Sticking To Sports In The Fire

Sports News Without Access, Favor, Or Discretion

The amazon is burning now. To be fair, things were not great before the usual annihilating tendencies of capitalism merged with Jair Bolsonaro’s monstrous authoritarianism to light the rain forest on fire, but the flames have not improved things. This is not to single out Brazil or an individual blaze, though. There are plenty of other problems, it is just an especially terrifying one.

The U.S. of A., for its part, is also run by fascist monsters and is also doing its damnedest to destroy the planet. Unsurprisingly, given its nightmarish history of imperialism in South America, it also had a hand in Bolsonaro’s rise. Among a long list of additional horrors, the white supremacy that has pervaded this country since before its founding has been emboldened by the current tide; people are terrorizing and killing in its name even more openly than has been the recent norm. The man in charge, a billionaire whose grey matter has been replaced entirely by mint jelly and narcissistic malice, who rode in on that racist nationalism to act as a conduit for reactionaries to strip environmental regulations and make lifetime court appointments, is ranting about purchasing Greenland. On a relative scale it’s actually one of his less appalling proposals. I promise I will get to the sports, even though they seem insignificant comparatively.

Last week, Deadspin EIC Megan Greenwell announced that she was leaving the company. [Disclosure: I have written for Deadspin and Kotaku under several different regimes.] Deadspin’s newest bosses, in the shuffle since Gawker was brought down by a shotgun series of chilling SLAPP lawsuits shadow-funded by also fascist billionaire Peter Thiel, had some concerning things to say about the circumstances. “We are laser focused on serving Deadspin readers sports and everything related to sports,” G/O’s Paul Maidment told the Washington Post. “Our former editor had a different vision and we wish her well in her future endeavors.” Greenwell also had some concerning things to say. She told the Daily Beast that G/O’s leadership would not guarantee Deadspin’s editorial freedom and wanted the site to “stick to sports.” Anyone who had spent even a few minutes reading Deadspin or any of its sister-sites before dropping millions of dollars to purchase them would know how ridiculous and telling this position is.

Deadspin is, to its credit, constitutionally incapable of sticking to sports. This meant something different during the site’s earlier years, when it made a variety of gross and indefensible editorial choices, but in its modern incarnation it has meant that Deadspin refuses to ignore the way that sports are inextricably tangled with other forces in the universe. This outlook has resulted in David Roth’s gorgeous and remarkably lucid writing about Donald Trump, Diana Moskovitz’s meticulous investigative reporting, Lauren Theisen covering people trying to make things better in spite of the conservatism around them, and in the best spirit of Gawker’s “radical transparency,” Laura Wagner airing out the current disaster with the site’s new owners. The editors there have given me a place to say things that I would not have been able to on many other platforms. They let me write about the UFC’s messy machinations and political propaganda, the endless inequities that are thrown at women who want to play soccer, and the copyright and public art considerations around a giant inflatable duck, without once asking me to tone it down.

This is all still just sports writing, or at least writing on a sports website, and none of it is going to organize humanity or save the world. I am not even sure what “important” means, given where things are at, but that doesn’t preclude it from being meaningful.

This week, in the same news cycle where it was announced that Sarah Huckabee Sanders will be joining Fox News, ABC revealed that fellow former White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer will be getting paid six-figures to be a contestant on Dancing with the Stars. This is not a terribly surprising turn of events in a society where Henry Kissinger, Elliott Abrams, Oliver North, all those responsible for the war in Iraq, are not just free to walk around outside unbothered but also continue long, lucrative careers as public figures. The Hollywood Reporter quoted Spicer, a man recently at the heart of a propaganda machine covering for mass graft, bigotry, and violence, as saying, “I hope it will be a politics-free zone.” Just some fun, celebrity game show dancing, with nothing more to it. At its heart, that’s the essence of “stick to sports.” It’s a belief that politics are nothing personal and that consequences can be sequestered from the people responsible for them.

I have written entirely too many words about how we can not constantly absorb the strife around us. Even if what we are hurtling toward is doom, a prospect that I am not nihilistic enough to accept as etched in stone, we need releases and sports can be a fabulous one. But there is a difference between a reprieve and a head buried firmly in the soil.

Because “there can never be enough Walmarts, period,” is the ethos behind how the people that run things operate, the idea is that Deadspin is somehow alienating a potential revenue stream. The theory is that a site that built a following by challenging the powers that be could somehow grow bigger and better and more profitable if it just embraced more traditional values or at least shut up. There are an inordinate number of places to get a box score, a regurgitated press release, or highlight without comment. Sanding down the ones that do more, that actually have something to say — about the embarrassments and abominations around us or even just the experience of being alive and watching peak athletes turn their bodies into miracles while the trees burn — until the toothless content gods are appeased is a bane.

Pretending that entertainment or anything else occurs in a hermetically sealed vacuum is a conscious choice to make things worse. Things are bad enough. I know that I should be doing so much more, but as unimportant as it feels, at the bare minimum I can support the people who refuse to bury their heads, and try to do the same.

[Update 8/24/19] It was brought to my attention that there’s a line in here that might be reckless, and I just want to clarify a couple things. I didn’t mean to artificially draw some divide between “old, bad Deadspin” and “new, good Deadspin” or reduce all of the earlier version of the site’s work to their mistakes. But I’m not here to gloss over those mistakes, either; I like the 2019 version of the site far better than the 2010 version, and think that overall it does much better work. To be clear, though, I also don’t think any of those missteps in any way justify Thiel’s attempts to silence confrontational journalism, or anything else that’s befallen Gawker since. Apologies if I implied that in any way, or anything I said is giving cover to the people that believe that.

I write. Twitter: @ HugeMantis. Email: HugeMantis @ gmail dot com

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