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Friday, April 08, 2005

It's not a word. I don't care. But Mitch Albom got in some hot water for Jayson Blairing a recent column by referring to the nonexistent Final Four attendance of Mateen Cleaves and Jason Richardson as if it was, in fact, a fact. Now he gives the mea culpa.

mgoblog... sides with Mitch? What? Is that right?

Apparently it is. The column is indeed pretty embarrassing after the fact--Mitch refers to the attendance of the duo in the past tense several times and weaves a magical tapestry of nostalgia and triple rah rah rah from the amazing dedication of the Spartan pros. However, it can be safely filed under 'harmless.' It's a little sloppy, but I think Detroit gave up on the idea of "Mitch Albom, Sportswriter" long ago. He's now "Mitch Albom, Dispenser of Mediocre But Comforting Ideas About the Afterlife." Occasionally he deigns to descend from his Scrooge McDuck-like mountain of money to pen some misty human interest story when MSU is in the Final Four or the Pistons are in the Finals or Michigan is in the Rose Bowl or the Lions... well, he doesn't write about the Lions. He didn't uphold rigorous journalistic standards in his latest column but, uh... who cares? That's not his job. It's isn't really any sportswriter's job.

Because, fundamentally, holding up rigorous journalistic standards is about being trustworthy. It's about knowing what the hell you're talking about. It's about being taken seriously as an authority on the subject you're talking about, be it foreign policy, home repair, or sports. Unfortunately, It appears that 'trustworthy' is about as useful as 'willing to eat bugs' when it comes to getting a sportswriting job (note: I haven't ever looked for one, nor do I want one. I have a job in an entirely different field that I like). Who do I trust and believe when it comes to sports opinions? Uh. Lem Pasquarelli, Dr. Z, Bill Simmons, and John Hollinger. That's it. The rest of 'em I'm indifferent to or actively loathe, because its obvious that there's absolutely no thought put into 90% of today's sportswriting. I don't know whether it's a lack of time, intelligence, or motivation, but when's the last time you read something from the MSM and really learned something? When's the last time you read a really incisive, interesting article on any major sport?

mgoblog is beginning to come to grips with some terrible truths about sportswriting. It's hard, for starters. Even this half-assed no-revision embarassingly-typo-ridden version I purvey on a mostly daily basis is hard, and I am accountable to absolutely no one. I have this irresistable urge to pontificate knowingly on subjects I am completely ignorant about. I have come to grips with the fact that my knowledge is extremely limited... I know a ton about anything Michigan and a decent amount about anything regional, but nationally? I don't have the time or the desire to appropriately inform you, the reader, about what to expect in even the slightest way. That's why this is "mgoblog" and not "nationalcollegefootballgoblog."

And the thing is... my coverage of Michigan isn't absolutely comprehensive and knowledgable. It just isn't, and believe me, I spend a far greater portion of my life collecting and disseminating Michigan-related info than any sportswriter in the country spends on any particular team, beatwriters excluded. If I spent eight hours a day doing nothing but collecting information about one nationally popular sport, I would still be largely ignorant. I think this is a fundamental issue with sports writing, the mgoblog Sportswriting Uncertainty Principle: You can have either very deep knowledge about a narrow area or shallow knowledge of a wide one, but not both. Its collorary: Anyone who attempts to talk about everything is usually talking nonsense.

Even if the sportswriters of the country had mystically bestowed absolute knowledge they'd still be largely unreadable, though. Grantland Rice is dead and gone and there's no one to replace him. I mean, the nation's iconic sportswriter is... Mike Lupica? Woody Guthrie or whatever from Denver? Bob Ryan? Stephen A. Freaking Smith? No, no, no, and Jesus God no. I think the closest thing there is to National Sportswriter Laureate is none other than Bill Simmons, who, due to a fortunate confluence of sports pop culture drift, historic redemption in the Boston sports scene, and, you know, actually being a likeable normal guy instead of some bitter weirdo (guilty), has been a must read for myself and most people I know for the past few years.

Why? Well, MSM guys don't seem to give a damn what happens. If 'we' win, they write florid drippy tributes. If 'we' lose they write scathing calls for accountability. The check is the same size no matter what. I have a hard time believing that someone like Sharp or Guthrie or Lupica sits in front of the television actively rooting for a team. It shows in their writing, which is not anguished and suffering in bad times and is not genuine in good times. They just want somone to, in the immortal words of Rasheed Wallace, CTC. Cut the check.

In contrast, read Simmons. Who does he remind you of more... Sharp, Albom, Parker, Lupica, Ryan, Smith, et al, or, say, Big Ten Wonk, MidMajority, Yoni Cohen, and the burgeoning horde of unabashed fan bloggers that finally seems to be taking root? Anyone who lumped Simmons in with the first group, please slap yourselves. Simmons remains first and foremost a Boston sports fan... anyone reading his bizarrely hopeful and poignant column about the return of Antoine Walker, of all people, to the Celtics can't deny that Simmons bleeds and dies with his teams. The pure joy that leapt from the page during last year's World Series was not the broad, bland "hurray college" type stuff recently displayed by Albom or sportswriters in general when they're trying to pretend that they're not hardened cynics--it was deeply personal, about his dad, his friends, his city, his entire life. He's suffered with his teams and celebrated with him, and I can respect that.

That's what separates him from the rest of the MSM pack. He has a nigh-spiritual connection with the Celtics, Red Sox, and Patriots that drives him to pound out 2,500 words on Antoine Walker or 50,000 on the Red Sox World Series. He loves his teams. Sharp loves nothing except flagrantly disgusting hentai porn (if you are a Free Press lawyer, I am joking). Albom loves nothing except Morrie. Morrie and his pile of money. Simmons was and is... a blogger, an obsessive nut who writes for no other reason than to write, and that's why he's the man, man. The fact that he gets paid? Well, it's good to be the man.

Holy crap! Where did that come from? I guess I have a deep festering discontent with the assumption by newspapers and television networks that because I like sports that I can only understand the basest simplifications. And that it helps if the person giving me these simplifications YELLS REALLY LOUD. And then I was reading Big Ten Wonk's farewell week and it just struck me how mindbogglingly good it was, especially when compared to the tepid MSM stuff he links to with frequency. Who is John Gasaway? Where does he come from? Who cares? He is a dedicated fan, a hell of a writer, and funny as all git out. If you read nothing but Big Ten Wonk you will be better informed about the state of Big Ten basketball than if you were to read everything else. Period.

A salute to you, mysterious bloggerman! Return vengeful and unsated in the fall.

Fie to you, cynical and uncaring mainstream mediaites! Fie and woe!