Deadspin Editor Will Leitch

will-leitch.jpgWill Leitch, editor of Deadspin, heads the most popular sports blog on the web. There are other blogs, but there is only one Deadspin. He’s published two books, Catch and Life of a Loser (a memoir) and is currently working on two more to be published next year. He writes occasionally for the New York Times when he’s not busy being–in his words–the stupid guy typing all day. He’s unapologetic and straight up honest when describing the cynicism of Deadspin and has been a force on the web since 1998. Like he says many times in the interview, we all have a different place on the web to make our objectives known the best we can. We have drastically different views on subjects but also share a commonality regarding others. I let Will speak without espousing my personal views for the most part with the objectives of TSF in mind. Any interview we conduct on The Starting Five will hopefully spur a candid but healthy debate. This conversation is no different. People, you know how we do here, so I hope you enjoy.

MT: Describe the transition going from the avant garde Black Table to the immensely popular Deadspin.

WL: I’d been in New York for seven years and like a lot of people I came to New York to be a writer–all pretentious, look at me. Basically, I found that it was incredibly hard to find good journalism jobs in New York. I ended up covering the financial industry. I covered Morgan Stanley. I don’t know anything about Morgan Stanley and I don’t care about anything Morgan Stanley so that made me a terrible person to be writing about Morgan Stanley (Will laughs). Myself and three other friends of mine that were covering financial stuff that we didn’t know anything about became frustrated. We were like a lot of people we knew who were very good journalists and writers and no one was getting to see our stuff. We then started the Black Table, which was basically the four of us starting something of our own–not waiting for someone to give us a shot. We were just going to put our own stuff out there and if people like it great. If not, then it was more fun than what we were doing during the day anyway. From there it took off, the Black Table took off and people kinda got into to it. Gawker media–which owns Deadspin along with Wonkett, Defamer and some other sites–saw my stuff and asked if I was interested in doing a site for them. They wanted to do a gambling site. (Will laughs) I think gambling is bad for sports. So I suggested they do a sports site. They were really hesitant at first, but I kinda mapped it out how the whole thing would work. They saw my vision for what it was and I somehow talked them into it. I think I got someone to drink enough alcohol.

Deadspin became an entirely different animal the minute it went live and people started interacting with it. Frankly, its a much better site with everyone else involved than it would be with just me typing.

MT: Let’s revisit the Black Table. What was your vision for the site?

WL: The original idea was to find stories that journalists had written that had been killed from news papers and magazines that were good and didn’t have anywhere to run. We as freelancers had that happen to us. We got so into it that we developed our own voice pretty quick to the point that most stories that would be killed weren’t what we would call a Black Table story. It was independent journalism–columns and report pieces.

One of my favorite pieces we ever did was a story one of our reporters did where he went to ten different people who owned Port-a-potty companies. Those cats got some stories man. (Will chuckles)

MT: I bet. I hear that.

WL: (Will laughs) I never read that (type) story. I thought it was a very interesting thing. It was kind of funny because of the four editors–all of which were working lousy trade publication jobs–one is at Esquire, one is at New York magazine, one is at Philadelphia magazine and…I’m a blogger. So at least everyone else is doing well. (Will laughs) So, it was independent journalism on the web with us as the editors. There were assigned pieces. We took pictures. It wasn’t a blog. It didn’t even resemble a blog. We really took it pretty seriously. As seriously as you could take anything that you don’t get paid for.

MT: Getting back to Deadspin, what are your goals and objectives for developing such a site?

WL: My main objective is to be able to continue to do it (Will laughs). The story I always as the story that got me excited about doing the site–to show there was actually a need for it–was the Michael Vick, Ron Mexico story. That happened before Deadspin. It’s funny that people think we had something to do with the breaking of that story. It happened long before Deadspin. It seemed incredibly strange to me that Michael Vick (wasn’t being pursued regarding this story). Michael Vick, at the time, was the most marketable athlete in the NFL, if not all of sports. The Smoking Gun came with this lawsuit that he had given someone herpes–which is really not that big of a deal. He came up with the name Ron Mexico. It’s just a very funny story. Two weeks after that story, no one picked it up. ESPN didn’t pick it up. Sports Illustrated did a cover story on Vick two weeks after that came out and never even mentioned it? That just seemed insane to me. That’s exactly the type of story that sports fans would be talking about. So I realized that there were so many portals that a story had to get over just to get people to talk about it. That seemed crazy to me.

So that’s one of the reasons why I started Deadspin. Because of all the conflicts of interests of your mainstream media organizations, it just wasn’t getting through. So the goal was not only to get fans talking about these types of stories but to actually have the fans involved in the process. To not have this kinda pretend line between the “experts” in the media and the fans who paint their face, scream and have foam (#1) fingers. I never thought that was a very accurate representation of what fans actually were and I think my site has been able to prove that a little bit.

MT: Do you think fans care about the results of games or the off the field, behind the scenes gossip that is happening on the web en masse?

WL: I think it’s both frankly. I think the only differentiation about what fans care about and what fans don’t is that the mainstream media has not been covering a lot of off field stuff.

