The Sports Internet Mattered

On Deadspin, and another victory for the people who'll never understand.

What has the sports internet meant to me?

Yesterday, the continued scourge of private equity wantonly ruining unique and viable businesses for (at best) no reason or (realistically) bad reasons seemed to have claimed another victim. G/O Media, the accidental parent company of long-running sports website Deadspin, fired the publication’s acting editor and longest-tenured employee, Barry Petchesky, for bucking their corporate edict to “stick to sports”, a phrase so patently at odds with the site’s mission, tone and readership that they’d long sold merchandise with that very phrase on it in jest. Petchesky’s unceremonious ouster came on the heels of editor Megan Greenwell’s resignation two months prior, after she refused to meet the suits’ demands that the site strip everything that made it what it was in a fruitless search for an imaginary larger audience.

Save for David Roth’s essential and self-damaging efforts to chronicle the Trump Era as no one else can, I haven’t read the website with as much regularity as I once did. It means (meant?) a great deal to me, though, as a cornerstone in what made the sports internet a place I could consider home. I don’t want to be overly sappy about it — a lot of that has just been making silly jokes and wasting time on various employers’ clocks — but it’s not a stretch to say that my life, and the lives of many people I know, would be different without the ecosystem that Deadspin helped foster.

When I finished college in 2006 and moved to New York City, it was an adjustment. I was living in a shitty fifth-floor Harlem walkup, trying to have fun in an expensive city where I had no money and knew three people, adjusting to the bleak reality of what 50 hours a week at the same desk actually looked like. One of the bright lights in this time was a sports website that I read every single post from, one that sounded different and acted different than anywhere else. They weren’t beat writers who’d regurgitate coaches’ preferred lines in deference to “access, favor or discretion”. They were wild, free, and funny — and the comments were funnier. (I tried and failed to get approved as a commenter. Late bloomer, I guess.) 

Deadspin hasn’t been without its flaws — when Will Leitch handed the reins to AJ Daulerio, the site’s irreverent tone could verge on irresponsible, petty or downright mean. By then, there were other sites. Kissing Suzy Kolber, With Leather, Warming Glow — many formed from connections other painfully-bored desk jockeys made while commenting on Deadspin. A lot of that content probably hasn’t aged well (who among us has?), but for me, it’s part of a through-line. I ended up on those sites because of Deadspin. I joined Twitter specifically to follow a Warming Glow writer I enjoyed. I made jokes on Twitter, and discovered another offbeat indie sports site in Every Day Should Be Saturday. I made better jokes, and eventually got asked to submit a pitch to them. I kept pitching until they turned off the lights five years later, because once I’m inside your house, there’s nothing you can do but move out or burn it down.

I don’t mean for this to be a self-indulgent history of the sports internet, or a wholly accurate one; I just know my experience is far from unique. There was a time where I felt guilty for wasting so much time when I should be working. The jobs came and went (especially in 2009, when they really went), but this nebulous place remained a constant. I’m not exaggerating when I say that virtually every friend I’ve made since I turned 30 has been in some part because I got online and bullshitted about sports. At age 32, I moved to a new city I had no family or history in, and I had a half-dozen friends made in advance. I maintain an active daily group text with four friends I consider very dear based entirely on connections made through being weird about sports online. I know countless people who’ve formed friendships, relationships, careers and more based on communities that didn’t limit their discussion, didn’t focus on pleasing everyone, didn’t adhere to what the MBAs thought was best for the bottom line.

The weird places mattered, more than I ever appreciated in the moments before they stopped being quite so weird and started being fenced in, tamped down and polished smooth in the name of theoretical audience growth. Adulthood is a lonely place, and the traditional models of sports fandom and sports coverage have little to offer in addressing that. I’ve never had much interest in bonding with fellow fans of my teams based on rooting commonality alone. The fact that someone’s a Cleveland Browns fan doesn’t tell me much other than we share geographic roots and a tolerance for bad football. The fact that someone can tell a joke about sports that makes me laugh, or present an angle on sports that extends beyond the boxscore, beyond the press conference talking points, tie it to a larger social picture? That tells me a lot more — about shared perspective, shared values, shared sensibility.

The notion that I’d write for a sports website run by a couple of Florida Gators fans or co-host a sports podcast with a University of Louisville grad would’ve seemed ludicrous to me 15 years ago, but only seemed natural when those things happened. 

I sincerely hope Deadspin survives. There’s a staff full of terrific writers left there, and a hard-fought-for union with a collective bargaining agreement that in a just world they will be able to hold the vultures to. Those vultures will come for other things next, though. They will continue to lap up the most viable and vital parts of the internet, pave them unrecognizable with ads, cut costs, burnish off the bumps and ridges that gave it character, and present it gleefully to you, the consumer, like a dog with a dead bird in its mouth: look, here’s a thing we ruined, aren’t you proud of us? They won’t understand what they’ve done, but at the same time they’ll have a vague sense of why they’ve done it, and those intentions are never good. 

I hope they fail. I hope they leave holes in their fences — and they will, because they’re shoddy builders who don’t pay attention to what they’re doing. I hope things get through, and I hope there are still places to be weird. 

Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)

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