Tuesday, March 15, 2011

An Apology

(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.


27 comments:

  1. Hang in there, cyber bff. I think you are an incredible writer; I respected your original post and this one only makes me respect you more. Plus, most of these critical sports reporters are probably just jealous of your graphic design skills anyway. :)

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  2. Shane -

    I was all set to hate you, but anyone your age who can pull a "Baader-Meinhof gang" reference out of the air is worthy of my undying applause.
    Yeah, you overstated stuff, and Jonesy gave you what I think is a respectful response, and you came back quite graciously. All's squared.
    Stay in the biz, dude. As an editor down South once told my wife, "You write right well."

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  3. Jill, thanks.

    And to the last comment, I would kill to believe that's actually Charles Pierce. If so, I'm a great big admirer. If not, well played.

    -Shane

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  4. Lots of kumbaya here. If that is the real Charles Pierce (gotta say, he had me at "Jonesy" so if not, he's good) than 3 good writers (see what I did there, Shane?) are celebrating writing while we get to watch. And it unfolds in a mere few hours, which is kind of why newspapers are done (but writing is not). Thanks guys.

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  5. I was going to compliment you on this, but Charles Pierce already did, so what the hell do I matter? Nice mea culpa, though.

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  6. Well done, Shane. Not many people have the stones to admit they're wrong (like say, the NASCAR writer canned for cheering Trevor Bayne).

    And I think Jones' "take a knee" was more like the old coach telling the team to take a knee after practice for a pep talk.

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  7. Dude, lighten up man! I mean really, I love reading your blog because its reality-lite, and funny, and everything a UNC and Duke "scholar-blogger" should aspire to be! So you got a little ticked at the stuffed shirt sitting beside you and you bled raw emotion. KUDOS to you for being able to FEEL raw emotion!! When you reach my age (40 something), your skin has become as tough as leather and resembles the tits on the old lady in the movie "There's Something About Mary". Let it go and let the pseudo-offending blog stay. In the grand scheme of things, if I were (and I'm not) a beat writer or freelance writer, it wouldn't even get a blink out of me. At the end of the day buddy, the island of Japan is actually now geographically 13 (thirteen) feet CLOSER to the United States now. Just sit with that for a moment. I promise you it's going to be ok. Your words will not preclude you from a incredibly bright future. Keep on keeping on. ONE FOR THE THUMB!!

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  8. I'm one of the few Duke guys in sports journalism (let's see ... me, Seth Davis, Barry Svrluga ... um ...), and I remember being on the other side of your confrontation. Sort of.

    I was on press row, watching top-seeded Duke lose to N.C. State. The Web startup dudes next to me were cheering wildly. I kept my mouth shut. At one point, I let loose some kind of grunt. The guy looked at me quizzically. I said, "I sometimes forget how hard it is not to cheer on press row."

    Not sure if the message sunk in, but the venture capital behind that startup dried up quickly in any case.

    From the way you presented it, I think Bob overreacted. If you're not allowed to say "Wow" at a great play, we're all in trouble. From the way Thad presented it, I think you have a lot to learn.

    In either case -- a middle finger, seriously? Forget journalists -- you don't do that as a grown-up. I did it once in traffic and felt horrible about myself for a week.

    As for the rest of the story: Sure, press conferences can be a little dull. From my day, with Shaq coming to Cameron, Coach K: "Shaq's a good player." John Feinstein (IIRC): "Thanks, coach, I'll write that down." But yes, you need those quotes. People want to read what the coach had to say.

    And sometimes, obvious questions don't draw obvious answers. Ask U.S. soccer coach Bob Bradley about a scoring explosion from Jozy Altidore, and he'll go on about all the things Jozy still needs to work on.

    In short, there's a reason why the ESPN networks now often broadcast press conferences from big games -- NFL, March Madness, etc.

    If you're not interested in that, you may be better off writing from the voice of the fan. Nothing wrong with that. In some cases, you can even make a small amount of money doing that as a hobby.