Look, these guys are entertainers. That’s all they are. I think a lot of people that have been covering sports for a long time have this idea that we all want our athletes to be heroes–deified people that we look up to. I don’t think that’s the way people react to sports at all. They are paid entertainers. Fans are the boss. You never hear people talk about, well: “Well I don’t know why we don’t let Tom Cruises’s movies speak for themselves.” That’s insane. No one would ever do that. For some reason we act like in sports that the act of being an athlete is such a sacred endeavour that we are not supposed to recognize that they are simply entertainers–and that’s all they are. They are very wonderful entertainers. Much of the entertainment of what they do is that it excites me to root for a great athlete. Let’s not get carried away. They are entertainers. We pay them to entertain us. That’s their job. If their wasn’t the fans paying for all this, then their wouldn’t be anything. You see this when labor negotiations come up. Reporters talking about the story as if: “Hey! How they gonna put up all this money? All the fans can’t understand that it’s a delicate process? Who are the people that gave you all this money? One of the main problems is that when you have a career in sports–whether you are a player, athlete or a media member–you by definition think that sports are more important than what they actually are. The average person that follows sports does so to get away from their every day lives. The only reason why they are succesful is that it distracts people from being at their desk job all day. Most people don’t take it that seriously. They get excited by it, but it’s not their entire lives. You have to understand to take it with that seriousness otherwise you are not talking the way the average fan follows the game. That’s one of the reasons people have responded to Deadspin–or more accurately–wanting to become involved with what we do at Deadspin. It recognizes that it’s sports…OK…it’s sports. This is not rocket science. This is not world policy. This is sports and it’s supposed to be fun. I think when you are so close to the game, you can get lost in that a little bit. Having worked as a sports reporter myself before doing this, I found what all sports reporters have in common is that they didn’t seem to like sports anymore (Will laughs). What I got out of it in the first place is that this is supposed to be fun, it’s what I do so I don’t have to think about all the things in my life that are hard. I think one of the reasons Deadspin has been successful is that most fans feel that way and I know that I do.

MT: Deadspin and The Starting Five are at totally opposite ends of the spectrum. Our objective is to report defintively on the story that is not heard. Our point of contention with a lot of the blogs and other media aspects is that the true story doesn’t get out and the athlete subsequently become a point of hatred.

WL: I agree with you. One thing I’ve tried to do with the site is not to be a document for athlete misdeeds. I hope it doesn’t come across that way. If it does then, it’s certainly not my intention. There’s a site–bad jocks. He does a good job with that site and works hard at it. I’m not so much interested in that.

I agree with you. I think so much of that (athlete hatred) is…and you know how it is. Look at what happens in Boston in the reporting of Boston sports. There’s not a single story that any Boston reporter writes that doesn’t have the subtle message, “Do not challenge the Boston media!” That’s the hidden message in every single one ot their stories. “We are as much an institution as the team.” Actually, you’re not (Will chuckles). I try to get behind that away from that. I’m just one guy doing the best I can. Certainly there will be stories that I miss and angles that I should be taking that I won’t get right, but I certainly see your point.

MT: I read a lot your stuff when doing research for this interview. There seems to be a point of self deprication in your words. Is that by design or is that the person you truly are?

WL: (Will laughs) Well, I think it’s woefully truthful. I think one of the problems with mainstream media coverage is…I’m sorry! Skip Bayless is not an expert on anything. He’s an expert on television and that is the extent of his expertise. I’ve always disliked this idea that because someone has a press pass to games, it somehow gives them more knowledge than someone whose watching the games at home. That may have been true forty or fifty years ago, but it’s not true any more. The whole paradigm in the way sports stories are covered by news papers are all based back on the ideal fifty years ago when the only way to find out what happened in the game was to get the paper the next day. Now, I can watch the game live. I can watch the press conference on the web afterwards. I can see the fans reaction immediately afterwards. The reason why the self depricating thing is perception is because I’m fully aware that I don’t know any more than any body else does. I thought the site would be extremely dull and also probably long if I said, ” OK everyone. My name is Will and here are my opinions on sports. Please listen to them and then react to them.” That’s not fun. That’s not inclusive. It acts like I know any more than any one else does and I don’t. It’s less flunky. This self deprication thing–I’m an idiot like the rest and I’m smart like the rest. I make no claims to know anything more about sports than the average fan does. Frankly, media people shouldn’t be doing that either. I think it’s understandable when someone has been covering sports from the press box for thirty years to have this idea of self preservation to say, “Listen average fan, you can’t understand the game the way I understand it.” I just don’t think that’s true because we can follow everything the media can. So that’s where the self deprication thing comes in. There’s no doctorate in the study of becoming a sports fan. The media are fans just like anyone else. They like to think they are different, but they are not. They watch these incredible athletes do incredible things just like everyone else. There’s no difference between a professional fan and a smart fan. That’s probably where that comes from.

MT: Futuristically, how do you think the perception of the blogosphere has changed in relation to mainstream journalism? Do you still consider yourself a journalist?

