Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Intricacies of Sports Blogging

One of my obsessions that, like so many other Americans, I mull over consistently is my devotion to sports. Though it does not consume me as it once did--literature and movies intervened to take on some of the load--I still find myself, over the course of the day, automatically checking and re-checking the ESPN website and a open sports forum called Bleacher Report to make sure that I haven't missed anything important. I recall the horror I felt when, being from Denver and thus morally obligated to know every piece of information that has the slightest pretinence to the Denver Broncos, that I'd found out about the Broncos' March coaching change, showing the (seemingly) tenured Mike Shanahan the door in favor of Josh McDaniels, a coach that can gloat about being younger than many of his players. There is something permanently unsettling about this, and though it's a testament to the NFL being the ultimate meritocracy, it violates the NFL's lore; the enduring legend of general and troops, of fearsome leaders who conjure up devotion from their charges. It's hard to imagine a 32-year-old general commanding a 40-year-old private. But I digress.

The horror I felt was something that is common in sports bloggers: the horror of being told, the fear of being taught. Like the games themselves, the debating of the games is a hierarchy that can conceivably be conquered by any one. The coffee shop worker can school the investor on the finer points of the 3-4 defense and earn respect for his knowledge built upon information that he had to go out an acrue himself. There is a person in every section of the stadium that annoints themself the sage, the historian, the prophet. Sports forums like Bleacher Report offer the platform to realize these gaudy visions, to become the leaders of "communities" of fans. The rankings provided on each community page are the particular end of sports seminary: those who appear on it have reached the priesthood for the world's true religion.

The motivation to acheive a spot high on those rankings the horror of being told. I am one of those self-annointed sages, the irritating prescence in fan gatherings that compusively corrects and reminds, fields questions with the same snobbishness as a college professor. You punctuate your lessons with longs pauses to lend the information some gravity. Actually...he was drafted in the fourth-round. By the vikings no-less. Pause. We acquired him off of waivers, not having to pay (pause) anything. The friend who told me about McDaniels was one of those people I had corrected for years, and his reaction to the surprise betrayed by face was cold triumph. You didn't hear!? I tried to make excuses. My phone was off, I was engaged, I was somewhere important. But a sage should always know.

The schooling on the internet takes place in the comments section. There one can see the snipes and the satisfaction of one-upping some bold newcomer who believes that somehow his opinions are revolutionary. It is where the meritocracy congeals into stringent castes. There are lectures disguised by feigned cordiality, grudging acquiesces to superior reasoning, snide chiding, and--when a person is becoming too tiresome--outright derision and sarcasm. Sometimes a poster deserves it, other times the correction is addressing something so inconsequential that it could only be motivated by spite. Or in order to fortify one's sagely position.

I suppose that humans are drawn intrinsically to ceremony and that even the equalizer that is the Internet is powerless to change this. The top bloggers always opt for the most impeccable grammar and punctuation, even if their grasp on the rules of the two is slight. Those who post in acronyms, abbreviations and all capital letters are routinely ignored, as they should be. Membership in a community indicates a consent to the community's dogma, and to violate it may brand you as a heretic.

Such ceremony would appear to be enough to drive people away from joining sports forums, but given the slow erosion of the quality of professional sports writing (a direct result of the Internet revolution), fans are leery of relying on the traditional sources. The disgust in that erosion leads fans to conclude that they could do better, and they join the forums to try and break into the rarified air that the sages breath.

The navigation of this word is perilous, but possible. One must always check be sure in one's sources. Wikipedia should be shunned. Never rely on the assertions about a team's attitude or players' character, unless you can connect it with statistical trends. Beware the premature direct confrontation, or there's achance that the sickly horror of the told will resurface in you. Be specific. Don't rush your ending, nor use it to inflate your article's meaning.

Sports are likely the most discussed topic on the web, and at his heart most men wish that they could make a living writing about them. But most of all men do not want to be told. That particular shame is almost too much to bear.

1 comment:

  1. Mats-this is too true. We're constantly searching for a forum to assert our authority over those closest to us, for whatever fucking reason. Sports is an easy and respectible one, especially for college-age bros. I don't think I'll ever understand why I get so heated when some random fuck says something totally ignorant on a sports forum, or even when I get corrected by said random fuck, so I won't even address the issue.
    I think a topic you touch upon, that of sports blogs replacing genuine sports journalism, is spot on. I'm a huge supporter of SBNation. It's not just that you can find knowledgeable fans there; it's that you can find thousands of them. If you put aside the penchant of thinking you know more than the next guy, you can learn a great deal from these types of sites...way more than simply jacking off to Bill Simmons every four months when he actually decides to write something.

    <3 DB

    PS. It's "V"ikings, and "breathe".