    As for the dwindling band of journalists chasing a dwindling number of jobs -- yes, they can be cranky at times. Unpleasant company, even. But a lot of them know what they're doing.

    And fairly or unfairly, they have to conduct themselves in a way that won't give critics much of a chance to question their fairness. (That varies by job -- some columnists are paid to be flame-throwers, most beat writers are paid to be calm and analytical.) On press row, they have a job to do; in press conferences, they're in the public eye.

    And finally, as a Duke grad, you'll be subject to certain expectations on how to conduct yourself. It's not fair, but people hate us. Don't give them a reason.

    Your apology gets you about halfway there. I'm sure some more thought will help you decide where to go next.

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  9. I think you should stick by your guns. You expressed an opinion on a blog (a widely read one) and it was an opinion some didn't like. But so what? I frankly found that Chris Jones piece -- which kept calling you a kid -- to be verging on condescending "ageist" BS. I mean, you do have a point about sweeping generalizations, but you and Chris Jones are both taking this too much to heart. Keep up the good (i.e. - honest) fight.

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  10. People are getting one thing right Shane. You're a very good and entertaining writer. That's why I and others check in here every day.

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  11. Am I the only one that came to this post hoping it was "An Apology" from Bob Heymann for ruining your weekend and being kind of a snob? I can't be the only one.

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  12. Wow, Moody Blues apologize? I understand where you are coming from, but I didn't think an apology was necessary. Sure, you overgeneralized, but your underlying point is valid, and thats why you are getting such a reaction.

    Speaking of being called a kid...
    An older lawyer called me "kid" in a motion hearing a couple weeks ago. I verbally headbutted him in front of his client and prevailed on the motion. I was standing outside the courthouse when the attorney walked out, I told him I was waiting for my mom to pick me up.

    -Craig J.

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  13. Guys, thanks for the comments. Especially from Preston Kendrick "Beau" Dure, the Duke grad and assistant sports editor at USA Today, as well as the author of "Long-Range Goals: The Success Story of Major League Soccer." Thanks for the lesson about press conferences and the summary of the theory behind journalist objectivity. I hope I eventually get the rest of the way there, though I'm optimistic that if my apology gets me halfway, it can't be long until I'm basking in success. And I do apologize for the staggeringly offensive middle finger gesture; you'll be relieved to know I haven't slept in the days since.

    To the people that don't think I should be apologizing: there are a ton of people doing great work in the mainstream media, and my mistake in the piece wasn't to misrepresent what I saw, but to group the really talented folks in with them. That was a mistake that deserved an apology, one way or another. I'm not backing down, don't worry. It's only fair to make the distinction I made here, but it'll be a long time before I'm on my knees begging forgiveness.

    I am sticking by my guns, but that doesn't mean I have to insult the talented people of the world.

    -Shane

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  14. Hey Shane—

    Chris Jones here. I hope you took the compliments as well as the criticisms out of my post. If I thought you were a no-hoper, just another kid destined to do something else, I wouldn't have taken the time. But you have great potential—and that is Charlie Pierce up above, and there's a man who should know—and I want to see you succeed. It would be a waste otherwise.

    Just remember that it's easy to throw a grenade. It's easy. It's far, far harder to build. Building takes work and discipline and dedication and measurement. It also takes "It," whatever that is, that little bolt of lightning, and you have that. It's up to you what you choose to do with it. I hope you decide to write, and I hope you decide to build with your words. I'm invested now. I want to see what you make of yourself.