WL: I do. I do still consider myself a journalist. I’ve written for the New York Times. I’ve written for the New York Times regularly. I think the notion of journalism vs. blogs is misconceived. Blogs are just a medium. That’s all they are. When television came around, news papers were like, “That’s not journalism.” So blogs are and aren’t journalism. It’s just a medium. Some forms are going to be journalism based. Whether mine is or isn’t I’ll leave for everyone else to judge. To say that blogs aren’t journalism is like saying a comedy movie is different than television journalism. You are comparing two different things. I understand why a lot of mainstream news reporters can be a little nervous about the web. They spend years going into this idea that they are this gateway between athletes and the fans and all the sudden the fans say you know what, we can do this just as good as you–if not better. Some can and some can’t. I’ve always been wary of just because something is on a blog that means it’s good. Like independent film. There are a lot of good independent films, but there are also bad independent films. You have to be good. If you are good, people find you and I find that pretty exciting. I am not a journalism professor. I studied journalism in college. I might consider what I do to be journalism, but some might not. I don’t know if I’m the best judge of that. I think the definition of journalism has like a million different definitions anyway. When people say blogs aren’t journalism, it just doesn’t make any sense. People are like in this one big circle saying, “The blogs are coming! The blogs are coming!” Every blog is different than any other blog.

MT: Let’s talk about the commentary on your site. When you come to The Starting Five, there’s usually this huge conversation going on about something or other. Deadspin’s comments usually are cynical one liners that are sometimes condescending jabs. Is it all about comedy or is it your reader’s reality of their perception of sports?

WL: First and foremost, it’s comedy. The comment section tends to be funny. By accident, sometimes there are serious conversations. I don’t think that because some of those comments are funny means they are stupid. I think of the very good lines that were there after the story of Christine Daniels/Mike Penner, sports writer Los Angeles Times, who decided he wanted to be a woman. There was a great line–and a joke–that when Mike returns to the newsroom, she’ll find that her salary has been cut by 45%. That’s a funny line, but it actually says something there. I wouldn’t say that every single comment is socially conscious, but they’re just comments–It’s the web.

Frankly, very much to your site’s credit, you guys are able to have serious conversations in the comments. I think that you’ll find that most sites aren’t like that. I think it’s impressive that you guys are able to foster that. I don’t think that the comments under a Deadspin story are stupid to any stretch of the imagination. I think they may be a little glib sometimes. They may be going off my general concept of the site–which is this is supposed to be fun and lets all be entertained by this. I certainly don’t think that when you compare it to what you see on alot sites where everyone is calling each other names, screaming Jets suck and you’re an asshole. Deadspin comments aren’t like that. No, they’re aren’t 1000 word discussions on large issues in sports. There are sites like yours that do that very very well. Deadspin just isn’t that type of site. I’m not smart enough or engaged enough to pretend I have a strong notion of truth than I do.

I’ve always been about being the facilitator–it’s never been about my opinion. It’s never been about here’s what I think. Sometimes it’ll slip in because I write the thing all day, so of course. That’s never been the idea. It’s been about pointing out very good stuff that’s on the web, point out different view points, have fun and you can come to Deadspin and talk about it. So yeah, you will see more in depth discussions on your site and that’s why your site is good.

MT: Thanks. I speak for all the fellas when I say that.

I was reading your John Rocker interview. In the interview you alluded that you didn’t want your political leanings to be espoused through that interview. Was that a corporate thing?

WL: Oh no, I think Gawker would want me to be a little more political. I did go to journalism school. I do have my personal beliefs about a lot of this stuff. I just don’t think the interview would have been served if I said, “John Rocker, don’t you think you want to apologize for what you’ve said?” One of the best things about that interview was just to sit back and let him talk. I think you learn more about him–and I’m not saying that’s good. I just think you get a better idea of what he’s like. If I answered that question with–regardless of my personal beliefs and let’s say for the sake of this discussion that I happen to be politically liberal–”Yeah I’m a liberal and I disagree with you on this, this, this, this and this.” That’s no longer an interview and no longer a discussion. Certainly, there’s been nothing from Gawker about that. It’s my personal choice. If you read the site on a regular basis and see my take on things, you can pretty much tell my political leanings. The best way to stop a fun sports conversation is to inject, ” Oh by the way, sports suck!” “Or Hillary’s awful!” One of the good things about sports is that I can totally disagree politically across the board with someone, but if they like the Cardinals and I like the Cardinals, then we can talk. I’m not saying that those political things don’t matter because they do, they most certainly do and they can’t be ignored. Let’s simplify this for a moment, I was watching a Cardinals game with this someone. I’d just met this guy at the game and during the game we were best pals. I thought the guy was awesome and could totally be friends with this guy forever. At one point, he started talking about politics and I didn’t want to give him…aww fuck it, I don’t care. He started talking about how much he hated that Al Gore was using global warming as a wig to get back into the spotlight. I thought that was about the dumbest thing that I’d ever heard. I thought that it was a good thing that I was watching a game with this guy before this or I would have completely thought this guy was a moron. So no commands from Gawker and they definitely would like me to be a little more political, but you can pretty much tell where I stand if you read the site on a daily basis.

