washingtonpost.com
"God Save The Fan"

Will Leitch
Author, editor of deadspin.com
Thursday, February 21, 2008 11:00 AM

Deadspin.com editor Will Leitch discusses his new book, "God Save the Fan: How Preening Sportscasters, Athletes Who Speak in the Third Person, and the Occasional Convicted Quarterback Have Taken the Fun Out of Sports (And How We Can Get It Back)"

Leitch was online Thursday, Feb. 21 at noon ET, to take your questions

A transcript follows

He'll be at the Georgetown Barnes and Noble, 3040 M ST NW, at 7 p.m. tonight to sign copies of the book.

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Will Leitch: All righty, everyone, it's my first ever chat. I have to hop on a train to your fine city in about two hours, so I can't do one of those marathon four-hour jobs, but trust me: Nobody wants that. I will inevitably just end up quoting Nirvana lyrics and Woody Allen lines around hour three. Though those would be a lot wiser than anything I'd have to say.

Anyway, thanks for having me. Let's do it.

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Falls Church, Va.: You seem to spend an inordinate amount of time writing about ESPN. Nobody is saying they don't deserve scrutiny, but sometimes it becomes laughable the types of things you "report" on. Like posting a the voicemail from a TV anchor trying to get a date. What exactly does this have to do with sports? It's one of the things you take ESPN, SI, Fox, and whoever to task for. Does anybody outside of the people who work there care about these things?

Will Leitch: Well, I think it's strange how people at ESPN -- or anyone in sports media -- try to pretend they're not a major part of how fans consume sports. More people know who Chris Berman is than just about any actual athlete. Why should they not be covered the same way that athletes are? This is all entertainment; it's just as newsworthy, to actual sports consumers, that Chris Berman would have those hilarious non-aired on-set videos as Elijah Dukes' text messages. ("You walkin' in front of the camera, dawg.")

Chris Berman, and everyone as ESPN or any other sports media corporation, is a sports personality in the same way that Elijah Dukes is. It seems disingenuous to say, "Oh, we just cover sports, but aren't a part of it." Please. You don't get the fame and cache with being a sports media figure without any of the accountability. Athletes certainly don't.

As for anyone caring, well, about 1,000,000 people watched that Berman video within two days of it being posted. That's more people than ever watched "Cold Pizza."

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Washington, D.C.: You wrote that you're not allowed to switch teams, no matter what, even if they move to freakin' Arizona. I'm a 23 years old and I'm a Nationals fan. I've only been a Nationals fan since there was a team here. What's wrong with me? No justice?

Will Leitch: I recognize that this is one of the more ridiculous columns in the book; essentially I argue that when you are a sports fan, you are a fan of a team year round, no matter whether they're playing or not. When, exactly, am I supposed to suddenly switch my loyalty, and start caring about THESE guys rather than THESE guys?

People often feel betrayed when their teams leave their town. "It's like they don't care about me!" Don't worry: They don't care about you. You never did. You are a consumer. There's a certain lack of logic about being a sports fan, and bringing that kind of emotional, civic betrayal to the situation just betrays that. I stuck with the Arizona Cardinals because I started cheering for them and couldn't suddenly pretend I liked another team more just because they moved closer to me. I can't exactly talk: *I* don't exactly live in St. Louis anymore either.

That said, I think it's OK to be a Nationals fan. You're 23. You have plenty of time to develop the pain of cheering for a losing team. (With a general manager who writes around on a Segway! How awesome is that?)

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Washington, D.C.: You bring to light some serious issues within the ESPN network. Since the book was released, have you been contacted by anyone at ESPN about it?

Will Leitch: I have not. I was actually expecting to hear from them about the Berman videos, but nada. That said, I *have* spoken, off-record, with many on-camera personalities on the site, and the majority of them do enjoy the site. The people who work at ESPN, the "talent," are not dumb; they see the same problems with the network the rest of us see. It's the corporate side where I think matters go wrong. They've gotten large enough that the goal is no longer to enlighten, entertain or inform; it's the self-sustaining of the brand. They have that right. They are a corporation; this isn't an art project. But I think we, as the consumers, have the right to rebel against that.

