Though I’m doing my damndest to take a three-day writing break, with the arrival of the latest edition of the Sunday Tribune, I simply could not pass up the opportunity to point out that, when predicting the outcome of Bear’s games, after five separate contests, that newspaper’s collective sportswriter mind trust is a combined 7 and 28.
That’s right – 7 and 28 – which adds up to a .250 winning percentage. Even the Cubs can do better than that.
To put that dismal performance in perspective, a group of seven monkeys throwing darts at a large board containing a random array of “W’s” and “L’s” stand to do 50 percent better. And remember, all our Tribune sportswriters have to do is pick the winner – they don’t even have to contend with the spread.
The sad truth is, you actually have to make a concerted and consistent effort to be that bad!
And that last thought reminded me of a most excellent passage from Chuck Klosterman’s most excellent book, Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs which may well explain our statistically anomalous sportswriter phenomenon:
SPORTS REPORTERS HATE SPORTS.
Nobody realizes how much the people who write about sports despise the subject they write about. There is nothing they hate more. I know that seems paradoxical, and most of them would never admit it in public. But give them four drinks in a deserted tavern, and you will hear the truth: The people paid to inform you about the world of professional, collegiate, and high school athletics would love to see all sports – except for maybe the NCAA basketball tournament – eradicated from the planet.
What’s depressing is that this was not always the case for these people. Back when today’s sportswriters were still enthusiastic young fellows playing outside at recess, they loved sports. It was the only thing they loved, usually. They were the kind of kids who would watch a baseball game on TV and keep the official book, and they worshipped Brent Musburger and they memorized statistics from the World Almanac and they cried when Dwight Clark caught a pass in the back of the end zone to beat the Dallas Cowboys in 1981. Very often, the only important connection they had with their fathers was watching Monday Night Football. All their adolescence, these guys dreamed of a life where they could thing about sports for a living. So they all went to college and got journalism degrees, and they all got jobs as sportswriters. And five years later, they all find themselves watching games from the press box and secretly wishing they were holding sniper’s rifles.
If you want to become jaded and bitter in the shortest period possible, become a sportswriter. You will spend your Friday nights trying to talk to high school kids who have nothing to say, and you will have to ask them questions until they give you a quote that proves it. You will spend your Saturday afternoons talking to college players who will earnestly discuss the importance of academics and school spirit two hours before they rape the first girl unluckiest enough to chug a GHB kamikaze. And if you become really good at your job, you will eventually get to live in hotels for weeks at a time, alongside millionaire pro athletes who – if not for the ability to perform once socially irrelevant act – would quite possibly kill you and steal your car. And you will still remember statistics from the World Almanac, but now those memories will make you mad.
However, athletes aren’t the worst part about being a sportswriter; after a few months, the players merely become literary devices. The worst part about being a sportswriter is that no one will ever have a normal conversation with you for the rest of your life. Everyone you meet will either (a) want to talk about sports, or (b) assume you want to talk about sports. Strangers will feel qualified to walk up to you in a café and complain about Rasheed Wallace; upon your introduction, your girlfriend’s father will immediately ask you oddly specific questions about the New York Rangers. You may have insightful thoughts on the Middle East, but no one will care; they will be interested in your thoughts on middle relieving.
Over time, you will see your life disappear into sweat and contract negotiations and description of the wishbone offense. And you will hate it. And normal sports fans deserve to know this. They deserve to know that the people telling them about the Utah Jazz enjoy pro basketball about as much as Catholic priests enjoy watching the Thorn Birds. I honestly feel the best sports journalism of the last ten years has been Jim Rome’s work on his radio program The Jungle, since Rome seems to be the only man who aggressively accepts one very important truth: The single best part about loving sports is hating sports.
And you all thought opinion columnists were nuts!