On Jay Mariotti: After I Get Sick I Just Get Sad

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I like Dan Le Batard when I read him, which tends to be during the football season; I am, inexplicably, something of a Dolphins fan. But regarding the "glee" surrounding Jay Mariotti's arrest for assault, he's just wrong:

And I can’t remember, in two decades covering sports, an arrest creating as much glee among sports fans as this one. Unattached, I found it hypnotizing and frightening, seeing so many people enjoy someone else possibly get ruined. But I get it. A lot of people hate the media, an easy punching bag.

Sometimes it's not about the world and culture and self-reflexive media hairshirts: sometimes it's about a specific person. People hate Jay Mariotti because they think he's an asshole, not because of his press pass. Here's Rick Telander (Mariotti's former colleague/rival at the Sun-Times), talking to Michael Miner after Mariotti walked:

A tragedy? I asked Telander.

"Because the damage a 'humorless loner,' as you described him [I did], can do to an overstressed sports department is incalculable." He said the sports department lost its cohesion and became "sinister and secretive and fuck your buddy. It was the worst possible teamwork conditions."

Telander wondered, "Why, if you have somebody like this, do you wait for him to quit? Why don't you just cut him? I will never know. The good thing is that this is a chance for rebirth. This is joy. A whole shitload of guys called me last night joyous! Ding dong, the witch is dead!

Michael Cooke, Mariotti's former boss:

We wish Jay well and will miss him — not personally, of course — but in the sense of noticing he is no longer here, at least for a few days.

Roger Ebert:

The fact that you saved your attack for TV only completes our portrait of you as a rat.... You were a great shouter in print, that's for sure, stomping your feet when owners, coaches and players didn't agree with you.... On your way out, don't let the door bang you on the ass."

Mike Downey, in a post by Michael Miner entitled "Hurricane Jay Hovers Offshore":

The editorial staff of the Tribune is waiting for something dreadful to happen. This will be the announcement that, in a capacity not yet defined, Jay Mariotti is joining the family. "Only six groups would be offended by Jay being hired," says Tribune sports columnist Mike Downey. "The Cubs. The White Sox. The Bears. The Bulls. The Tribune staff. And our readers. Everybody else is going to say, 'What a great hire!'"

Miner himself:

Jocks despised him. Readers despised him. His colleagues despised him.

Steve Rhodes, with about as much praise as exists in the world for Mariotti:

None of this is to defend Mariotti as a columnist. Despite a gift for knowing exactly what Chicago sports fans were thinking about and feeling in their hearts at any given moment (and for being absolutely terrific on TV and radio), Mariotti was a terrible writer who relied on awful, forced nicknames and provocation for the sake of provocation.

[I habitually avoid sports radio and TV talk shows, so Rhodes could very well be absolutely right about that.]

I don't doubt that there's some resentment among readers and athletes that a select group of people with wildly varying knowledge sets and prose skills get paid to judge them. But Mariotti is a special case. It takes a rare ability to alienate people to the extent that they experience schadenfreude even in the context of a domestic violence accusation—a schadenfreude that's predicated on whether or not a woman was beaten by a man.

That's a rare hatred. And it's really fucking sad all around, both that it got to this point, and that Mariotti fed off it to the extent that his last real star turn revolved around an almost citywide hostility. Not surprising—I knew from the minute I heard Mariotti had been arrested that a shitstorm of grim joy would follow—just bottomlessly horrid.

And I think something else is going on. Mariotti's style—loud, hectoring, and aggressive—is on its way out. There's a revenge of the nerds happening in the genre. Thoughtful statheads like Nate Silver, Christina Kahrl, and Rob Neyer are ascendant, as baseball fans nerd out over articles like an analysis of Mariano Rivera's mastery complete with a data-based multimedia presentation. Even a master of traditional, elegiac literary sports journalism like Joe Posnanski is well-versed in the arcane numerology of baseball. The swaggering, two-fisted, TV shouter is burning out, as was probably inevitable. It stopped being fun, if it ever was, and the knives are out.

Mariotti hasn't just been abandoned by colleagues and readers, he's been left behind by sportswriting, like the mirror of a Deford or Updike creation, and this story is about as depressing. He spent so long trafficking in joyless, wearying schadenfreude, and is now surrounded by the ghosts of his own spiteful history. There are lessons here, in writing and life, but no glee.

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