Sportswriting is dead. Long live … ?

The Internet is changing sports journalism.

No kidding.

Television changed sports journalism. A good bit more than the Internet, actually.

In 1955, the newspaper was the way most people found out what happened with their favorite teams. TV sports were not yet ubiquitous. If you weren’t listening on the radio, the newspaper’s game story (and the box score, in much simpler form than you see today) was the only way to know what happened.

“Gamers” are still being written, and enterprising writer Arik Parnass did a semi-sociological piece on the reporters who are still doing them at a Washington Capitals game. (We’ll miss you, Braden Holtby.) Though deadlines can be a constraint, there’s a certain beauty to the art form of writing a game story as the game happens, tearing up your lead as the situation warrants, then racing to plug in quotes.

But anyone who needs a straight “gamer” can get it from the league’s sites, which have turned into some of the more reliable employers of sportswriters who don’t mind straddling the fence between covering and working for, even indirectly, the same league. The Washington Post still runs game stories, but they’re not as important as everything else a beat writer produces.

Today, if you’re good at play-by-play game stories, your two best options are:

  1. Something off the beaten track, maybe in Olympic sports. Even then, it’s tough to grab attention to something that isn’t already on TV.
  2. High school sports.

Aspiring sportswriters really should get out and cover high schools at some point. When you don’t have a squadron of PR personnel handing over stats and notes, you’re forced to pay attention on a deeper level. You also get the added sense of responsibility of writing within a community. Not people who might drag you on Twitter. People who might bump into you at the gym.

Good luck asking the aspiring sportswriters of today to go out and cover high schools. But it’s not all their fault. Local newspapers are operating with skeleton crews. The pipeline from local papers to mid-sized papers to big news organizations is all but dead, with national organizations scouring … the ranks of the kids who can afford to work in free internships over the summers.

So remind me to start an Olympic sports site and hire people from local papers who can write game stories, even if they’re making a hard turn from high school football to Olympic biathlon. (World Cup season has started!)

But in reality, the ship has sailed, and to the dismay of Flat Earthers, it’s gone over the horizon.

This piece at Axios traces the changes pretty well — sportswriters have needed to adapt by giving less play-by-play and more analysis. That transition has happened gradually as each new disruption in media takes its toll. And it’s accelerating with COVID keeping us all at home.

Parnass’ piece opens with Michael Wilbon complaining about people in their parents’ basements who aren’t there in the locker room. That’s a bit rich — it’s not as if Wilbon and the other daytime pundits are out getting personal observations on every event on which they pontificate.

And access to the inner sanctum of a locker room is a hot issue. As far as I know, that’s unique to the United States. If you cover the Olympics, you chat with athletes as they stroll through the mixed zone — after they’ve already answered questions from all the broadcasters.

In MMA, the people who can’t / don’t get credentials tend to view themselves as purer than those of us who were “in.” Part of it is that the UFC’s Dana White has a longstanding tendency of booting reporters he doesn’t like. Part of it is a misunderstanding of what “access” is like, as if we’re all buddies or something.

It’s not either/or, anyway. Readers benefit from both perspectives. If you’re covering the UFC, you have a better view at home anyway — camera crews block the view from press row.

But it’s a moot point now. Thanks to COVID, we’re all in our basements. And the view isn’t bad.

Olive branches for many, but justice for all

At my new Gen X blog, X-temporaneous, I’ve issued a sincere invitation for Trump voters to explain their decision.

I want to know in particular why people of color voted for someone who has stoked racial tension and ramped up cruelty at the border, but I also want to know why a lot of people are so skeptical of Joe Biden that they overlooked Donald Trump’s many faults, especially the willful ignorance and lack of empathy that led us to botch our COVID-19 response, to cast their ballots for him.

