too. But his quest to be more than that, as successful as it may be, is not some epic journey that has a transformative effect on the way the rest of us enjoy sports in America. Buzz, if you could just understand and make your peace with that, all of us might be inclined to give you the respect you clearly feel you deserve.

Hell, maybe even Big Daddy Drew.

3 comments:

zen bubba said...

I pretty well stopped reading sports columns a few years ago when it became apparent during a particularly sordid football season that none of the writers running the bus over the players and coaches had themselves ever played the game at anything above the Pop Warner level. I have nothing against anyone stating their opinion, but for these jerks to actually think their opinion is more valid because they get paid for it?
Fuck 'em.

Will said...

I also refuse to trust him based on his first name.
That should be a rule: sportswriters who share names with idiotic mascots should never be trusted.

Sarah said...

I think Buzz and others also resent blogs because there is a sense that Leitch and other high profile bloggers (like Bill Simmons) didn't "pay their dues" in the newspaper business. Know what? Leitch and Simmons aren't newspaper people (although they both have some newspaper experience). They don't need to be and yet they get respect and fame that used to be saved exclusively for the Buzz's of the world. And that burns Buzz up.