Thoughts on Jeff Pearlman
Before I begin, I would like to make a point to the younger collegians that frequent this blog:
Don’t ever graduate.
Not because graduating suddenly means hardship and separation from all the people you’ve learned to love over the last few years of your life. Mostly, don’t graduate because, right before you graduate, it gets really hard. So hard, in fact, that I can’t even bring myself to happily acknowledge the dick joke that just happened right there. (That’s right, kids – college will eventually make you hate dick jokes. I suggest quadruple majoring in things that require few books.)
That’s why my blognificance here has been relegated to a couple snarky comments (note: sorry bout that, boys).
Also, and way more egregiously, this predicament has left me behind on most of the sports goings on in the world. I know Joe Crede is now a Twin (yay!), I know some guy hit his head on a rim during a Pistons game (double yay!), and I know A-Rod did steroids.
I can’t really bring myself to solid opinion on this final matter. To most of my friends, I’m the steroids apologist – I can see why they’re considered cheating, I can see why so many people are repulsed by the notion of players using, but none of this leads me to the sort of hardline “HE’S A CHEATER” mentality that many seem to adopt as their own.
This inability to form a solid opinion is part of the reason I love blogs so much – as someone who reads anywhere between 5 and 10 sports blogs on a regular basis, I get a good deal of different perspectives on the matters of the day. I can remember reading some of Fire Joe Morgan‘s opinions on users (which, to my detriment, I cannot find, but there was one specific piece that talked about how the author would have reacted as a baseball player to learning a teammate was doing steroids), being so pleased that some of the best bloggers out there were adopting a logical and nuanced stance on something that the mainstream media treats as an issue with one side. Hell, in general, most blogs seem to aspire to the “Who cares? When’s the next game?” variety of commentary, searching for the fun of the game rather than reasons to hate it.
This is why Jeff Pearlman doesn’t make sense to me.
Pearlman has, ostensibly, been a writer on the internet for years, writing both for ESPN.com’s Page 2 and SI.com. During this time, his targets have been pretty steady – steroid users, Barry Bonds, and baseball players in general. I’m not going to claim I remember much of his writing by heart, but upon my cursory re-reading, I would hazard to say that he’s pretty fair to the first two of those topics. He goes after Bonds for being an asshole (which seems pretty blatant), and he goes after steroid users because they’re dirty cheats (again, an opinion he is welcome to, and that most people would support).
I think my real problem with Pearlman starts with the discussion of the state of baseball players. This first instance I can really think of this Slate article he wrote around the publication of his Barry Bonds biography. More recently, he wrote a piece that appeared on Deadspin about the A-Rod press conference. Let’s take a random sampling of what he has to say about athletes in general:
In my 15 years of covering sports, I’ve heard hundreds of athletes talk of “being a real man” A real man plays hard. A real man shows up on time. A real man admits his mistake. A real man … blah, blah, blah. Truth be told, being a real man (if one must use such a stupid phrasing) means having guts to go against the uniform and the expected behavior. Of course the Yankees stood behind Rodriguez-because 95 percent of these boobs have never taken a stand in their lives. The foundation of their existences centers around repetition and precision; doing as told and being robotic in response and output. That, more than anything, is why I’d rather my daughter and son become bowling shoe cleaners than pro athletes. I want them to be blessed with conviction and decency, not mindless adherence.
There is very similar language in the Slate piece, specifically the bit about his children. His point is clear – athletes are not good people in the sense that they do what will keep things together rather than what is right. Point very, very, very well taken.
The question you might be asking yourself as you read: why does this make Pearlman a bad online writer? Why put ‘ostensibly’ where I did when stating his time served as an e-scribe? In fact, Pearlman seems to be observing one of the major tenants of blogging: going against the status quo. Print journalists, I would hazard to guess, would be reluctant to write these sort of overarching words about athletes, because it denies them the major perk of their job – access. If they don’t have access, they aren’t considered an expert anymore. Pearlman is certainly taking this idea apart, and bully on him for that.
However, taking this viewpoint ignores the fact that everything Pearlman is saying is based on solid, hardcore access. Pearlman doesn’t hate athletes without reason – he hates them because he’s spent the better part of his professional career (and, assumedly, his undergraduate journalism career) near them, understanding exactly how spineless they might be.
It goes back to the Robert Traylor anecdote that Will Leitch has told (in book form or blog, I can’t remember) – how exactly can you still like sports when you get penises flopped in your face on a daily basis? Look at the subjects Pearlman has devoted book-worthy time to: the ’86 Mets (a team famous for drugs and bad behavior), the Cowboys of the ’90s (a team famous for drugs and bad behavior), Barry Bonds (well-documented as an asshole), and Roger Clemens (ditto). Of course his understanding of professional athletes seems negative; he has a gifted flair for writing about the worst of the worst.
I’m sorry, but I’m not exactly positive of the point of this article, and I know that hurts my case – the fact that Jeff Pearlman is an outstanding writer with a lot of sports writing under his belt does not bode well for me, the poorly-organized blogger with a misspelled handle. If there’s one thing that I truly want to say in this exercise is how alienated I felt reading Pearlman’s Deadspin article. Like I used to feel when I would pour over sports pages as a kid, suddenly my opinion didn’t matter – Pearlman had lept to his feet, shoved his hand into the air, and called out the entire Yankee organization on behalf of sports fans everywhere (I know it was his personal opinion, but the man writes in absolutes, particularly in that article. His point of view is coming from that of the concept of “the fan”, not a fan in particular).
There’s no possible empathy for the players in Pearlman’s piece; there’s no discussion of, perhaps, that it doesn’t matter to players who uses because they feel empathetic towards users’ situations, or that it doesn’t matter to players because it helps their team win, or that it doesn’t matter because baseball is their job and they don’t have to love it for its purity and sweetness like some fans do. Pearlman simply doesn’t want to hear it.
It is a bold point he is making, but it is a point that essentially aims to subvert the fun of sports, to negatively color our perception of sports by painting the players as a bunch of worthless human beings. That, in turn, subverts the beauty of the sports blog – to read that article is to pay for the experiences of Jeff Pearlman. You don’t have a place because you don’t know, and it’s that sort of didactic speech that makes me subconciously want to wash my hands, wary of the lifted newspaper print that must be staining them.