I don't talk much about sports TV in these parts, but last night's special town-hall meeting episode of HBO's "Costas Now" was so memorable -- trainwrecky in spots, brilliant and insightful in others -- that I wanted to weigh in on it. If you didn't see it, HBO will be rerunning it a million times this week (starting tonight at 6:30 on the main channel), and if you're at all interested in the current state of sports media -- or in watching people get handed their lunch on live TV -- I highly recommend it.
Spoilers coming right up...
So, in the course of 90 very ambitious minutes, Costas attempted to tackle five different hot-button issues about sports media: 1)The increasing hostility of sports talk radio, 2)The rise of sports blogs, 3)The state of sports TV, 4)The increasingly strained relationship between athletes and the reporters who cover them, and 5)Coverage (or the lack thereof) of racial issues in sports.
That is a lot to deal with, especially since you could spend more than 90 minutes discussing each topic. In fact, when Costas had to cut short the racism discussion, just when things were really getting interesting, because they were out of time, he promised they would devote a separate show just to that subject in the near future.
Of the five, I thought the sports talk radio segment did the best job of covering all the bases in its allotted time -- or maybe I was just entertained by the spectacle of Michael Strahan owning local WFAN hyena Christopher "Mad Dog" Russo, with whom Strahan has been feuding for eight years. (Maybe the best moment: when Russo tried to ingratiate himself with Strahan by noting that he and Mike praised his play in the Super Bowl, Strahan shot back with, "You had no choice!") But it was a frank and lively discussion, and Russo didn't shy away from the fact that his show thrives a lot more on the negative than the positive. My only real complaint was that, in the clip package that set up the discussion, the talking head they used to decry the hostile state of sports talk radio was the odious Jay Mariotti, whose work -- which largely involves taking potshots at Chicago sports figures while avoiding the locker room itself -- is basically the newspaper equivalent of all that he's decrying about radio.
The blogging segment, not surprisingly, was the one everyone wants to talk about on-line today, both because of its subject and because it was such a spectacular, ugly, weird mess.
For this one, the panelists were Will Leitch, who runs Deadspin, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and sometime sports author H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger ("Friday Night Lights"), and poor Cleveland Browns wide receiver Braylon Edwards, who looked confused and terrified about how and why he got dragged into the middle of this.
Anyway, things didn't get off to a good start with Costas mocking/joking that he found Leitch "far more palatable in person." It went downhill from there, as not two minutes into the segment, Bissinger cut off Leitch and said, "I have to interject, because I feel really strongly about this. I think you're full of shit."
This the led to a long rant about legendary sportswriter W.C. Heinz -- which Leitch defused (not that Bissinger seemed to care) by pointing out that he knew of and had read Heinz's work -- and how blogs in general and Leitch in particular represent all that is evil and wrong. His evidence? Not any posts written by Leitch himself, but comments to posts, or excerpts from some of the other Deadspin contributors.
Now, I should say that I have some personal history with Bissinger, most of it not good, and I don't want to let my biases color my take on what happened. You can see the whole thing for yourself at Awful Announcing. And you can also read Leitch's own take on what went down.
But outside of whether Buzz was right or fair to pile on Leitch the way he did (and Costas didn't seem particularly interested in pulling him off), the segment suffered badly from its limited time and scope. To have Leitch up there representing all sports bloggers would be like having the editor of TMZ up there to represent all on-line entertainment coverage. There's a lot more out there than pictures of celebrities getting drunk and making fools of themselves, you know? Some of the best baseball stuff I read lately comes from blogs, whether it's from newspaper guys working on-line like Joe Posnanski or Peter Abraham, or non-pros like Alex Belth from Bronx Banter. There are sports gossip blogs, but there are also analytical blogs, beat blogs, and all kinds of other on-line sports coverage that does the job as well as, or better than, the traditional newspaper, radio and TV guys.
The clip package included some comments from Mike Schur, who when he's not writing for "The Office" (or playing Mose Scrhute) blogs under the name Ken Tremendous at FireJoeMorgan.com, whose specialty is pointing out all the mistakes and hypocrisy you can find in the worst of mainstream sports media -- which, in its own way is just as bad as the worst of blogs. It's Sturgeon's Law at work: 95% of blogs are crap, because 95% of everything is crap. Had Schur not been otherwise occupied with his day job, it would have been interesting to have him up on the panel as well -- if nothing else, he could have agitated Buzz a little more by talking about that Tony LaRussa book Buzz wrote.
If Costas is going to do another 90-minute show just on race, he should see about also revisiting the Internet for its own show, because the way it played out last night left a bad taste in my mouth.
What did everybody else think?