MT: Our readers are about the debate. If I would to pigeonhole our readers, I would say the majority are college educated. You alluded to earlier that you didn’t think your readers are stupid and I don’t think they’re stupid at all. I have to give you your props. I don’t want to come across that way. What I will say is that TSF is about what happens on the field. They seem to really want to read about the stories that are missed and we try to give it to them real. I have to be honest with you. Right now, the majority of the media and the majority of the blogs have this contentious hatred towards athletes that’s wholeheartedly unwarranted. How would you specifically characterize you reader?

WL: I really would feel uncomfortable trying to attach attributes because there are so many different readers that come to the site. There are a lot of people that come to the site that aren’t commenters. The commenters have become their own little circle. I agree with you in general. I’m glad that your site does that.

I don’t necessarily agree that there is this huge hatred towards athletes in the media. I think a lot of times they are painted unfairly. Frankly, I’m sure I’ve been guilty of that myself. I’m sure that whoever writes about sports is also guilty. I also don’t agree that every single person at Deadspin or every single person in the mainstream media is immediately like, “I’m out to get this particular athlete.” I certainly know that that is not my intention. I’m sure that people out there who do that would say that it’s probably not their intention also. It just comes down to the general idea that…listen I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on anything. Like anybody else, you just go out there and do the best you do. Again, that’s a nice credit to your site that you write about things that you feel very strongly about. One of the great things about the web is that people will find you if you have a strong view point and deliver it well, you will find people that will want to read it and I’m sure you find that every day. I’m sure we both want people to agree and disagree and that’s the good thing about the web.

MT: We have some of the same readers and that’s a testament to the diverse objectives of our sites. My problem is that when we do our reporting about any story we post we can come across as definitive. Sports presently is going through this tabloid state. The games that we love are being skewered to becoming a Roman Coliseum type atmosphere. We have our objectives and you have yours.

WL: Of course, that’s the good thing about the web.

MT: Look, I’m not trying to start an argument here because we have our bullshit commenters too. When I go on your site, you have a different standard for commenting. Is anyone permitted to comment on your site or is everything moderated?

WL: Once you have a commenting account, you can just comment. You do have to have an invite, but all you have to do is ask.

The reason why we do that and all the Gawker sites do this, is because inevitably you have someone who through a random google search find you site and without knowing anything about the site start throwing up comments like, “You people are morons!” Comments like that take out a lot of the fun of the comment section. You do have to have an invite but frankly it’s incredibly easy to get one. There’s a perception that it’s hard, but it’s not.

MT: How long have you been on the web?

WL: Deadspin has been live since September, 2005. I started my first journalism site which was called Iron Minds with a friend of mine in 1998. This is actually my first blog.

MT: Comparatively speaking, how has the web changed from then to now and where do you specifically see the web going?

WL: Well, it’s funny. If you were going to tell me that you thought the web was going to be like this in 1998, I would have thought you were insane. The cool thing about the web is that whatever your guess about what the web is going to be in three years, it’s going to be something totally different. Youtube is just over a year old. I remember a post about three months into the site where someone said, “Check out youtube! It’s amazing! There’s videos on the site” Look how much it’s dramatically changed everything in the span of one year. You can probably count on more stuff that is user driven upcoming. I was recently on a panel of journalists (newspaper) and they were talking about ways to improve their site. They were saying, “Hey fans, here’s your turn to comment.” I don’t think people like to be talked down to like that. People don’t like us saying that we are the gatekeepers and we’ll occasionally let you slip into our site. I think you’ll see less Deadspins and more sites that have like nine or ten people working creatively together on their sites that have desk jobs somewhere else. That’s my best guess, but I guarantee you that I will be wrong.

MT: Discuss your upcoming book project and its origin.

WL: It’s called God Save the Fans (HarperCollins). It’s a series of amusing–hopefully amusing, we’ll find out but I can never tell–essays about the world of sports. Basically about what the site has been trying to show. A fan empowerment type of thing. Look at any beer commercial. Look at any commercial on any type of sport ever. Every fan is characterized as this type of guy that can’t decide between the hot girl and the beer. Every commercial paints fans as these cretins and face painting morons. I can’t think of another industry that treats its customers like that. I think that’s incredibly strange. The book is basically–I don’t want to make it sound to dry, academic or walky because it’s supposed to be funny–about the fans paying for everything, so they are the ones in charge of all this.

ESPN and some of the other mainstream corporations have taken a lot of fun out of the game. It’s not even done yet, so I have no idea if it’s good. I’m just hoping.

MT: Explain why there is a need for more opposition to ESPN. Why are they really the only thing happening in sports?

WL: I think that’s totally true. It’s funny. Once I started Deadspin, I had absolutely no desire to work for ESPN. I think that was why I could freely call ESPN out on a lot of shit that people haven’t called them out for. I always think about what happened with Harold Reynolds. One thing that I thought ESPN did that was strictly like awful to Harold actually…Imagine if the Tampa Bay Devil Rays fired their general manager tomorrow. Reporters at ESPN would demand to know why that happened. ESPN acts like they don’t have to give a reason like they are some Mom and Pop store around the corner. The fact is that ESPN has a hell of a lot more influence on the world of sports than does the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Because of it, they’ve gotten so big amd shape the culture of sports so much, that they can basically shape the conversation, how it’s going to run and how people are going to talk about it. People are afraid to call them on it in case they have to work for ESPN one day. Or in case they have to promote something for ESPN some day. You’ve seen people like T.J. Simers or Jason Whitlock–whatever your thoughts on them. You’ve seen when they’ve said something against ESPN, they get booted. When you have something that powerful that controls that much of the media with almost an empiring vibe about them, I think that’s why you see more people getting their sports information from the web. They know that they have no television contract to hold on to or any stock holders to answer to. We can give it straight without having ulterior motives. That’s one of the reasons why people have turned against ESPN. They’re huge! You can’t think of sports nowadays without thinking about ESPN. It’s just the way it works. No one was really challenging them for a long time. I don’t want to get to carried away like ESPN probably gets 500 times more hits than I do and it’s probably considerably more than that. The world of blogs has gotten larger, but ESPN still crushes everything.

