A Sports Fan's Lament
SCOTT SIMON, host:
This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.
Coming up, why would you ever want to burn an unpublished Nabokov novel? Because the author said to.
But first, the buildup to the Super Bowl, which will be played on February 3rd, has already begun. Was Tom Brady limping when he left his girlfriend's townhouse? Can the younger Manning match not only his older brother but please his father? Is this an Old Testament story or Super Bowl XLII, as the Romans used to say? All these storylines, the agony, the ecstasy, the pomposity.
Will Leitch has a new book out, "God Save the Fan," in which he argues that sports have been essentially hijacked by a sports entertainment industry that hyperbolizes to promote itself. Millions of people check in to Mr. Leitch's Web site, deadspin.com, a sport site, each month. He joins us from New York.
Thank you for being with us.
Mr. WILL LEITCH (Author, "God Save the Fan"): Of course. Thanks for having me.
SIMON: A recurrent theme in your book seems to be - in fact, I wrote it down. To quote it, "Just don't tell me, being a sports fan involves blissful ignorance of the outside world, and that's just fine."
Mr. LEITCH: I think people that work in sports media, they see the passion plays. This is their entire kind of life, and they have to put it on a larger context. But I think the average sports fan doesn't necessarily see sports that way. I think they see it as a place to kind of duck in and enjoy, and then to distract them from their regular, everyday lives a little bit.
SIMON: I mean, I have to point out, you were certainly devoting your professional life to sports.
Mr. LEITCH: I think a mistake a lot of people make when they write about sports it's it turns into a controversy. It turns into, I take this stand and now you take this stand. And, you know, it leads to this - just basically almost the…
SIMON: Skip Bayless and Woody Paige barking at each other on ESPN.
Mr. LEITCH: Yeah. And I think - you know, I think when you get into that kind of idea where everyone's on one side or everyone's on the other, and there has to be this clash, I think that gets away from the way people actually interact with sports.
SIMON: Give us an example that's on your mind. I don't mean the recent thing with Dana Jacobson.
Mr. LEITCH: Yeah.
SIMON: But the way, you know, for example, somebody says, I mean, like, could you believe he call that play?
Mr. LEITCH: Yeah. Yeah, it's funny because basically it all does turn into that. One of my favorite examples is to talk about Skip Bayless. And everybody has their shtick. His shtick is contrarianism. And certainly if - I always imagine Tiger Woods won four majors in a row and Skip Bayless will be like, yes, but can he fly?
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LEITCH: I generally think that's kind of the direction you see a little bit, and it's kind of a shame because certainly it becomes to be - this one person named Tiger Woods is great, and nope, he lacks wings.
SIMON: Mr. Leitch, I would feel remiss if I didn't raise what I find to be the most disagreeable part of your book with you.
Mr. LEITCH: Okay.
SIMON: You have some sections, which are mostly very funny, called glossaries…
Mr. LEITCH: Mm-hmm.
SIMON: …where you list, you know - Armstrong, Lance, genetic freak Texan who'd defy the laws of reason by sparking a brief interest in the deathly boring sport of cycling. That's pretty funny.
Mr. LEITCH: All right. Thank you.
SIMON: And you know, I mean, you've got them for lots of people. Most of these are very good-natured, but more than once - and you mentioned Tiger Woods. I'm going to read a Tony Dungy entrance - entry to you, if I could.
(Reading) Beloved Colts coach who overcame the suicide of his son to become the first black coach to win the Super Bowl, despite not really being black, not really.
And you make that comment about a number of African-American athletes. And I'm puzzled, and I don't know what to make of it. On top of everything else, where do you get off deciding who's not black really and who is.
Mr. LEITCH: Well, certainly I would hardly call myself the arbiter of that, to say the least. There is an element of a quick joke to that, I will confess. But certainly I think that, you know - and Dungy's a bad example, too, because he - even if he has been quite the leader of men in a lot of ways, but certainly I think that, you know, I claim no moral authority on that, to say the least. But I do think it's fair to point out, you know, there's a joke - there's an essay in the book where I talk about how literally the first black man my sister had ever seen was a Cardinal centerfielder.
And I think that's - in a lot of ways, there's a misunderstanding among a lot of mainstream sports fans, along with - and particularly in very rural communities, the only interaction they really have with African-Americans is through the world of sports. And I think sometimes that get skewed a little bit. But certainly, I will confess that may be an example of going to a cheaper joke than probably is fair.
SIMON: You know, I hate to keep coming back to this, but I just flipped a page. Gumbel Greg, Bryant's bushy haired brother, who somehow manages to be more boring and white than his sibling. You got a problem.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Mr. LEITCH: I don't think so. But I suppose in that context, it might sound that way, yes.
SIMON: Sometimes in this book you complain that advertisers will reduce sports fans to, you know, a stereotype - eating chips, drinking beer, going (unintelligible) with each other.
Mr. LEITCH: Yes.
SIMON: And then in a lot of your glossary entries, you seem to go straight to talking about an athlete's sex life or their flatulence. And I think it's all - we've already reviewed their race. So, how are you different?
Mr. LEITCH: There's no sort of claim in the book that, like, come with me sports fans and I will lead you to freedom, sort of thing. I mean, you know, as to me, the fun of the - a lot of the fun of sports is to be able to make jokes and laugh around a little bit. And certainly, I will confess that I'm not always - I think when you're trying to be funny, there are things that you won't always be taking the high road all the time. But I think, hopefully, most people that tend to interact with the site and with the book, they tend to recognize what's all and fun.
SIMON: Will Leitch, author of the new book, "God Save the Fan," and editor of the sport blog Deadspin.com.
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