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Columbus, Ohio: Who would win in a fight, you or Mark Cuban?

Will Leitch: Oh, I'd be toast. I am a wimpy Midwesterner who would attempt to distract him with yokel wit. I would fail, and he would pound me into the ground. It'd be worth it, though.

By the way, Mark Cuban's very angry, I'm sure, that you just mentioned his name in an online outlet that's not directly controlled by him. You're unethical!

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Washington, D.C.: Will,

Loved the book, etc. I'm curious as to whether your pre-tour image of the typical Deadspin reader is consistent with the people you've met over the last few weeks.

Will Leitch: Yes, actually: They're smart, professional, very friendly people who just enjoy having a few beers and talking about sports. The average sports fan, from my experience, is light years more intelligent than they are given credit for. If you believe what you see on television, every sports fan is a shirtless boob with F-O-X painted on his chest, screaming and generally acting like Puddy from Seinfeld.

I've met hundreds of sports fans, both on the tour and in my life, and I've yet to meet a single one of these people. Sports fans are regular human being with regular lives; they work, they go home, they watch sports to relax. I think the reason they're portrayed as such dolts is because the only time people who work in sports ever have much exposure to actual fans is when they get nasty emails from them, or when the camera shows them in the stands. But sports fans are just like the rest of humanity. Except they have enough healthy distraction to keep them sane.

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The District: Are you part of the sports culture that deserves public scrutiny the same way that Van Pelt, Berman, Stu Scott and the rest of the ESPN mob do?

Basically, if I see you text messaging a specific girl, and I write about it, are you going to get upset? Lemme know.

Will Leitch: I don't think anyone would care, but yeah, sure. Though I'm really bad at text messaging. You'd mostly just see me sending "God, the Illini are HORRIBLE this year" notes to my dad, who would then wonder why his phone suddenly has words on it.

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New York, N.Y.: How much longer will you write a daily Web site? Would you rather write longer, less regular pieces like your book?

Will Leitch: As long as it's still fun. One of the pleasures of Deadspin is that it allows me to do other things; there's no reason I can't do a daily Web site AND write the longer pieces. I get to write for a living, man; that's all I ever wanted to do. I've done the site from the road the entire tour, and other than the really loud teenagers in Starbucks, it's been nothing but pleasant. I can visit my family in Illinois for a week without ever taking a day off of work. That's a difficult thing to think of giving up.

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Washington, D.C.: Will, ESPN's notorious for its anti-Deadspin stance, but how do you think the average sports journalist feels about the site? Entertaining or competition?

Will Leitch: I think there are two types of "mainstream" journalist reaction to Deadspin. The first is the flat-earth society, who think all bloggers are the people they hear on talk radio, cannibalistic humanoid underground dwellers. I'm not so sure there are that many of those anymore. The other are the people who appreciate that I can say a lot of the things they're thinking but can't sneak past their editors. Darned editors, with their "quality control" and "eye on readability." Always getting in the way.

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Brooklyn, N.Y.: Do you feel that over the last few years of editing your site, you have actually gotten some access, favor, and/or discretion?

Will Leitch: I went to the Super Bowl this year, for the first time, and found it a dreadful experience. It's basically like every corporate convention you've ever been to, held in some hotel lobby in some suburban complex, except everyone works in sports. It's exactly what's wrong with sports; people aren't there to revel in the game and all that's fun about it. They're there to make deals and hobnob. That's fine, of course; they have that right. But it solidified my desire to have as little access as possible. The best time I had that entire week in Phoenix was watching the game in a hotel room with friends. I got to scream and yell when David Tyree made that catch. That's far more enjoyable than sitting in a press box.

As for favor and discretion, there isn't much favor, but I will confess to probably raising the bar on what I feel comfortable with posting on the site. I don't want the site to be a mere message board; if I constantly threw up things that were wrong, or just random "rumors," I think people would no longer trust the site and not come back. And we don't want that.

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Arlington, Va.: With Gilbert Arenas, the Redskins mess and now Ovechkin and his woman story, where does D.C. rank as far as interesting characters to blog about?

