Friday, January 21, 2011

Jeff Pearlman calls the kettle black

Jeff Pearlman wrote an article for CNN in which he explores the nastiness of anonymity among internet commenters.

It's a telling article that explores a very real problem on the internet--the nastiness of people when they feel they have anonymity to hide behind. His conclusion--that people who are assholes anonymously on the internet aren't necessarily assholes in real life--has some valid implications and raises the question of what the medium of internet comments does to the level and tone of discourse in America. I'm glad he wrote it.

However, let's ask this question: to what extent does Jeff Pearlman help create this problem? I recognize that every sportswriter (and politics writer and video game writer and Fire Jay Mariotti blog writer) gets a bevy of vitriolic and over-the-line nasty reader responses, no matter how unabashedly nice they are (Joe Posnanski) or how big of a mean-spirited piece of shit they are (Murray Chass).

However, Jeff Pearlman's articles and blog posts are characterized by, if not a mean-spirited vitriol of their own, at the very least a disillusionment at the negative character of athletes which manifests itself with name-calling and accusations against the character of these athletes. I wonder to what extent Jeff's history of writing articles and books and blog posts assassinating the moral character of players like Barry Bonds, Allen Iverson, Roger Clemens, and Randy Johnson--figures who Jeff knows have no real ability to answer his specific accusations even should they want to--help contribute to the generally negative discourse level of internet sportswriting and sportsreading. In a recent blog post (and SI companion artcicle), for instance, Jeff made a "come on, we all know he did it" post about how Jeff Bagwell--a man who may be denied the HOF over nothing but idle speculation--almost assuredly, by Jeff's mind, took steroids absent any real evidence or even real hearsay. Not a very nice article by any means, and one Bagwell has no real power to respond to.

Here are the topics of the four sports books Jeff Pearlman has written

1.) Barry Bonds is a living breathing piece of shit and also a cheater

2.) Roger Clemens is a living breathing piece of shit and also a cheater

3.) The 1986 Mets were living breathing pieces of shit, some of whom do vile things with their enormous penises, but he kind of likes them anyway.

4.) The 1990's Cowboys were living breathing pieces of shit, some of whom do vile things with their enormous penises, but he kind of likes them anyway.

Maybe (probably) Pearlman is dead on about these teams and players being living breathing pieces of shit. It's certainly likely. But to what extent does this kind of focus cultivate a combative attitude among readers and writers? Certainly the readers who send Pearlman vile hatemail aren't RIGHT to do it. Quite the opposite--calling Pearlman a Kotex might be amusing in its randomness, but it's undoubtedly an uncalled for insult that reflects a lot more about the writer of the insult than about Pearlman hiself. But is it apropos of nothing? The more you read Pearlman's sports-hate, the less you think it is. Or at least the less I think it is.

Food for thought.

In other words, Jeff, you might be pointing your finger at the right target, but in this blogger's mind, there are four fingers pointing right back at you.


cs said...

Very, very interesting post, you make a good point. All this backlash against blogging, but where did this culture come from? It didn't just materialize out of thin air.

I suppose if you aren't creating something, like performing on the field, one option is to attack the creation to gain people's attention. Blogging on sports journalism is just an extension of this.

I don't know, but nice post.

Chris W said...

I hope I was clear that there's no excuse for the kind of bullshit that Pearlman has to put up with via commenters. I'm glad you got what I was going for, cs...that this isn't just random people taking their frustrations out randomly, but that there might be something about sports writing that causes people to resort to a kind of violent insanity usually reserved for discussions politics, religion, and which season of the Simspons is the best

cs said...

Yeah, I think you open up a really interesting door. And for whatever it's worth, speaking on karma, what goes around comes around. These journalists, who make their money analyzing and criticizing the words and actions of athletes, and not stopping there, they take moral positions in events and situations they have no tangible connection to... well, these same journalists now find themselves being criticized and their every word analyzed and ripped apart. It's all very poetic actually.

Chris W said...

It reminds me of the Canterbury Tales

Chris W said...

Internet comment of my lifetime comes from BBTF's Newsblog's discussion of this article:

6. Khalil Greene Preservation Society (Walewander) Posted: January 21, 2011 at 02:33 PM (#3734161)

You know, this is the plot of Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.

Chris W said...

Also you know what this reminds me of? The epic beard man thing. Yes, there is no excuse for anyone ever hitting an old man and it makes you a piece of shit for doing it. But if epic beard man can seriously watch that video and say he did absolutely nothing to provoke that attack he's wrong. It doesn't mean he had it coming and it doesn't mean his attacker was justified. Just means it's not inexplicable and it has a lot to do with epic beard man himself.

For the purpose of this comment, I am assuming Jeff Pearlman has an epic beard, despite photos I have seen to the contrary.

Dan said...

Really interesting point. Nice write up.