HBO broadcast the mugging live. The assailants were titans of sports journalism—veteran sportscaster Bob Costas and Pulitzer Prize winner Buzz Bissinger.
The victim, 33-year-old Will Leitch, founder of the sports blog Deadspin, had been invited onto Costas’s show to talk about sports on the Internet. But Leitch had barely opened his mouth before Costas cudgeled him for the blogosphere’s “gratuitous pot shots and mean-spirited abuse.” Bissinger, spewing profanity, blasted the profanity in sports blogs as well as their “journalistic dishonesty” and “cruelty.”
“It really p---es the s--- out of me,” he said.
Bissinger focused his anger on a post by Deadspin’s Big Daddy Drew, the nom de plume of Bethesda writer Drew Magary. In 1,500 words, Magary had dished out a dozen expletives, a reference to masturbation, and a link to a photo of actress Mena Suvari in a thong bikini.
Magary is a force behind the professional-football blog Kissing Suzy Kolber, one of a dozen or more sports blogs that originate locally and make Washington a hotbed of what Costas and Bissinger loathe. Magary writes in the fan’s voice—or at least his interpretation of it, which is heavy on profanity and crude humor.
Kissing Suzy Kolber—KSK to fans—has won Magary notoriety and a bit of cash. A New York– and Miami-based network of culture blogs bought KSK about two years after it launched, and a major publishing house recruited Magary to write a book, Men With Balls, released last fall.
Bissinger, by the end of the Costas show, worried that blogs such as Magary’s could soon dominate sports news. Like it or not, Bissinger said, this is the future.
My parents discovered I knew how to read when they found me on the kitchen floor poring over the sports pages. Washington Post sportswriters in the 1970s and ’80s—Ken Denlinger, Richard Justice, Dave Kindred—were my heroes.
As my dad washed dishes at night, he tuned a transistor radio to Sports Call, hosted by Ken Beatrice for nearly 20 years on WMAL-AM. Each night, Beatrice took listener calls—“Yerrr next!” he answered to each with his thick Boston accent—and ladled out facts about everything from college baseball to the NFL collective-bargaining agreement. I called in frequently, dialing for hours until I got past the busy signal and talked to the man himself.
In high school in the 1980s, I was a devotee of sportscaster George Michael on Channel 4. When Michael came to Washington in 1980, he persuaded management to invest in the satellite time and technology to tap video feeds worldwide. You got Redskins and Orioles clips but also Dr. J’s dunks, Joe Montana’s heroics, and NASCAR smashups.
Michael, who presided over the newscast with Ringling Bros. showmanship, would get up to 14 minutes of the six-o’clock broadcast. “And if I needed more,” he says, “I got it.”
By the early 2000s, when a new station executive asked Michael for his budget, he had the clout to say, “My budget is what I spend.”
The era of great local sports news officially closed when Michael quit Channel 4 last year in a budget fight. Since his 1980 debut in Washington, ESPN cable had become a national cultural phenomenon with a formula—sharp personalities and highlight-heavy reports—not too different from Michael’s shtick. The Internet also horned in on his and every other sportscaster’s act—first in the mid-1990s, when sports Web sites began reporting real-time scores, and later when broadband’s expansion pumped game-highlight video to millions of home computers. Who needed to watch TV sports news anymore?
The Internet and ESPN also made it harder for a local news outlet to own a scoop. Says George Solomon, who edited the Post’s sports page for nearly 30 years beginning in 1975: “If the Redskins had a coaching change and we had it, we kept it out of the first editions so that the Washington Star or the Washington Times wouldn’t see it and George Michael wouldn’t see it. That was great, great fun.”
Even the basic function of a sports page—providing accounts of yesterday’s games—is threatened. With real-time Internet scores and video, there are mornings when the sports pages read like history.
Bereft of their meat and potatoes, mainstream sports media report on things that have little to do with sports. ESPN magazine and Sports Illustrated regularly feature pop culture—typically, photos of pretty actresses dating athletes—and humor columns loosely based on sports. Tony Kornheiser, the former Post columnist, burned up hours of his “sports talk” radio show with movie reviews and a rehash of TV’s American Idol.
Some nights I listen to ESPN 980, the all-sports radio station. Once, hosts Steve Czaban and Andy Pollin spent my entire drive home joking about the chimpanzee attack on a woman in Connecticut. Often their banter sounds lifted from a bachelor party. I’ve heard Czaban refer to a football player as a “pussy” and talk about race-car driver Danica Patrick’s “little ta-tas.” His Web site links to photos of actresses and models dubbed Top 10 Snickies.
Into this evolving world of “sports news” steps the blogger. Rick Reilly, the longtime Sports Illustrated writer who recently moved to ESPN, has characterized sports bloggers as “guys holding down the couch springs in their mother’s basement.”
Which is how I imagined Drew Magary. Wrong. Magary, 32, is married with two little kids and has a 9-to-5 job as a writer for a Falls Church advertising agency. He graduated from the elite Exeter prep school and Colby College, a top liberal-arts school.