MT: Let’s talk about Jason Whitlock for a minute. The majority of our readers absolutely abhor Jason Whitlock.

WL: I’m not suprised!

MT: We don’t think he has no place in the journalistic world speaking for specifically the Black race. There are other sites out there that have a Jason Whitlock appeal. Why do you think a lot of White readers agree with Jason Whitlock?

WL: Someone came out with a great piece about Jason Whitlock shortly after the Imus thing.

MT: It was Keith T. Clinkscales, general manager ESPN the Magazine.

WL: I can guarantee you why members of the White media agree with Jason Whitlock. They’ve been looking a long time for a Black commentator to say Al Sharpton is wrong and also rappers are wrong. Jason Whitlock is that guy. That’s why. I think anyone that says otherwise is fooling themselves. Listen the Imus thing…I don’t know Jason Whitlock and I don’t agree with a lot that he says, but the Imus thing was the best thing that possibly could have happened with his career. The White mainstream media has been waiting for a Black media personality to say what they feel and secretly can’t say. I think that is without question true. Of course that’s my personal opinion.

MT: Will my only objective here is to open up dialogue. Nothing more, nothing less.

WL: Like I’ve said, I personally don’t agree with a lot that he says. I did a post the other day about Charles Barkley’s comments in The New Republic (subscription req.). I’m not so sure I agree with him on the subject either. I joked that he and Whitlock should get their own radio show because they both have similar viewpoints on certain subject. I personally don’t agree but what the hell do I know? One thing that I do think is that a lot of White media do do that. I think for a lot of White reporters, he was a breath of fresh air on the Imus story. They called it giving a differing perspective on the story. What it really was was finding again, a Black personality to say something they agree with. That’s my opinion.

MT: Where do we go from here and how do we as a total society–when it comes to stories like this–come to some sort of common ground?

WL: (Will makes some kind of noise signifying answering a million dollar question) How do we ever agree on anything? I am not a smart enough person to answer that question. (Will laughs) I’m not even close. The best thing I can do is put up as many view points as I can. I kinda hint at the ones that I personally agree with. That’s something for your site to answer because you have stronger opinion pieces. Like I said before, I consider myself more of a facilitator. My personal viewpoints will come across and I think some of them have regarding Jason Whitlock. To ask me to come up with something every one can agree on, that’s going to take a much better communicator than me.

MT: Presently, the viewpoints of a Pac Man Jones, Tank Johnson, Terrell Owens, Stephen Jackson seem to be the main points of reference when speaking about Black athletes. The Black community looks at the media reporting as one sided even though that 2% doesn’t represent the entire race.

WL: I think that’s completely fair. I think what you are saying is completely right. I think the Pac Man Jones thing is a really good example. I don’t know if you saw the pdf that his lawyers put out appealing his suspension–which by the way I thought was kind of insane considering he didn’t get convicted of anything. I thought that was a strange move by Commissioner Goodell. Another thing that someone brought up recently was that Josh Hancock (D.U.I. death) situation. I think he received more favorable coverage than what a Black athlete would.

(I recently commented during a recent radio appearance with D-Wil on Air America: Josh Hancock died, while only Darrent Williams’s mother cried)

How do you fix that? You need a lot more smarter people than me.

MT: A lot smarter than me too. Will, I don’t want you to think I’m in attack mode here. I just want to make sure certain points are brought up for the ensuing dialogue that hopefully will be spawned from this interview between your readers and ours.

WL: No, I don’t think that at all.

MT: Deadspin is very successful in what you do over there. How many page views do you have any particular month?

WL: Last month was had 7 million page views and 5 million visitors.

MT: Wow! Those numbers speak for themselves. The proof is in the pudding. We hope to have those type of numbers one day bringing the type of fire that we do at TSF.

Comment on the recent handlings of Commissioners David Stern and Roger Goodell regarding crime in their respective sports.

WL: I think what tends to happens is that they are answering to advertisers, more than answering to the fans and definitely more than answering to the players. It’s my opinion, but I find it interesting that the advertisers are happy that Goodell is coming down so hard on the players. He’s coming down hard. Pac Man Jones got suspended for a year and again, wasn’t convicted of anything. Goodell actually put in his statement–and I’m paraphrasing–that Jones should be careful how he lives his life. I thought that was a weird statement to have in there. Goodell is doing that because of Gatorade and Nike actually are who run the NFL. Personally, I’ve always thought that the NFL Players Association should be a lot stronger than it is. Goodell knows that the union isn’t as strong as it is in MLB. So when he hands down rulings like this, there’s really no one to stop him. I guarantee you that the advertisers are happy about the commissioner crackdown effect. I’m sure the players aren’t, but they don’t have the power. I think that’s why this is happening. I don’t personally agree with it, but it’s going to take a major terrestial shift for that to happen.