Will Leitch: Oh, without question, Number One. I have no idea what you're putting in the water over there, but you're absolute gold for consistently amusing personalities. And now you have Elijah Dukes, AND Lastings Milledge. I might move there.

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Charlottesville, Va.: How do you decide what's newsworthy for the site from the tons of tips and leads you get? Everyone wants to see Ben Roethlisberger drunk, but no one cares about third-string small forward from some private college. What's the threshold for notoriety?

Will Leitch: I do think they have to be well-known, but I think it's more than that. I actually haven't run very many "drunk athlete photos," but the few times that I have, they've been popular, so people associate the site with that. (Which is fine, I guess.) People send me photos of athletes out all the time, but they're mostly pretty boring; I don't think it's inherently noteworthy that an athlete, from time to time, drinks a beer or poses with an attractive woman.

I think it needs to be something that makes the athlete look human. That's really a large part of the goal of the site: To bring out the humanity in sports that's sometimes lost. I don't think anyone looked at those photos of Roethlisberger and said, "You know what? Now that I've seen him drinking tequila, I can't root for him anymore." He's a 23-year-old kid doing what any of us would do if we were 23, rich, famous and beloved. I'll prefer that image of him to any contrived corporate pablum where he tells me that he drinks a crappy sports beverage and encourages me to do the same in response.

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Indianapolis: Will, if you could only listen to one album while you write for the rest of your time on this mortal coil, what would it be and why?

Will Leitch: It would be Nirvana's "Nevermind," though the new Band of Horses is making a run. Pretty much all the music I listen to is the exact same music I listened to when I was in college in the mid-90s. I haven't evolved at all.

A couple weeks ago, The Simpsons did an episode about Homer and Marge being in college during the grunge era. Homer joins a grunge band called SadGasm and Marge learns all about being politically correct. I remember the old episode that originally explained their courtship, when Homer was listening to the Steve Miller Band while Marge was a peacenik. The fact that they needed to update it for my generation made me feel very, very old.

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D.C.: Who wins in a fight, you or Dan Steinberg?

Will Leitch: You know, I think I could take Steinberg. I really do.

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Dallas: Will, do you see Deadspin ever attempting to go into a new medium? I think many people would listen to a podcast with the writers at the website and discussions of the weekly sports news that goes on.

Will Leitch: Ifyou'veeverheardmetalkyoudrecognizethatthisisaterribleidea.

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Billings, Montana: Your site has popularized a bizarre link between Stephen A. Smith and Cheez Doodles that I don't quite get. Can you explain the inside joke? And you seem to both love and hate Smith himself. Is there anything coherent about how you respond to the guy?

Will Leitch: I think Stephen A. is kind of indicative of how the network went wrong over the last few years. It doesn't matter if you have anything to say, as long as you say it LOUDLY. Just SEEM like you know what you're talking about. And it's more important that you be friends with the athletes than actually cover them objectively.

That said, I've come around a little on Stephen A. since he started doing his blog. It takes real guts to do that, particularly when people already have such strong opinions about that. I can't see Berman doing that. I respect Stephen A. for that.

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Washington, D.C.: Will,

Doesn't the heavy-handed monitoring of this chat completely contravene everything Deadspin stands for? Lemme know.

washingtonpost.com: My monitoring is not heavy-handed!

Will Leitch: His monitoring is heavy handed. None of the questions about Mattoon Green Wave baseball are getting through.

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Washington, D.C.: So, could you tell us the whole story with you and Bill Simmons? He's pretty popular here in the nation's capitol.

Will Leitch: I actually like Simmons a lot. I think there has been a bit of a turn on him, from online people, over the last few years, which is pretty natural, I think. It's the Web; everybody eventually turns on everybody. (I give Deadspin a year, tops, until everyone hates it. It might be happening already, actually.)

I've met Simmons once and found him to be an incredibly friendly guy. I think, to a point, his columns sometimes get a bit repetitive, but, you know, that'll happen when you write 200 columns a year for seven years. Whatever my thoughts on people's reaction to him, some of which is justified and some which isn't, I still read every column he writes, and I can't say that about almost any other sports columnist.

