There are three very separate elements to Clay Travis’s most recent column for a website called Outkick The Coverage. The first is a fair criticism of Will Leitch’s article for Sports On Earth in which the former Deadspin editor takes ESPN’s Darren Rovell to task for being a subhuman piece of shit. The second is a self-aggrandizing exhibition of self-importance. The third is an exaggerated generalization of what the writer finds offensive about the sports blogosphere.
Let’s begin with the first:
Will’s column was the culmination of something I’ve noticed over the past couple of years, the sports blogosphere’s descent into “Mean Girls.” You remember “Mean Girls,” right, the movie that suggested Lindsay Lohan was going to be a superstar, the script that vaulted Tina Fey into the limelight. (If you don’t remember “Mean Girls,” you’re clearly much cooler than me, which may be a given). At its heart the movie was about a group of cliquish girls who didn’t think for themselves and bullied everyone else around them. That’s when it hit me, increasingly the sports blogosphere in a Twitter age has come to resemble the clique of mean girls at the center of that movie, a cabal of bloggers who all share the same opinions and band together to bully the same targets.
Mr. Dooley, a fictional literary construct of the humorist Finley Peter Dunne, once opined in a syndicated newspaper column from the early 20th century that “the newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis force an’ th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead and’ roasts thim aftherward.”
A portion of this quote was later isolated by H.L. Mencken in his 1942 quotation collection to read:
It is the duty of a newspaper to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.
The phrase was famously used in the 1960 film “Inherit The Wind,” and from there it’s become the mantra of a certain type of journalist. It’s also a largely embraced ethos of the blogosphere to which Mr. Travis directs a good amount of harsh criticism. While the motivation behind such a directive could be selfish or altruistic or any quality between these two descriptives, it renders any comparison between the sports blogosphere (as imagined by Mr. Travis) and “Mean Girls,” or any other group of bullies, inaccurate.
Bullies project downward. They are comfortable, and they inflict brutish behavior on the already afflicted. This is what makes their actions so distasteful. They come from a position of social or physical power and use it to diminish those over whom an authority is already granted. Bullies, as seen in “Mean Girls,” are the popular ones.
As Mr. Travis himself notes:
You can dislike Dick Vitale or Chris Berman or Lou Holtz, but in public these guys are rock stars. The vast majority of the general public loves them. We can debate what that says about the general public, but the sports blogosphere’s biggest flaw is that they believe their opinions represent the majority opinion. They don’t. Not at all. The sports blogosphere’s opinion is a tiny minority opinion that isn’t representative of the larger population’s opinion.
Challenging the generally accepted thoughts and opinions of authorities is the exact opposite of bullying.
It’s unfortunate that Mr. Travis relies on such inaccurate generalities because masked in the mire of his blundering comparison is a truth about group think that actually relates to Leitch’s article on Rovell. The vast majority of people likely don’t hate the commodifier of sports culture. Imagining that they do is an example of the sheltering that plagues those operating within the confines of social media.
I imagine that Leitch, just like me, uses social media to interact most frequently with individuals of like mind. This skews our understanding through the over-confirmation of the beliefs that we hold to be true. However, instead of investigating the evidence of this in Leitch’s article, Mr. Travis instead decides on a path that leads to a weaponsmith for the sole purpose of ensuring that his axe is properly ground.
Adding to the distastefulness of his obvious ulterior motives is the self-infatuated manner with which he goes about expressing himself. He refers to himself in the first person more than 60 times in the article, most egregiously in a paragraph with no purpose other than to inform the reader of his work history, which he presumably deems to place him in a position of authority.
I started writing online because I didn’t like practicing law and I wanted to give other lawyers ten or fifteen minutes of escape from practicing the law a day. That was my audience, other lawyers who were bored at work. The explosion of online writing opportunity was a godsend for me, it’s hard for me to even conceptualize what I’d be doing if I’d been born a few years earlier. For me, writing about sports online was a hobby that I never thought would become an avocation. Nine years after I wrote my first online word in 2004. I’m still doing the same thing I was back then, trying to entertain people who are bored at work.
Cool story, bro.
It’s amazing that someone who comes across as being so self-obsessed would simultaneously seem to lack a shred of self-awareness. Mr. Travis essentially uses the Leitch piece to further his negative ruminations on the sports blogosphere as a whole. His method for discrediting online writers: Depending on generalizations to prove that all sports bloggers depend on generalizations. His secondary means: Inventing a straw man goal for the self-created generalization, and then suggesting that they’ve all failed to hit the target at which he’s imagined an entire group of individuals to be aiming.
Sports bloggers were supposed to be the fount of independent thought, the voices that would lead us out of the mainstream media morass, an oasis in a desert of vapid cliches. Instead they’ve all turned into the same person. A decade after it began the sports blogger “revolution” has basically boiled down to a bunch of overeducated white guys who all share the same opinions, writing for the same small audience and picking on a big new target every few months. What happened to the cacophony of different voices, the myriad of opinions that was going to change the sports media forever?
The tradition of separating online content providers into neat classifications of journalist and blogger is a practice that’s growing as increasingly futile as the differences between the false subsets are becoming extinct. Imagining divisions between the two for the sole purpose of narrow-minded classification is backwards and ignorant of progress. Even as the duties of each become increasingly blurred, what we would traditionally refer to as journalists and what we would traditionally refer to as bloggers have come to compliment each other in a fashion that has made each party far less powerful individually.
This, among many other things, is what Mr. Travis fails to realize in carrying out his own personal and misguided vendetta about which few should care.