The Other Fifteen

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What Jay Mariotti doesn't understand

Yes, bashing Jay Mariotti is about as fashionable as it is easy. This isn't going to be your traditional piece about him. The Mariotti column I want to talk about actually has some responsible and interesting points and I want to address them seriously. First, a quick little sum-up:

People used to escape life by watching sports. Now, we kind of look forward to road rage, lame health care and consumer fraud. It's torturous enough that each saga is covered by the responsible media like Watergate. But provoking it all is an assortment of warped cybercreeps, who are no more necessary than thongs in Rosie O'Donnell's underwear drawer, posting pictures and spreading misinformation -- do you realize Dana Jacobson apparently never said "(Bleep) Jesus" at the infamous Atlantic City roast? -- while hoping for nothing more in their miserable lives than an ESPN personality finding trouble.

It's not about one athlete defeating another anymore. It's not about the fun, the strategy, the winners, the losers. No, it's about which story can make the most sensational impact on the widest swath of humanity. Forgive me if this sounds like Jerry Maguire's "mission statement," but the games have become a warmup act for the crazy issues. And I'd like to have my games back, thank you.

 

I seriously suggest that you read the whole piece before proceeding. It's rather brief and surprisingly palatable.

What Mariotti is really talking about is three separate issues. The first is the degradation of entertainment media into absolute gutter trash. When he refers to "it's a TMZ.com sewer, we just soak in it," he's about right. And even if you don't agree, I'm sure you at least understand the concept that the paparazzi aren't exactly raising the level of discourse, so no real need to rehash it here.

The second is the notion that athletes and sport are seen more and more as entertainers. This, quite frankly, is an idealization of the past more than it is a fact. For about as long as we've had pro athletes, they've been lumped in with the entertainers, and have often acted like them. During the baseball offseason, before the advent of radio, star players would often travel with vaudeville acts, sometimes showing off their batting prowess, other times participating in the skits and gags, and sometimes just simply being there, letting people see the players they so often read about in the box scored. Babe Ruth was one of many ballplayers who engaged a ghost writer, selling faked columns to newspapers for a public hungry to read more about their heroes.

The larger question is, if athletes aren't entertainers, then what are they? It's hard to conceive of them as manual laborers, or service industry workers or any other such line of work. It's largely a conceit of people who don't want to cop to the essential frivolity of sports that athletics are any more meaningful or deep than, say, Hollywood starlets or pop music.

The third issue is the one that Mariotti doesn't actually explicitly cover in his piece - the fact that sports media is also entertainment, and at times in ways that overshadows the sports themselves. When he mentions Dana Jacobson or Kelly Tilghman - they are media personalities, just like Jay Mariotti. So I'm not surprised that Jay doesn't look too closely under that particular rock.

And now it's time to look at what Jay Mariotti is. He is not an analyst - he doesn't seem to have any particular expertise in any sport, or even to show a passing interest in developing that sort of expertise. Nor does he do any real reporting - it seems almost a perverse point of pride of his that he doesn't show up in the White Sox clubhouse anymore.

No, what Mariotti is is a personality. What he offers is... his services as an entertainer.

If you'll recall, Mariotti wasn't particularly concerned with the purity and sanctity of sport when he was pillorying Ozzie Guille (even if it's pretty clear that Guillen deserved some pillorying there.) He also wasn't concerned about such things when he threatened to punch Hawk Harrelson.

To really have a conversation about the way sports coverage has changed, and how we're heading for the lowest common denomenator - well, Jay Mariotti would have to take a long, uncomfortable look in the mirror, and I don't think he's ready for that. What I think he's really trying to do here is complain about how media personalities like him are now becoming legitimate targets.

Well guess what, Jay. It's a sewer, alright - and you helped build it.

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2 Responses to “What Jay Mariotti doesn't understand”

  1. # Anonymous Jettero2112

    Mariotti writes crap. Very opinionated and uninformed. Like you said, he's an entertainer, nothing else.  

  2. # Anonymous smwojoz

    Congratz on the new blog. Loved your stuff on BCB, but couldn't stand that site any more. Nice to have another voice to read on the blogosphere. Read your comments at ACB and look forward to reading some insight here.  

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