The Agony of Defeat
Stick to sports, they say.
That’s what they told Deadspin. Deadspin, a website founded on the premise of not sticking to sports at all. They, in this case, being the guys who own Deadspin, the guys who own it after the previous guys owned it, the guys who bought it from Nick Denton, who sold it because some billionaire set out to destroy Gawker.
Stick to sports. Stick to the game.
Deadspin’s rise and fall was the game.
We’ve been watching that particular game from the sidelines, as a spectator. We don’t follow sports. We don’t have a need for Deadspin’s clever commentary on sports. We know that Deadspin was always about more than sports, much broader than what you would find in the sports sections of what newspapers remain, probably much broader than what you might find on ESPN, although we don’t watch that, either.
We were aware of The Concourse. We always thought that was a clever way to get not-sports into a sports blog — make it about the shit you talk about at halftime while you’re waiting in line for what passes as beer in America.
The Concourse was Deadspin acknowledging — embracing — that you can’t stick to sports, not in America, and probably not anywhere else. Deadspin would have been all over the integration of baseball. Deadspin would have devoted ongoing coverage to the fallout from Tommie Smith and John Carlos raising their fists at the 1968 Olympics. Deadspin would have dived deep into the terrorist massacre at the 1972 Olympics.
That one we remember watching, by the way. We remember that one unfolding, we remember only the ABC sportscasters being there to cover it. We remember Jim McKay looking at the camera, shaking his head, and saying “They’re all gone.”
Stick to sports.
We’re from Eugene, Oregon, born and raised. Two degrees from the University of Oregon. The football team sucked while we were growing up. Sucked hard. Bottom 10 hard. That was a weekly syndicated column, “Bottom 10”. Hilarious. Then the Ducks started showing up there regularly, and the newspaper canceled it.
Stick to sports.
Fast-forward a decade or so, and Phil Knight starts pouring his Nike money into the program. Suddenly the Ducks are good, suddenly they’re winning, suddenly they’re going to bowl games. College athletics at its finest? Nah, just cold, hard cash, like every other successful program. Money the players themselves don’t get, only now they might, at least some of it, but that would ruin the game, wouldn’t it?
Stick to sports. Pay no attention to the money behind the curtain. Pay no attention to what that money does to a program, what it does to the people running the program, what it does to the community surrounding it. Wait for a scandal, then confine yourself to the specific people caught up in it. Ignore the money that bred those conditions in the first place.
While you’re there, ignore every city whose taxpayers have been soaked by professional teams whose wealthy owners would rather have someone else pay for new stadiums. Ignore the fact that professional sports is a big business run by raving socialists. Don’t desecrate that taxpayer-funded field with your political gestures. But don’t forget to enjoy the color guards and military flyovers!
Deadspin, a site we rarely read because we have no interest in sports, approached sports with that attitude, sports in society, sports as part of a larger whole, an integrated whole, at least in our culture. You cannot look at sports without seeing the rest. You cannot help seeing how sports affect the rest, and how the rest affects sports. And you cannot help writing about what you see, how you see it. That’s what writers are supposed to do. Writers don’t stick to sports because sports don’t stick to sports. Hey, you hear how the President of the United States got roundly booed at a prominent sports event? Again?
Sports have never stuck to sports. We knew that growing up with a sucky football team. (The basketball team had a few awesome years.) We knew that because we heard it every Saturday afternoon, every opening to Wide World of Sports: The human drama of athletic competition.
The human drama. The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat.
Sports are about being human. So is society. So is politics. We can’t stick to sports. We don’t. We never have.
Only the people who don’t want us seeing the rest want us sticking to sports. They benefit from our ignorance. They thrive on it. Pay no attention to the money behind the curtain. Pay no attention to what happens off the field. Pay no attention to the rest. It’s better that way.
For them, anyway.