But let’s be absolutely clear:

  • I have no interest in hearing from people who are OK with racism.
  • I have no interest in hearing from people who think Q-Anon and Tucker Carlson have some access to facts that the mainstream media do not.
  • I have no interest in hearing from people who make excuses for separating families — possibly forever — at the border while snorting about how they should simply apply for “legal immigration” in a system that’s broken.
  • I have no interest in hearing from people who thinking wearing a mask is an act of cowardice rather than an act of responsibility for our fellow human beings.
  • I have no interest in hearing from people who deny science in other forms as well, especially but not limited to climate change.
  • I have no interest in hearing from people who think it’s OK for parents to have to explain to their kids why sexual assault, lying and bullying are bad for them but somehow acceptable for a president.
  • I have no interest in hearing from Cuban-Americans in Florida who think a slight increase in taxes on the ultrarich, still nowhere near where that tax rate was under Democrats and old-school Republicans, is more of a slippery slope toward Castro’s realm than the emerge of an outright authoritarianism. A safety net would turn us into Western Europe. Not modern-day Cuba.
  • I have no interest in hearing from people who think God wants a president who pays lip service to stopping abortion and behaves as far from Christian teaching as anyone possibly can.

I want to see some people in prison. I want to see some people live the rest of their lives in disgrace unless they make dramatic acts of repentance and atonement.

I think a lot of people have been hoodwinked by false information in today’s dizzying media whirlwind. I think some people heard “Defund the Police” and took it literally. I think some people have legitimate complaints that their concerns haven’t been heard by a lot of liberals and progressives who have stereotypes of Middle America, not realizing that their hard work fuels our farms and factories.

But the converse is true. I think a lot of people have stereotypes of Coastal America, not realizing that their diverse work subsidizes much of the rest of the country and that their political beliefs are grounded in a sense of empathy and responsibility for the rest of humanity. When the world celebrates like all the planets in the galaxy in Return of the Jedi, it’s worth trying to figure out why.

And I think some people are consumed by their prejudices, using them as a crutch to avoid worrying about other people and acting for the general welfare.

So if you’re concerned about your future or have some concern that hasn’t occurred to me, I want to hear from you.

If you have no desire to join us in building a more rational and compassionate country, then piss off.

If you’re not yet convinced to vote for Biden …

It’s difficult to describe what’s good about Joe Biden without describing what’s awful about Donald Trump.

Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Biden will respect expertise and surround himself with competent people. That means respecting science on the new challenge of COVID-19 and the old challenge of climate change.

Biden will listen to other points of view, starting with his vice president. He has already worked with Bernie Sanders on a “unity” platform. The more Democrats that are elected to Congress, the more of a chance these things have of becoming reality.

Biden is also less prone to spouting utter bullshit than Donald Trump, who has created a whole industry of people working feverishly to document his lies (20,000 through July, The Washington Post reports), some of them so outrageous that you wonder how anyone could possibly take him seriously.

These things should be obvious, of course. But frankly, they weren’t necessarily true of other Democratic candidates.

And they’re certainly not true of the most malignant man to live in the White House, at least since before the Civil War.

If you’re unconvinced of this, consider the following arguments and the links I’ve compiled to support each one …

Cruelty: In the Trump cult, empathy is a bad thing.

Immigration: Always a net positive for the USA but a scapegoat and a racist dog whistle for Trump.

Environment: Even aside from climate change, what Trump has done has been horrific.

Guns: Not something really addressed in the past four years, for better in some respects but mostly for worse.

Foreign policy: There’s hardly an ally Trump hasn’t alienated. Well, maybe Saudi Arabia.

Economics: Trump has taken credit for growth he did nothing to engender, and his tax cuts just racked up national debt while adding to the nation’s inequality.

Corruption: If Congress had any sense of duty or morality, we’d be voting out President Pence right now. Maybe even President Pelosi.

Authoritarianism: The scariest aspect of Trump and his cult is that they will change the very fabric of the U.S. government for their cruel intentions.

We have many issues to address and many viewpoints to consider. With any luck, the next four years will be a productive discussion between progressives and centrists, with the incompetent and heartless people who’ve been in power for four years pushed off to the sideline. I look forward to finding common ground and solutions.

But Job #1 needs to be done by Nov. 3.

If you don’t do it, frankly, you’ve failed your fellow human being and will have to live with it the rest of your life.

This is our Normandy. This is our Gettysburg. And we don’t have to charge toward machine-gun nests on a beach or across a bloody battlefield to rise to the challenge.

You just have to vote.

