Wilbon reverses himself, says Washington is a ‘pretty good’ sports town

October 4, 2012

As disappointed as I was to see Michael Wilbon trash D.C. as a sports town in the latest issue of ESPN the Magazine — calling it “terrible” and “last” — I was equally pleased to see him reverse course in an update on his Facebook page Wednesday evening.

“It’s a pretty good sports town…but not great,” Wilbon wrote, a bland and innocuous observation that would have caused exactly zero interest had he used it in his magazine discourse.

Of course, Wilbon chose to cover up his embarrassment at so quickly retreating from the “terrible” description by taking repeated shots at Bram Weinstein and me, which is cool. I get it. Changing the subject is a perfectly appropriate way to divert attention, and one I’ve frequently used.

For example, I think Octoberfest beers are mostly flavorless and unremarkable, and that people only express such love for them because they’re drawn in by the fall-themed packaging. Everyone likes fall. The beers are still meh. I’m willing to fight you on this one.

Anyhow, aside from taking back his “terrible” comment without acknowledging that he was doing so, Wilbon did raise a few points to which I should probably respond.

* He implied that media members should be honest, not “cheerleading frauds,” and that “the only thing worse than people who can’t stand to hear an unpopular or unflattering opinion is those that are too afraid to state one.”

I think it’s great that Wilbon is still willing to speak truth to power between rounds at Columbia, celebrity roasts and expense-account lunches with Earvin. My only counter would be that it’s cool to speak truth to power when the power is a team owner, or a sports network, or a washed-up quarterback living on past accomplishments. Flaming ordinary sports fans in your town for not being passionate enough strikes me as a less noble journalistic mission.

Which, really, was my only point. I’ve frequently written that D.C.’s passion — measured by television ratings, attendance and so on — is much different than in the cities Wilbon extolls. I think you can make that point without reveling in it.

* Wilbon implied that the role of sports columnist at the Washington Post comes with a solemn responsibility. Fortunately, I’m not really a sports columnist. I’ve never described myself that way, and The Post sure doesn’t. I’m a dude who transcribes radio interviews fairly quickly, can put together a sentence reasonably well, and has a decent understanding of what would interest Web readers of our publication. (For example, Michael Wilbon rants. Great interest in them.)

I do agree with Wilbon that a proper local sports columnist should stake out provocative opinions, construct exaggerated arguments, and maybe even say things he doesn’t really believe just to make sexier copy, even if he then backtracks a few days later in a less public forum. But I don’t have that in me. Sorry.

* The thing that angered me the most, to the extent I was angry at all, was Wilbon’s assertion that no one calls this place home.

“It’s because people don’t call this home, really,” he said in the magazine. “They still call somewhere else home. I’ve been here 32 years, and I still barely call it home.”

I believe him. He hasn’t been shy about that point. Millions of people live in this area. Many of them don’t care about sports. Many of them weren’t born here, and aren’t interested in the local teams, and call somewhere else home. And you know what? That’s not my audience. I’m okay with that. A huge number of the people who read this blog grew up in Montgomery County or Southern Maryland, in Fairfax County or Prince William, went to Walter Johnson or W.T. Woodson or Hylton, to Gonzaga or Bishop Ireton or Good Counsel. They still live here, and actually like it here, and think of their local sports teams as a crucial part of their civic identity in a diffuse area where it isn’t always easy to have one.

Not to be corny, but these are the people I’ve gotten to know solely through sports, the people I now consider friends, who text me and e-mail me and tweet me almost entirely about the Redskins or the Nats or the Caps. Add in the people who came from elsewhere but decided they like it here just fine, and you have a nice little club of folks who care an awful lot about their teams.

And again, I just don’t see the point in rubbing their faces in the fact that there aren’t more of them. Guess that makes me a punk.

Read Bram’s response here.

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.
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