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New York, N.Y.: If you had to choose one as a roommate: Chris Berman or Steven A Smith?

Will Leitch: Berman. Inevitably, I'd get one of the castoffs.

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Cleveland: Will, is there anything you particularly regret posting on Deadspin? That in retrospect you shouldn't have done?

Mike C.

Will Leitch: Yeah: Without question, the story I had about Albert Pujols being in the Jason Grimsley document. The source I had was wrong, and like any journalist who gets burned by a source, it made me sick to my stomach. I had to fess up to that mistake on the site, and try to do so again at every opportunity. I think that's a more forthright way to admit an error than to bury it on page B17 in a paper three weeks later.

But nothing else, really, jumps out as regrettable. Other than all the spelling errors.

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Lincoln Memorial, D.C.: How many tips a day are you getting? I would imagine that your inbox is constantly flooded and would take a good amount of your time just to wade through all the garbage to find something worth writing about.

Will Leitch: I'd say I get about 600 to 700 emails a day. This is why I can't get a Blackberry; it would constantly be going off. (I also tend to hide from computers when I'm not doing the site.)

Most of them are worthwhile, though, even if I don't use anything from them. Chuck Klosterman once joked that because music reviewers review CDs that are sent to them, their job really is to write about their mail. I sometimes feel like my job is to write about my email. Which is fine. Honest living, one supposes.

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Frederick, Md.: Will. For me, the best part of Deadspin are the comments. Unlike other sites ( sports and non-sports) Deadspinners are actually relevant, informed and FUNNY. What portion of Deadspin's success do you attribute to the commenters ?

Will Leitch: Oh, a huge amount. No matter what I write in a post, it's not going to be nearly as funny as what comes after it. I like that it's self-policing now too; if you're not funny, or if you're a jerk, there's no real place for you in the comments. I get too busy doing the site during the day to read them in real-time, but reading them at the end of the day is one of the highlights of my job.

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Philly: Will, what about Mattoon Green Wave baseball?

washingtonpost.com: See?

Will Leitch: Go Wave! Coach Jackley's got the troops fired up, ready to go this year.

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Kalamazoo, Mich.: Who is your own personal favorite athlete for each one of the major sports....including bowling.

Will Leitch: Does Rick Ankiel play cricket? He probably does, right?

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Raleigh, N.C.: Good book -- I appreciated the chapter on athletes who thank God. Along those lines -- what's your take on Kimbo Slice? He takes great pains to credit "his Lord and Saviour" after his fights, while at the same time working for and being sponsored by, a porno outfit.

Will Leitch: This is actually one of my favorite chapters in the book, and it's one people never call out, so I'll address it here. Essentially, fans often get angry at players for thanking God after they win games, as if God didn't like the other team as much, or as if God actually, you know, CARES about a regular season NBA game.

But that's not really what they're saying. When you're a Christian, EVERYTHING in your life is illuminated through Christ, and you are humbled in his presence. Therefore, he is due thanks for all wordly success. They're not thanking God for liking them more than the other guy; they're thanking Him for giving them the opportunity to spread His Word. (The example in the book I use is golfer Zach Johnson.)

Forgive the surprising foray into theology. I wanted to be a youth minister until I was 14. Then all of a sudden there were girls everywhere, and my priorities changed.

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Atlanta: Will, read your book. Hope you can make it down to Atlanta for a book signing.

Have you noticed any difference in the way people view sports as you've transversed the country? Do people on the west coast view sports and how it is fed to them differently then how people in the northeast do? Or is the reaction pretty much the same wherever you go?-Ukraine

Will Leitch: I find that people on the East Coast seem more interested in what's going on off-the-field among players, and Midwesterners are more into the details of the games. West Coasters just want to get out of traffic.

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Columbia Heights, Md.: Impress us with your knowledge of the locals. What are your favorite DC area blogs? Who does the best job of covering our teams?

Will Leitch: Not to kiss up around here, but honestly: You guys are blessed to have Dan Steinberg. Every major newspaper should have a full time guy like him.

