(Today's sports-related post is just below.)
About an hour after I posted a diatribe about sports writing on Sunday, I started to get a sinking feeling in my stomach. Nobody had responded yet, but I began to realize that I'd created something that could be taken the wrong way in a lot of quarters.
As the reactions filtered in over the next two days, in the comments section of this blog and around the internet, the sinking feeling got worse. If I could put that feeling into words, it would be these:
Oh God, I've just sacrificed my future for two hours of feverish writing.
Because that's what it was. I wrote the post on Saturday night when I got back from Greensboro. I gave it a quick look-over on Sunday and then posted with only token hesitation. What I'm about to say will definitely sound artificial, and if I was an outsider reading the words, I wouldn't believe them. But I'll say it anyway: I did not expect what I wrote to be so widely-read.
I should have known better. One of the unchanging truths of the internet is that if something has legs, it's gonna go. I've written pieces on this blog before that have had their mini-viral niche moment, so it's not like I can claim a prior obscurity that blew up without notice. Another sad truth of the internet is that what I'm writing now, this apology, will be disseminated about 1/40th as widely as the original post.
Before I get to the remorse part, I want to say that I stand by a lot of what I said. It wouldn't have resonated with so many people if it didn't contain some truth, and I'm not retracting those larger complaints.
That being said, the response has been, by my small standards, pretty enormous. There have been a lot of compliments, which are always nice. There's also been a lot of criticism. When the criticism comes in the form of insulting e-mails or irrational tirades on message boards, it's very easy to ignore. My skin wasn't always thick, but it is now, and the volleys of rage evaporate on impact.
What's harder to ignore is when a writer I really admire e-mails me with his reservations and wonders if I group him in with the "sports writers" I targeted in the post, when that couldn't be further from the truth. And what's impossible to ignore is when a writer as brilliant as Esquire's Chris Jones writes a critical piece that's so fair, so reasonable, and so typically well-done, that it makes you take a deep breath, wait for your head to stop swimming, and go, "man, I fucked up."
I mean, this is Chris Jones. After reading and loving his great profile on Roger Ebert, I googled him to find his age. Because, in the realm of my occasionally irrational brain, if he was older, hope remained, and if he was younger, I'd already wasted my life and I'd never be great. After I indulged my obsessive worrying, I read everything else I could find with a Chris Jones byline. That's how good he is.
Today, Jones was much nicer than he probably needed to be. I want to say that I appreciate that. There's a lot to take away from his critique (such as that he would have 'launched me from a great height' If I'd given him the finger, to which I say let's settle our differences with an arm wrestling match in a frenzied arena full of beat reporters and bloggers), but the crux of the matter for me is something I understood intuitively in that stomach-sinking moment before anybody had read my words:
Forget right or wrong. I spoke too broadly, and too extremely.
Like, way too broadly, and way too extremely.
And that gets at the heart of my misconception about the forum; this is a blog. This is a heavily biased, opinionated blog where I express sentiments without much of a filter. That's part of the appeal, and I think there's a lot to be said for that approach in a field that's become, by and large, hugely cautious. But when speaking about an entire group, there's a thin line between honesty and irresponsibility. I crossed that line, and people like Jones have shown me that I need to face the music.
Jones takes issue with my statement that "the modern mainstream sports media has become an impotent joke." Reading that sentence again, I can't believe it came from me. To be fair, I gave examples of mainstream sports writers I love within the original post, but that only makes the contradiction more glaring.
Contrary to what a lot of people think, I'm not some dude who's spent a lifetime sleeping til noon and who only scans the bare minimum from the sports page before hurling out harsh judgments. I've actually read quite a bit of sports writing, and Jones' piece reminded me of how much of the stuff I love came from current or former sports reporters. So much that I can't begin to list it all. It's not universal- I still believe that some (maybe even the majority) of the best sports writing comes from men and women outside the field- but a healthy percentage nonetheless.
And what I didn't consider, but should have, is that my post didn't only insult the theoretical wastes of space with donut powder on their grease-stained shirts churning out stories designed to infect readers with a lingering ennui. I also insulted someone like Joe Posnanski, whose work I read and love on a daily basis. Jones lists some others in his post, and I don't disagree with a single name.
In a way, I guess I wanted a distinction made between those who write with passion and those who don't. I failed by not making it myself. It's probably fair to say that while I could have written an erudite and mild critique of the industry that was both more fair and more balanced, and received various gentle pats on the head from inside the journalism world while the writing stagnated in a bubble, I gave in to the temptation of broadcasting a call-to-arms that might spread like wildfire. Which, I realize, contradicts the very true thing I said before about not expecting this kind of reaction. But the sub-conscious is a tricky thing, my friends.
There's the obvious problem with grouping people together; you rely on stereotypes that are inherently unfair. I came back from Greensboro on Saturday with a bad taste in my mouth, and I pounded away at the keyboard in a hyperactive state that probably wasn't the most conducive to sober objectivity. In fact, it was probably a reaction against the sober objectivity standard that seemed so loathsome to me a few hours before. Screw it, I thought, I'm going to be so subjective that it'll burn a hole in the internet.
That philosophy leads to prose like this: "But the sneaky, waddling, frantic lackeys I witnessed this weekend are not the heart, the soul, or the brain. They're the fleshy tire around the midsection, weighing the body down. They're dead weight, and they need to be shed."
That doesn't sound like me, unless I'm trying to parody someone. It sounds like terrorist rhetoric, like something you'd read in a pamphlet published by the Baader-Meinhof gang- a group which I try to avoid emulating in front of my readers, even though I really admire a lot of their work. (HA HA! A JOKE, EVERYBODY!)
The breadth and extremity of my writing are the main things I need to apologize for. I'd also like to briefly mention that I'm really in no place to assail an entire industry. That's not something I'm going to say 'sorry' about, because I reserve the right to express even the most presumptuous opinion, but I would like to recognize the fact. I've never worked a beat, I based my post on a lifetime of reading but only three days of actual observation, and nobody should really care what I think on this particular topic.
The title of Jones' piece was "Take a Knee, Shane." Like a quarterback hoping to run out the clock on a particularly brutal game, I'll heed that advice. Still, I know there will be a few final surges from the defensive line. I just hope I don't get knocked on my ass again.
There's a third internet rule I haven't mentioned yet- everything dies. I take comfort in knowing that this will be off the radar soon enough. Still, I'm left with the paranoid idea that this apology is like closing the barn door after the horse fled. Jones writes: "You need to learn that your words will follow you for the rest of your life, nearly as closely as your actions." Believe me, I've learned.
It's tempting to delete the original post. I think that would be cowardly, though, so I'm not going to do it. But I can already tell that despite my intentions and regrets, those words will follow me more than anything I've written to date. That's a hard truth I'll just have to swallow.
In the end, though, nothing should be so serious. Here's a graphic made by one of my favorite commenters, GB, showing Kyle Singler machine-gunning a black falcon out of the sky.