The Bill Simmons Rant – Mature, Thoughtful Version

10.02.06 11 years ago 68 Comments

It occurred to me that perhaps a profanity-laden screed against Bill Simmons, while thoroughly gratifying in many ways, might not be the greatest way to get what I feel is a legitimate argument across. So I thought I’d pen a mildly grown-up version of my point. This is not a retraction. The original post is still up in all its glory for anyone to see. This is just another version of it.

The reason that whole diatribe came about is because, right now, there are a lot of really cool things going on with these here interwebs. And it’s making sports fun all over again for a lot of people, including me. Back in the early 90’s, during the Olbermann/Patrick era, watching SportsCenter was, as you know, pretty awesome. Aaron Sorkin called it the best-written show on TV, and you’d be hard pressed to disagree. Extended highlights (with full box scores! Imagine that!) were delivered with subtle(!) humor and pop culture references. SportsCenter didn’t just highlight sports. It actually made sports better. It made me want to watch more sports than I already did, for better or worse.

But you know how this story ends. Disney picked up ESPN, and suddenly SportsCenter was turned into a 60-minute pile of cross-promoting, self-involved drivel. It wasn’t a show anymore. It was a brand platform. Plus, it had Stuart Scott. And this sort of corporate, synergistic groupthink blob soon took over everything ESPN-related, including the website, and even ABC.

Now ESPN treats sports strictly as its main promotional vehicle, with everything said or typed carefully controlled by corporate eyes. And other networks and publishing arms (FOX, Time Warner, Viacom) have all followed suit. Programming like pre-game and highlight shows are now unwatchable (Hooray, planned spontaneity!). A lot of the writing has become unreadable. Somehow, some way, they had managed to make sports worse. Even incidental.

Bill Simmons’ writing is (or was) an oasis in the middle of all this. In many ways, he carried on the tradition of those early 90’s SportsCenter shows, where the passion and enthusiasm for sports and pop culture were contagious. Simmons can sometimes make me care about the NBA, and I make it a strict rule not to care about the NBA. But even Simmons is controlled, which he has readily acknowledged (I recall jokes about editors ready to electrocute him?). And, because Simmons’ passions as a fan are somewhat limited in scope (the NBA, The Red Sox, the NBA, the NFL, the NBA), sports fans with interests outside of that can get frustrated. A lot of times I thought to myself, why isn’t there more writing like this? And why is Simmons the only place to turn?

He isn’t. Once I found Deadspin, everything changed. It was like walking around with new prescription glasses on. Suddenly, a door had opened, and everywhere I turned I found places like MJD, and Basketball Jones, and other sites that had sprung up seemingly overnight, awash in new ideas and the kind of crass, juvenile humor I will never tire of. It’s like walking into the world’s greatest sports bar, and everyone there has a seat open for you at their table. And they all know Simpsons quotes! And they can swear! Tremendous!

I used to think blogs were for droning diarists and annoying political commentators. I don’t anymore. There are some genuinely talented people getting together, sharing ideas and inspiring one another on these sites. In turn, it’s causing more and more people to come out of the woodwork and try it themselves.

These are regular people, sitting in front of a computer 8 hours a day because work forces them to, who just want to join the fun. Are some of these sites awful? Yeah, of course. Are some of them mean-spirited? Oh, yes (though I’d argue that nothing brings fans together like a group chug from the Haterade cooler). But some of them have that passion and honesty and spirit that you can’t find anymore on the mainstream sites. These are places where a writer is free to say, “Good Lord, Joe Theismann is an idiot.” And there’s something very liberating to that.

This has been the most fun year I’ve ever had as a sports fan. And my teams didn’t even win anything (they never do). It’s like someone walked up and handed sports back to me. It got me so excited, I teamed up with Matt and the rest of the gang to create this site. Forget about whether this site is any good. I’ll let readers be the very swift judge of that. The point is that it’s making me a more passionate, more enthusiastic fan of sports and the greater sports world every day. I watched hockey this year. Hockey! I haven’t done that since 1994, which not coincidentally is back when Olbermann and Patrick ruled the sporting earth. Against all odds, these crazy blog folk have made sports better again. I’m still sort of giddy over it.

I think, however, that I’m in the minority. There are plenty of people who haven’t discovered this whole glorious mess of a blogosphere yet, either because it looks like information overload to them, or because they’ve been warned that it’s the domain of creepy, voyeuristic sports perverts. If they were to ever find it, I bet many of them would be like me, wondering how they ever did without it. I bet they’d be pretty jazzed about the whole thing, and willing to participate.

Bill Simmons, you are the most popular, and therefore powerful, sportswriter in America today. Perhaps ever. You wield massive influence on sports fans with every column you write. And so, when you rip on The Big Lead and other unnamed sports blogs as places reserved strictly for slovenly, message-board-posting, oddball hacks with nothing better to do except complain, you end up tarring all of them with the same brush. It does a disservice to Will Leitch, Jamie Mottram, MJD, and countless others who are doing incredible work (and doing a lot of it).

But, more importantly, it’s discouraging your readers from going and checking it all out for themselves. Yeah, they can find this stuff on their own. But imagine if you were to open the door for them, as opposed to actively pushing them away from it. I bet a lot of your readers would like what they find. I bet a lot of them, like me, would wake up from their ESPN-induced sports comas, and start loving sports more than they ever thought they would. And I bet you, in time, might come to agree with them. But right now, you’re just casually dismissing all of it.

So you see, that’s why I called you a fucktard.

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