Buzz Bissinger is an angry man (and he has a potty mouth)
In a debate on HBO, the celebrated sports author rants, raves, and shows he has serious issues with sports blogs.
Jim KerstetterStaff writer, CNET News
Jim Kerstetter has been writing about the high-tech industry since the 1990s. He has been a senior editor at PC Week and a Silicon Valley correspondent at BusinessWeek. He is now senior executive editor at CNET News. He moved back to Boston because he missed the Red Sox. E-mail Jim.
Think it can get testy between mainstream media and technology blogs? Take a break from that Twitter debate and head over to the sports world.
Tuesday night, HBO's "CostasNow" put a harsh light on sports blogging (you can see the segment yourself). The highlight was a panel discussion with Costas, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards, Will Leitch, editor of the sports blog Deadspin, and H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger, author of the book Friday Night Lights,which was later turned into a movie and television series.
The segment was stunning for two reasons: One; Costas either didn't know or didn't bother to note the difference between comments on blogs posts and the actual blog posts (Come on Bob, you're supposed to be the most intelligent sports commentator today. What's the deal?). Two; Bissinger is an angry, angry man. In an expletive-filled tirade the author-I-used-to-admire ranted, raved and generally appeared unhinged by the sports blogosphere.
That Bissinger didn't see the irony in dropping f-bombs while decrying the profanity of blogs is certainly interesting to note. By comparison, Leitch, the guy who is supposed to be responsible for so much blog pollution, was polite and thoughtful. That appeared to annoy Bissinger, who noted, "You're sort of like Jimmy Olsen on Percoset." Check out the video for yourself. All I can say is, thank God it was on HBO, or the guy with the "bleep" button would still be icing his hand.
I exaggerate, of course--but not much.
Bissinger's best-known book, Friday Night Lights, isn't just good sports writing, it's an important piece of journalism. Unfortunately, none of the insight, sensitivity or clear-headed thinking he shows in his writing was on display on the Costas show. All viewers saw was an older guy worried he's getting marginalized by a new generation of writers who don't play by his rules (and different = bad).
Now let's dispense with the caveats: Do some sports blogs stink? Sure. Just like some tech blogs do - and a lot of them are excellent (Just like plenty of tech blogs. I put Deadspin somewhere in the middle). Are some sports bloggers full it when they say they don't want the access mainstream sportswriters get because it will taint their opinions? Of course they are. Offer 12 of them an interview with Lakers star Kobe Bryant, and I guarantee 12 of them will agree to do it. And yes, more than a few comments on Deadspin are crude, cruel, or both. Unlike most tech blogs, which like News.com remove a comment if it's reported to be offensive, sports blogs often aren't so concerned about keeping the conversation constructive.
Of course, debates like the one on the Costas show are framed in hyperbole. Sports blogs don't mean the death of in-depth sports writing. Sure, the more gossipy sports blogs may have more readers than the thoughtful ones, but there's nothing new there: People magazine has always had plenty more readers than The New Yorker. That doesn't mean People is about to put The New Yorker out of business. There's room for both.
To his credit, Bissinger allowed that "there are some good blogs out there. But they are few and far between." But if his behavior Tuesday night is something to which a young generation of writers is supposed to aspire, well, maybe young sportswriters do need to find a new way of doing things.