MT: Barry Bonds. There’s a huge racial divide on Barry Bonds. Is it truly about our colleagues reporting on Barry Bonds, or is it something racial?

WL: I think saying either or is over simplifying it. There is obviously a racial component when you see the huge difference in perception among the races. I always thought it was strange when you hear Whites when they hear or see stats that it’s not about race. No, it obviously is a huge dichotomy. There is something there. To pretend that it’s not a divide is absolutely absurd. Instead of really looking into a story, people become defensive? They say,”Well, not me! I’m not like that! There’s no racial aspect to it.” There’s obviously a racial aspect. Why there is, I don’t know. It speaks to something larger than sports. Larger issues than one stupid guy like me who types all day can answer. I think it’s very strange that the reaction to that story from most of the mainstream media has not been, “Well, let’s look at why this is happening.” Instead, you get, “Hey, we’re White, we don’t understand this. We haven’t been racist in our coverage of this.” There’s obviously something there. What percentage of it is (racism), I don’t know. The perception of this is odd. Most people’s reaction has been to that idea. “Not me. Not me.” What it is? Dude, these are larger issues than Barry Bonds, steroids and sports.

I think ignoring them does nobody a service.

MT: Why do people hate Barry Bonds and don’t know him?

WL: It’s been the same way with any athlete that hasn’t been cool with the media. You’re right. The only information most people have about Barry Bonds is because of what they’ve read. Everybody thinks they know all of the story and they probably know none of the story. Some of what’s been reported has been true and some of it hasn’t. A guy like Bonds really hasn’t had any use for the media. He’s been openly hostile to the media. When that happens, you are going to see media people go after him. Maybe some have done it with a racial subtext and maybe some haven’t. You also have some who have and haven’t realized it. I don’t think it’s a big steriod thing as to why people don’t like Bonds. There has been players who have been implicated that are not as unpopular as Bonds–both White and Black by the way. Gary Sheffield has been implicated almost as much as Bonds has, but people do not hate Gary Sheffield like the hate Barry Bonds. I think the reason for that is Sheffield is not openly hostile towards the media like Bonds. Steriods is being used as an excuse to hate Barry Bonds. Alot of people hated Barry Bonds long before he allegedly started using steroids. He was unpolular way before all that. It’s like, “Now I have another reason to hate him.”

MT: Do we have a responsibility as bloggers and what would you say to someone who wants to start their own blog?

WL: If you are going to start your own site, take it seriously. You have to care about what you are doing. There are blogs out there where you can tell that people didn’t really put that much into it or kind of dashed off on something and not really put a lot of thought into it. Then, then wonder why no one is reading their site. I think the best way to do it is to be regular and to do it if you have something to say. Have something to add. The best advice I can give is to be serious. If you work hard, you are regular, you work hard to get better, and it’s good? People will find you.

MT: Thanks Will. Good luck to you.

31 Responses to “Deadspin Editor Will Leitch”

  1. Great interview fellas.

  2. I think you asked all the right questions, and Leitch seemed (as always) candid and honest. Good interview.

  3. damn..yall are killing the interview game right now..another good one.

  4. Nice interview.

  5. Thank you all.

  6. Gotta agree. Great job.

  7. Must agree… interviews have been on point and I haven’t even read all the Zirin one yet.

    My question to TSF – How do you feel about sites like Deadspin who don’t take sports as serious as I’d say your site does?

    I think both types of sites are necessary, but agree with Will’s point that sometimes people just want a place to drop in to ignore the serious side of the desk environment for a few and read about sports. Deadspin’s capitalized on that. But he also speaks of how the sports fan is a lot smarter than the leagues make them out to be… but do you see TSF getting the same scale of following as Deadspin, despite your more serious side?

  8. Like I say in the interview. Deadspin and TSF are totally opposites. Will has capitalized on office types–among others–whose work day is serious enough.

    We come from drastically different angles to engage our readers. The other writers here really have been doing a great job to keep fresh content up during the day. Their talents have helped us develop a consistent fan base.

    It remains to be seen if we’ll have a similar mass appeal as Deadspin. We seem to be picking up new visitors every day. The comments that develop into discussions have helped in that regard tremendously.

    I personally wanted to speak for the rest of the fellas and say thanks.

  9. Another great interview guys. My only point of contention (and I have to keep this short (work beckons)) is Leitch’s comments about the press and the blogger:

    “I’ve always disliked this idea that because someone has a press pass to games, it somehow gives them more knowledge than someone whose watching the games at home. That may have been true forty or fifty years ago, but it’s not true any more. The whole paradigm in the way sports stories are covered by news papers are all based back on the ideal fifty years ago when the only way to find out what happened in the game was to get the paper the next day. Now, I can watch the game live. I can watch the press conference on the web afterwards. I can see the fans reaction immediately afterwards.”