    Take care in the meantime,
    CJ

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  15. Boy, I go to Brazil and miss some fireworks! Shane, "Jonesy" (is that incorrect usage of quotes?) is correct as you know that you "can flat-out write" (correct usage?). In fact, I don't even really follow blogs besides yours and one my cousin occasionally writes...and I don't even like duke one whit and the yankees are even less interesting because I don't even care about the American league, but since Apr 6, 2009 you've been on my favorite places and a daily click while bored at work. it must be tough to try to maintain an edge as you've eased from internet anonymity into the public eye, and it is expected that lessons will be learned along the way...I believe you'll be doing fine in the years to come...so don't fret and keep it up, if for nothing else, do it for the Moody Blues, they are looking to you for leadership in these tough times! I do agree that the finger was a mistake (maybe a new york type of response in the genteel south?) and of course emotionally branding a whole profession as impotent is always regrettable in hindsight! Anyway, inappropriate jokes better keep flowing like the slurry of curse words out of coach K's mouth come game time! -John

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  16. Great, CJ beat me out by a minute, now you won't even read my comments! :) And I did that while I have a blank powerpoint waiting for me to fill it up with 2 hours of graduate lecture before morning! -John

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  17. Duke Student Coming ThroughMarch 15, 2011 at 9:23 PM

    I'm glad you are writing what you are feeling as I am sure it will help you process whatever hurt you have... With that out of the way, a cautionary warning written in caps and with emphasis! DO NOT FALL IN A SLUMP! You've been posting perfect 3s like Kelly. Do not fall off into 2/16 shooting from behind the arc! Get your game back together, do some dribbling and long shots within the arc, and then get your confidence back and drain some threes (AWESOME Posts) until we cut down another net!

    Get em Shane.

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  18. As a young sportswriter and a fan of you, Jonesy, The Truth et al...
    ah who cares, Chris Jones just commented on your post.

    A blogger with feelings, smarts and context is a scary good thing.
    -Jeremy Bernfeld

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  19. I don't know what the fuck is happening. Flicking off old people is a longtime hobby of every Moody Blue. Even old people hate old people. You're getting bombarded by all these analogies and shit. I'm coming to Carrboro and we're going to knock bluehairs out of wheelchairs and call it a social security entertainment tax.

    Now get off your ass and go headbutt the world.

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  20. Ah, the joys of having a unique name. So easy to Google. Especially when I've had stuff online since 1996.

    Chris Jones' comments above are very good.

    Best of luck down the road.

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  21. Oh, incidentally -- I quit USA TODAY almost a year ago, though I still freelance for them. Full-time sports work is a young person's profession. Not as rewarding once you have kids you'd like to see.

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  22. Last year I watched the national sport media fall in love with Butler. It wasn't really about Butler just the idea of them. I don’t believe for one minute that most of the sports writers that I read (SI, ESPN, CBS etc) were not genuinely disappointed on the sidelines because the story did not end the way they wanted it to. The story became more important than the game, the kids, the teams, more important than the win. Talk about unprofessional they loved that idea so much so that even when they lost we still had pieces months later waxing poetically on what ifs and moral victories. Whatever as a Duke fan I'll take the win, but is that journalism? I wasn't impressed with their blatant homerism or with their agenda. And every day I thank god that shot didn't go in because then it would have never ended. Anyway I think you were quite right with some of your criticisms and there should be some honesty on their side as well to the shortcomings of the profession. You were very gracious but more importantly honest. I love that about your writing and I think that you will have quite the career.

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  23. Like I'm sure many here, I was driven to these blog posts yesterday and today from the Twitter feed of Chris Jones. What a gift Mr. Jones and Mr. Pierce have given you in the comment section of your blog. Thank you for your thoughtful response to the blog post by Chris Jones. Also, a big
    thank you to Jones and Pierce for taking the time to encourage you along the way. Best wishes moving forward. I hope to read you in Esquire one day...
    -@jksmithgoducks

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  24. Everyone needs to take risks and your career is truly a path of choosing the right battles. I think you picked the right battle and connected with LOTS of people. The only issue is that you picked the battle with people in your respective field. People paid attention, picked out flaws, and made you more self-aware. This has been a win. You said what you wanted to say, you got the right attention, you showed integrity, and now you're on everyone's radar.

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  25. Chris, thanks again for that response. And Kyle, you da man as always. Believe it or not, I might up north Final Four weekend. Get-together may be in order.

    -Shane

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  26. I came here from Jonesy's link, curiosity got the best of me as the future of sports journalism is of great interest to me. Yeah, I think you have a future in it. DD

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