If you’re not inclined to wait in a socially distanced line on Nov. 3, look up your state’s voting policies.

Then make sure your vote has been counted. Most election boards have websites on which you can check the status of your ballot.

Then we can breath a sign of relief Nov. 4 or 5 or whenever the count is finished.

Then we can get to work to make sure this country never again turns upon its own people.

This is where reasonable people give up on you

If you weren’t convinced by the horrid treatment of refugees seeking asylum (or erroneously claimed that Obama’s treatment, while not great, was equivalent) …

If you weren’t convinced when Donald Trump called our dead troops “losers” and mocked John McCain for getting captured in Vietnam …

If you weren’t convinced when Trump let Puerto Rico drown …

If you weren’t convinced when the Republicans said, in the words of lone dissenter Mitt Romney, that it was OK to withhold vital military funds from an ally to get them to investigate a political rival …

Mitch McConnell photo by Gage Skidmore from Peoria, AZ, United States of America / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)

If you weren’t convinced when the Republicans said there was no need to punish a president who was not exonerated in a report on his ties to Russia for which many in his inner circle have been convicted …

If you weren’t convinced when Trump said there were good people on both sides in Charlottesville …

If you weren’t convinced when the procession of climate change became abundantly real this year, even moreso than in past years …

If you weren’t convinced when Republicans aided and abetted the ignorance and negligence that have made us the worst Western country in dealing with COVID-19 even though we had more time to prepare than many of our European peers …

If you weren’t convinced when the “left” wing denounced violence in protests but the right wing embraced a kid with a big weapon who went to Kenosha looking for a fight and got one, leaving two people dead …

Then I’m guessing you’re not convinced when a Senate candidate from my home state and the Senate Majority Leader dance on the graves of a great American who hasn’t even been buried yet.

And you should ask yourself why.

We can talk about differences.

We can talk about what a safety net should look like.

We can talk about whether “liberals” and “progressives” pay enough attention to the concerns of farmers and the working class, and “liberals” and “progressives” should absolutely listen.

We can even talk about abortion. It took me a long period of thinking about theology and biology to reach my current position. It took me considerably less time to realize the people who have never won the popular vote in this country are going to go against the will of the general population, as shown in every poll for the last couple of decades, to make it difficult to obtain an abortion — unless, of course, you have to means to fly your mistress somewhere to “take care of it.”

We cannot compromise on basic human decency.

We cannot compromise on the notion that expertise and experience matter more than whims and vanity.

We cannot elect anyone who thinks what’s going on in this country is OK.

We cannot elect people who pay lip service to the sacrifices our forefathers made on Omaha Beach, only to turn around and build a country that’s less democratic than Germany is today and refuse to make the “sacrifice” of wearing a fucking mask for the safety of other people.

And we will never be silenced.

Dear progressives: Words matter, and listening matters

Do you want to feel better about yourself, or do you want to change the world?

They’re not mutually exclusive, but focusing on the first at the expense of the second is one of the reasons we’re in the mess we’re in today.

Americans love “progressive” policy — background checks on gun sales, a path to citizenship for immigrants, keeping the U.S. in the Paris climate agreement, etc. They hate being belittled. They hate being condescended to.

And like the people who take Trump’s suggestions to hurt journalists or guzzle hydroxychloroquine literally, a lot of people are going to take slogans such as “defund the police” literally.

Rule of thumb: If you have to write several thinkpieces explaining your slogan, your slogan sucks.

  • Law professor Christy Lopez in The Washington Post: “Be not afraid. ‘Defunding the police’ is not as scary (or even as radical) as it sounds, and engaging on this topic is necessary if we are going to achieve the kind of public safety we need.”
  • Ray Levy-Uyeda at Mic: “Defunding the police is a more holistic demand to reduce police department budgets to $0 for the staunchest activists, and for others a call to simply reallocate some of the money dedicated to funding law enforcement to other community resources instead.”
  • Dionne Searcey at The New York Times: “Leaders in different cities have advocated various specific plans, but generally speaking, the calls aim to reimagine public safety tactics in ways that are different from traditional police forces.”