    Bill Simmons said the same thing a while back and I disagreed with him there as well. I recently saw Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus speak and he said something about players being human, that they often have bellyaches, girlfriend problems, etc. – things that you can’t see on tv. That is why I think having the guys travelling with the team and sitting in the press box will never be replaced. Their pretentiousness aside, they do provide an important service to the fan. As does Deadspin. As does The Starting Five.

    Great work guys.

  10. I liked the interview as well, and how you were willing to bring up with Will the differences in sports coverage. Nice work.

    Will made a great point about how the single blog owner model might be going out of style in favor of multiple bloggers. I run my own blog, and I come up with lots of ideas and angles (of course, I make no promises about quality!). Yet, it’s nearly impossible to post good stuff 5 days a week and maintain any sort of real life. Unless of course I’d stop reading great sports blogs like this one, which I have no intention of doing.

    The only potential area of concern is that once 4-5 bloggers start a blog around a common theme, and it really gets popular, they can splinter around an area of dispute. It’s sort of like a new religious denomination. At first all the new members are excited and bond around the similarities, but later differences arise, and often the group breaks apart as a result. It’ll be interesting to see if sites like this one, KSK, Ladies…, and FreeDarko escape that trap; certainly I hope that they do.

  11. The issue of “the fan” knowing as much as the journalist – addressed by Leitch – is in a weird way on point and also way off-base. What is unfortunate about too many sports writers is that they don’t have an understanding of the sports they cover and cannot put events withing a given game in their proper perspective. Add their personal biases to what they’re viewing and “the fan” ends up with the impression that anyone can do the job.

    The good sports writer can really see “inside” what’s going on in front of them and there’s no substitute for that perspective. Unfortunately the sports writers who do see “inside” sporting and sports-related event are in the minority. So, again, “the fan” ends up with the false impression that anyone can do the job.

  12. +1, Mizzo. Good interview.

    (borrowing a bit of Deadspin commenter approval methods)

  13. [...] and Mike host the National Spelling Bee? [Deadspin] 2) Deadspin honcho Will Leitch, interviewed. [The Starting Five] 3) Awful Announcing turns one year old, and gets roasted. Feliz, AA! [Awful Announcing] 4) [...]

  14. McBias,

    That’s something I’ve been thinking about too (before I found The Starting Five and saw that something like it was being done). There are single owner blogs, and there are blogs that were started as groups. But if, say, four individual bloggers decided to get together and just merge their four blogs, theoretically, they could quadruple their readership (of course some of their readers were already shared–but clearly the readership would grow). Theoretically you could lose readers, too (I don’t know if Viking fans would follow me to another blog that was even less exclusively about the Vikings). But it’s something I’ve speculated about, too.

    As far as splitting over issues: I don’t think it would happen. Most of the group blogs recognize they are individuals with different opinions and tastes, and argue/discuss the points of disagreement rather than abandon the blog.

    But it’s something to keep in mind. Some of us that are frequently writing about the same issues (and reading and commenting on each others’ blogs) could someday form an Uberblog that would eat all other blogs in its path.

  15. I don’t want to alarm Mr. Leitch, but there appear to be several wraith-like beings behind him in that photographic image.

  16. PV,

    In regards to MCBias’s “UberBlog” idea, I think it is a good idea, however, it depends on the subject. To be funny, ala KSK is one thing, to post scores or news stories, ala FanHouse, would be another, but the key would be a blog that posts points and counterpoint on the same issue. Pick an issue (ex. instant replay, salary caps, etc.) and have 2 people on the same site pick sides. I think that would be interesting. Now all we have is comments that hopefully people read or separate blogs that you hope people find.

  17. I will say that I think your perception that your site and Deadspin are polar opposites is probably off base a bit. Deadspin links to the blogs that are run by your commenters quite often. I think you have more shared readership than you might guess.

    The thing is, very few people have a desire for one-note coverage. During the day, I go from lighthearted blogs to serious ones, and I never feel like it’s a jarring transition. In fact, I may then go check out a political blog, music blog, or a food blog and comment with equal brio.

    I actually never started out to be a sports blogger. I was doing satirical coverage of the day’s news, and sports was just a part of it. But the sports posts were the only ones anyone ever read, so I figured “go with your strengths”. But I don’t think humor precludes knowledge or serious debate at all. Sometimes a zinger like the “45%” that Will mentioned is so incisive that you laugh while you’re crying.

  18. [...] sports blogger, Deadspin’s Will Leitch, goes in-depth with The Starting Five’s very nicely done interview. They talk about a number of socially oriented things… though no Unsilent Majority sighting [...]

  19. [...] Deadspin’s Will Leitch speaks. Courtesy of The Starting Five [...]

  20. EP, I meant in the way Deadspin and TSF approach sports. We attack a story with serious viewpoints that provoke thought. IMO, Deadspin is more work day release driven. Will has linked to almost every one of my interviews as well as other pieces on TSF. I thank him for that.

    I’m really suprised this interview didn’t invoke more dialogue. Especially with WL’s comments about race.

