Thursday, March 05, 2009

"God Save the Fan" by Will Leitch

Just finished reading "God Save the Fan" by founding editor Will Leitch. Pretty interesting read from a guy who built an enormous website around the types of sports stories not traditionally covered in the mainstream media.

Leitch's website with links to his work and current writing for New York Magazine can be found here and (as his website also features) "God Save the Fan" is just his most recent book, with several others, including the Young Adult book "Catch" coming prior). Back to the book at hand, though... it's an entertaining read that gives the author's view on sports through the prism of it's major entities: the players, the owners, the media and most importantly, the fans.

The fundamental point that Leitch makes throughout the book is that sports are simply games that provide an escape from everyday life for the fans who watch them. The commentators who ascribe huge meaning to events and attempt to generate epic controversy can get in the way of that basic escape and enjoyment.

Maybe it's expanding on this and maybe it's digressing from it a bit, but below are some of the more interesting things I took from the book (yep... in order from start to finish):

Introduction: Features an anecdote about the "pre-everyone finding out about the dogfighting" Michael Vick. At the time he was hugely popular and heavily promoted by ESPN and other major sports entities. Though it was posted on, nobody seemed to care that Vick was being accused of giving a girl herpes... and then seeking medical treatment under the most excellent name "Ron Mexico". Good stuff.

Part 1: Players
- Leitch makes the point that the steroid controvery is a touch silly given that it's portrayed as such a crime and yet taking cortisone shots described as athletes simply paying the price.
- NBA star Gilbert Arenas is trumpeted as being the perfect pro athlete for fans to relate to because... he's a bit loony and speaks of sports as being a diversionary entertainment for the fans rather than being something of enormous import that it's not.

Part 2: Owners
- Observation about how fans often side with owners over players in cases of salary disputes. The surmised reason why is that fans can see themselves as being management more than they can imagine being pro athletes. This is tied closely to the fact that people think they could be general managers "if just given the chance".
- Mention of the college football website

Part 3: Media (and why it can be lame)
- Leitch's college experience reporting with Michigan basketball player Robert "Tractor" Traylor. The phrase "because he can" comes to mind... and the story is enough to push anyone away from wanting to be a sports reporter.
- The ESPN empire and it's various foibles... some amusing and relatively harmless (especially for the fellas) and some more disconcerting. Especially how ESPN influences through it's coverage choices.
- The Carl Monday saga. Too nuanced and fantastic to fully describe here so the wikipedia reference will have to do. Having seen it, I highly recommend The Daily Show with Jon Stewart report on Carl Monday.
- The idea of a "sports media expert". C'mon... please. Hence, the blogs...

Part 4: Fans
- Again... it should be about being entertained (or distracted and entertained as the case may be). Everything else... well, to borrow a phrase, it's just noise (or Dick Vitale / Stephen A. Smith / Skip Bayless shouting).

Good book. Entertaining for a sports fan.