As for the "independents," the Washington area really does have an absurd amount of sports blogs. I like Capital Punishment for the Nats, KSK for Redskins stuff, and Wizznutzz for the Wiz. But there are so many, and I apologize if I missed yours.

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Arlington, Va.: Has the Eric Gordon situation taken your hatred for Indiana basketball to a new level or has it always been ingrained that the Illini must hate the Hoosiers and vice versa?

Will Leitch: It has always been ingrained, but yeah: This has pushed it up a notch. My dad went to the game in Champaign, and I called him at halftime and asked if he heard people chanting "F--- Eric Gordon."

"Heard 'em? I'M ONE OF 'EM!"

I'd take more enjoyment out of Sampson's downfall if I didn't have a creeping fear we're gonna have a similar situation with our football team in a couple of years. But that's blatant terror without any real facts, or even rumors.

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Silver Spring, Md.: Will, you have said that you would never use/accept a press pass to a sporting event. Is that because you feel it's your duty, or more poignant, to write from a fan's perspective? Or do you feel it would corrupt your blogging soul to accept one?

Will Leitch: It's the former; I've sat in press boxes before, back when I worked as a "legitimate" sports reporter, and I found it miserable. I don't think there's anything *wrong* with accepting press passes if you're a blogger, though, which as much access as we have from our couch now, I don't quite understand why someone would want one.

That said, Steinberg's riveting account of the VaTech vomiting incident last night kind of disproves that theory.

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Washington, D.C.: I think I'll be at Barnes and Noble tonight. What one question (assuming you're taking questions) are you hoping you'll be asked, because you've got some great anecdote or answer that will slay the crowd?

Will Leitch: Please don't ask me about the lobbyist I was friendly with eight years ago. We were just "close," and I'm very disappointed in your publication.

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Capitol Hill, D.C.: What kind of job offer would you have to receive to get you to stop running Deadspin?

Will Leitch: I'd love to be Yadier Molina's backup catcher.

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Muncie, Ind.: Do you think I could get a copy of GSTF autographed through the mail for my grandmother? Lemme know.

Will Leitch: I hope your grandmother will not be offended by the cover. I point out, once again, that foam hands do not have thumbs, which means there are only four fingers, which means, by definition, there is no middle finger. It's simply an optical illusion caused by your dirty mind. If you say that object to the side of the hand on the cover is a thumb, I will retort that it is, in fact, a wart.

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Frederick, Md.: Might you be so kind as to recommend some other quality books, addressing the same basic issue. I am 60, have three sons and now two grandchildren. I have participated in sports and encouraged my sons participation in sports for all the basic reasons: joy of competing, working with others toward a goal, learning to win and lose, following rules, etc. I have become increasingly disenchanted with sports at many levels. I want to be able to read about the issues and pass on issues and solutions to my sons and grandchildren. Thank you in advance for your time and best wishes for the success of "God Save the Fan."

Will Leitch: I can merely recommend authors. Here's a few off the top of my brain: Dan Jenkins, David Halberstam, Roger Angell, Buzz Bissinger, Michael Lewis, Will Blythe, Jason McGregor, Sally Jenkins, David Maraniss ... darnit, I shouldn't have started this, because I'll go on all day.

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Washington, D.C.: Will,

Do you think a satire sports news TV show could work (much in the same vein as The Daily Show)? Of course it'd be hard to do 5-nights a week, and permission to use clips could be a challenge, but have you given any thought to pursuing a project like this on TV? Maybe Cuban could fund it...

Will Leitch: I have a feeling Cuban might not be interested in funding this.

By the way, while I have you here, this is the site I"m obsessed with right now: http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.wordpress.com/

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Georgetown: Will, are you gonna stick around and have a couple Zima's with us tonight after your gig?

Will Leitch: I will, actually. It's the last night of a month long tour -- before returning to Brooklyn on Friday -- and I'm gonna be in the mood for LOTS of Zimas. We'll announce the locale at the reading, but it'll all be in the Georgetown area.

And with that: I must shuffle off this chatting coil. That was really fun; if we had the technology at Gawker, we'd do this all the time. Thanks to the WaPo for having me. Wee! Sports!

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