  21. I’m pretty sure, Mizzo, that one of the “MT”‘s for the section beginning “Our readers are about the debate” should be a “WL.” Double-check it. And one reason for the lack of postage might be that it was Wednesday; most of us probably do the most work on that day of the week.

    Sometimes, I think we are too soft on the interview comments. I know I am. I wanted to “go off” on Pearlman for the way he insinuated that conservatives are born but liberals are made, but hey, he was nice enough to give you an interview. So I was a little wary of saying what I really felt.

    OK, let me stir up a little thought here, although it’s too late for anyone to read it. My initial reaction to Hancock’s death (accident in early morning hours) being alcohol-related was relief, and my reaction to Damien Nash’s death (Bronco, died while playing basketball) having no discernable cause was disappointment. I obviously did a little soul-searching as to why I had those emotions.

    I think that frankly, we all like the easiest possible story when it comes to sports coverage. I play basketball. Don’t tell me that a young, fit NFL athlete can die playing basketball for no reason at all, because it means I could die too at any time. I’m older and less fit. Don’t tell me that you can die young for no good reason at all; tell me there’s a reason why it happened. Tell me he somehow did something wrong to deserve it. Make me breathe easier. In this case, sports had no answers.

    That’s what the sports pages give us every day; reasons. There’s always a reason why your team lost, why your team won, why so-and-so is right and wrong. It’s a certainty that politics and entertainment envy. And when we lose certainty in sports, it appears we may both seize racial mythologies (blacks in the case of Bonds perhaps, whites in the case of Owens perhaps) to make up the story for us.

    For example, as to a developing story, I’m getting a little suspicious of characterizations of Lebron as lazy or passionless. I know he can disappear for long stretches of time on the court; I’ve seen it in person myself. But it connects too easily to racial stereotypes about how blacks are physically gifted but don’t work as hard.

    On the other hand, I thought EVERYONE got Farve wrong for once when he complained about the Green Bay front office. Do you realize that in the last five years, their biggest front office move might have been signing Tim Couch as a backup QB?! They make the Raiders front office look good. But it was too easy for Jemele Hill (black) and Don Banks (white) to pull out the old “Brett, stop whining and hanging on” routine. A simple look at the facts, instead of lazy column-writing, would have showed that Farve had a point this time.

  22. As for PacifistViking and Jordi’s kind words about a mega blog idea (frankly, Leitch had the idea first, I’m just extending his words), I do think it would be cool if there was a combo blog featuring the most thought-provoking work. TSF helps fill this gap, but I’m talking about going a step beyond what is done here to get as many different voices as possible.

    It would be a sort of “Minor League All-Star” blog for smaller blogs, where people would put up their most insightful work. Little or no game recaps or up-to-the-minute coverage. Instead, it would have the long posts that are hard to finish for some but really rewarding to debate and talk about. Rather than having to give up our own blogs, we would just have a rotating membership and assign a day to each member. It would be similar to “IfIran.blogspot.com” in some ways, but with larger themes.

    Now, I am going to be too busy to really put this together. So please, if you see this and want to do it, rip me off and get all the glory, ha. Just invite me to be one of the writers in the end. :-)

  23. Mcbias, good lookin on the eror. My bad.

    You are right about the Wednesday post, I guess I just assumed…you know what they say about that ;)

    Will Leitch’s interview was intriguing. He’s very intelligent and knew exactly how to respond to the questions.

    He’s where he is in the blogosphere for a reason.

  24. [...] said in an interview on The Starting Five that the book is about ‘fan empowerment’. Have fans lost power in the world of sports? [...]

  25. [...] meet Deadspin’s editor Will Leitch, the editor and founder of Deadspin, will be in the news room Friday afternoon to talk about sports [...]

  26. Will seemed like a pretty honest guy, but I think he overestimates his readers. Hey, they come to his blog, they are not his kids, he didn’t raise them. Just go there and read the comments section, it’s like the fallout from Howard Stern going to Sirius.

    One thing I think is odd is that Will thought of sports as entertainment, and while I will admit the evil powers that be have thought of every possible way to water down the purity of sports, I still contend that sports are about the love of the game, not the entertainment. Perhaps this is the largest divide between guys like Will and guys like me. Perhaps this is why he is so concerned with what happens off the field, and I am so concerned with what happens on the field. Damn shame, cause I think he’s really missing out on this one.

  27. [...] Will Leitch gets verbally chin checked in the piece. Sphere: Related Content FShareWidget.displayFShareButtonCode({ fshare_permalink:’http://thestartingfive.net/2008/04/30/town-hall-meeting-on-media-and-sports/’, fshare_id:’68EBFFFF00E16D630002FFFFEB68′, fshare_style: ‘sm_55x18:OrangeYellow’ }); [...]

  28. [...] be some label crossover, but clarity – and not fence sitting — is needed from you. In this interview last year with The Starting Five, you [...]

  29. [...] Will Leitch you’re the supastah athlete you love to tough guy but not really sneak, creep and picture oh you so funny guy leak now… [...]

  30. Gambar…

    [...]Deadspin Editor Will Leitch « The Starting Five[...]…

  31. […] around the Web this week. A few of my favorites included Q and A’s with Charles Barkley, Will Leitch of Deadspin.com, and Henry Abbott of ESPN’s […]

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