Granted, any word or slogan can be twisted. When you think “anti-fascist,” do you think of folk singer Woody Guthrie, who wrote “This Machine Kills Fascists” on his guitar? Or do you think of overblown fears of white “antifa” dudes looting in bandannas to prove their street cred?

And yes, it’s understandable that we’d like to see the Overton window — the gamut of things that can be discussed without being immediately dismissed — pulled back after a few years of seeing it yanked violently toward racism and ignorance.

The media are absolutely complicit in the Overton window’s rightward tilt by allowing “both sides” to be defined as one extreme vs. another, or one extreme vs. the supposed status quo. Instead of having climate change “debates” between one people who accepts the facts and one who doesn’t, the debate should be between “hey, here’s how we can adapt” and “we’re toast and should pack for Mars.” Debates over stopping police racism should be between those seeking mild reforms and those seeking comprehensive overhauls, not between someone still drunk off looted liquor and someone who wants the police to roll a tank through Lafayette Square.

If we pay more attention to potential policies rather than professional trouble-makers (looters, yes, but also the Fox News prime-time lineup), we could change the conversation.

We could debate all the ideas mentioned in the pieces above, some of which are already in action. Divert some 911 calls to mental-health professionals rather than police. Cut away the militarization that has made local police much more dangerous.

Another idea implied but not directly stated in the harrowing piece “Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop“: Hold police accountable, in part by stopping retaliation against whistle-blowers:

Every quarter, we were to write anonymous evaluations of our squadmates. I wrote scathing accounts of their behavior, thinking I was helping keep bad apples out of law enforcement and believing I would be protected. Instead, the academy staff read my complaints to them out loud and outed me to them and never punished them, causing me to get harassed for the rest of my academy class. That’s how I learned that even police leadership hates rats. That’s why no one is “changing things from the inside.” They can’t, the structure won’t allow it.

Seems like something we should address.

It’s condescending to think people can’t see nuance. You don’t need a slogan to tell people — as Lopez, the anonymous ex-cop above and John Oliver have — that police are asked to fill too many roles, especially that of an ad hoc counselor or therapist.

It’s offensive to assume someone who doesn’t immediately jump on your bandwagon is less empathetic than you are. I’ve been dealing with this on Facebook not only in the discussions over the protests and COVID-19 but also in a group I moderate that has taken discussions on development density into an assumption that anyone who’s concerned about traffic and overcrowding is really just in it for the racism.

A common thread in both of those: People are refusing to listen. They’re good at telling other people to listen but not so good at doing it themselves.

A discussion about police reform should include people — and you’ll find a lot of people of color — who fear for their own safety. A discussion about agriculture should include farmers. A discussion about closing coal mines should include people whose livelihoods will be displaced. (An honest discussion — not Trump’s insinuation that people in West Virginia can’t do anything but work in a coal mine, so we’d better keep them all open.)

My experience is that once you talk and listen, you make progress. I say that as someone who grew up the grandson of a segregationist. I had stereotypes of gay people, Muslims and “Yankees” that faded only as I grew up and met gay people, Muslims and “Yankees.” I only started to support gay marriage maybe 15 years ago, and I assure you no one changed my mind on the subject by telling me what a bigot I was.

The best slogan may or may not have originated with Native Americans. You may call it “cultural appropriation” if you’re feeling cynical or “learning from indigenous peoples” if you’re feeling generous. It hits directly at the notion of “privilege,” either reinforcing it (by making people consider their own privilege as well as their political opponents) or undermining it (by restating the concept in way less likely to put people on the defensive):

Before you judge a man, walk a mile in his shoes

Change “man” to “person” and “his” to “their,” and you won’t find a better guideline for any political thought.

Racists posing as “antifa” make Twitter and Facebook take action

You wouldn’t expect bigots and fascists to be above misinformation campaigns, would you?

Fortunately, Twitter and Facebook have spotted these campaigns. Give them some credit.

Twitter has phony “antifa” accounts urging protesters to fulfill white supremacists’ fantasies of violence.

On Facebook, these dirtbags are playing Palpatine and trying to stir things up from both sides, posing as “antifa” on one hand and asking counter-protesters to show up with guns.

If only we didn’t have so many suckers who believe this crap.