Gregg Easterbrook, who writes about science and policy for the Atlantic, the New Republic, and the Washington Monthly, puts together the weekly blog-like column Tuesday Morning Quarterback at ESPN.com. He started TMQ in 2000 at the newly launched Slate after lobbying editor Mike Kinsley to add sports to the online magazine’s high-minded mix of politics and culture.
“Kinsley would say, ‘No, no, no. Slate’s for smart people,’ ” Easterbrook says. “And I said, ‘Mike, smart people are totally obsessed with sports. There are all these smart people out there who are fascinated with the Boston Red Sox. Their minds are full of completely useless information about sports.’ ”
TMQ since has migrated to ESPN.com, where for the past three years it has been the site’s most popular feature aside from contests and rankings. Easterbrook, 56, who played at Division III Colorado College, is the thinking man’s John Madden. The guts of TMQ—a collection of tidbits and analysis that runs roughly 10,000 words—is his strategy analysis. After San Diego defeated Indianapolis in the playoffs this year, he explained how the Chargers defense had outfoxed Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.
Reporters, he says, don’t care about tactics or don’t understand them: “If there’s a sportswriter out there who can diagram a cover-two defense, I’d like to meet him.”
TMQ is light, funny, and smart. “The Arizona Cardinals won with defense?” Easterbrook wrote after their first playoff win of the season. “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy!”
TMQ includes a few asides about politics, science, and oddball news along with photos of NFL cheerleaders. Is that sexist? “My main defense is you’re supposed to look at the cheerleaders,” Easterbrook says. “They clearly want to be looked at, and they spend all off-season preparing to be looked at.”
Profanity and personal attacks are not part of the mix. “To criticize someone on personal grounds is juvenile behavior,” Easterbrook says. “Obviously, the Web makes it easy to engage in juvenile behavior.”
Steinberg, Easterbrook, and other bloggers prove that fans can be valuable voices. “You don’t need a press pass to be intelligent about sports,” says Stefan Fatsis, a former Wall Street Journal sports-business reporter.
Fatsis, a friend of Drew Magary’s, says KSK’s writers are thoughtful commentators on football and, as outsiders, police the league’s excesses in the same way political bloggers check campaigns and campaign media. One example: Each week, Magary shreds the online column of Sports Illustrated legend Peter King for lazy work and a cozy relationship with sources.
“Bloggers like Drew are calling out reporters and players and teams and leagues in ways that few did pre-Internet,” Fatsis says.
KSK’s crudeness can be over the top—“How many dick jokes can one man read?” Fatsis says—but the evolution of sports media is filled with change that causes scandal before it tempers itself. Dick Young, a New York reporter, upset the sports world in the 1960s and ’70s by taking coverage into the locker room and blasting players and management. Other writers eschewed his nasty tone, but they seized the new vantage point he had introduced into sports journalism.
Similarly, Fatsis says, the mainstream media will incorporate some of the edge and irreverence of blogs and hire their best talent, albeit smoothing out their roughness. Jamie and Chris Mottram—brothers who started the blog Mr. Irrelevant, covering Washington sports—have jobs at brand-name companies: Jamie with Yahoo, Chris with SB Nation, a Washington-based sports-blog network started by former AOL executive Jim Bankoff.
Magary, Fatsis says, is headed places, too: “Drew is a gifted thinker and a terrific writer. My prediction is that he’s going to take his voice to different places. He’s a very funny man.”
After his blowup on Costas’s show, Buzz Bissinger softened his tone. In an interview, he says he stands by his criticism of sports blogs but admits, “I overreacted and went sort of nuts.”
Magary first answered Bissinger’s blast with satire. Posting on KSK as Bissinger, he apologized and blamed the outburst on the fact that he hadn’t had sex in a long time. Sex with a horse, that is.
The two met at an event in Manhattan and appear to have reached a détente. KSK is “tough to read,” Bissinger says, but Magary “is totally different from what I expected. He’s not shrill, he’s not arrogant, and he’s not malicious. He turned out to be a very nice guy and very reasonable.”
When Magary’s book was released in the fall, it carried a nice blurb from Bissinger. “As profane as it was,” he says, “it turned out that parts of it were pretty funny.”
Magary has since landed a gig writing a humor column for Penthouse. “Would I like to write a comedy series for HBO or something like that?” he says. “Yeah, of course.”
Magary’s father, who had a long career in marketing, is excited about his son’s literary success. Magary, however, doesn’t encourage his parents to sample his work on the Web. “I’ve told them, ‘Frankly, don’t read KSK. If you love me, you won’t read it.’ ”
Digital Picks of the Pros
Local sports-media veterans pick their favorite blogs and Web sites:
Christine Brennan of USA Today likes Real Clear Sports, a sister site to Real Clear Politics, with links to news and opinion around the country. “It’s like a modern-day clipping service,” Brennan says. She also recommends Title IX Blog, which has news, commentary, and legal developments in equality issues, as well as Women’s Hoops Blog.
Stefan Fatsis, author of A Few Seconds of Panic: A 5-Foot-8, 170-Pound, 43-Year-Old Sportswriter Plays in the NFL, reads Baseball Prospectus and Football Outsiders.“Smart people, unconventional ideas, groundbreaking research, intelligent analysis, straightforward writing,” Fatsis says. He also likes Pro Football Talk—“Lawyer Mike Florio has better NFL sources than just about every beat writer in the country”—Free Darko,a professional-basketball blog; and Every Day Should Be Saturday,a college-football blog.
Former Channel 4 sportscaster George Michael enjoys MLB Trade Rumors. “I like guys that tell me something I don’t know,” he says.
Kevin Sheehan of ESPN 980 radio, is partial to Inside the Cap by J.I. Halsell, a former salary-cap analyst for the Redskins: “It does a great job of making the intricacies of the NFL salary cap easy to understand,” Sheehan says. He also reads College Football News.
Michael Wilbon of ESPN and the Washington Post likes USSportsPages.com: “It links you to every imaginable story that day, sport by sport.”