Blogs with Balls

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So earlier today I attended Blogs with Balls, the first-ever NYC-based conference/convention for sports bloggers.

Never have I felt so cool.

It was a truly strange—and fascinating—gathering. At age 37, I was certainly one of the older participants (I appeared on a panel). I was also one of the few mainstream media representatives—there was Amy Nelson from ESPN, Dan Steinberg from the Washington Post, a couple of others here and there. But mainly, the room was filled with young, mostly male, mostly white sports fanatics who have devoted much (if not all) of their lives to blogging. (my friend accurately compared it to a D&D convention, except with athletics instead of fantasy dragons and such)

On the one hand, I was a tad jealous. These folks possess the passion for sports that I, sadly, no longer have. They live and die with their teams and players; participate in one fantasy league after another; believe much of existence begins and ends with professional and collegiate athletics. The Mets and Braves and Packers and Spurs and whoever … well, they’re not merely franchises. They’re loves.

I don’t have that. Not even a sliver of that. With rare exception, I never root for teams to win or lose. I have favorite players, but they’re just the guys who are nice and intelligent and, often, my age. If I miss a game on TV, I couldn’t care less. Even big games. It’s just sports—I’ve covered ’em long enough to know that, come next year, everything happens again.

Yet I take great comfort in my lack of passion. My love—my true love—is for writing and reporting. That’s what does it for me—especially with books. I want to take a subject, strip it/him/her down and go step by step through a life, or season. I see the passing dramas and scandals that pop up on blogs, and my general reaction is, “Ho-hum.” I’m after the narrative, not the episode.

That said, I dig the bloggers, and I admire what most of them do. Theirs is a labor of true love.

It’s something the mainstreamers could probably use right now.

** A side note: While at the conference I met Paul Catalano, who expressed to me his frustration over trying to write long, detailed entires when many crave short and stupid. I feel Paul’s pain, and also dig his writing. This is his blog—please give the man a shot. Thanks.

6 thoughts on “Blogs with Balls”

  1. Although I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself, I really appreciated what you had to say on the panel, so thank you for your perspective, from those I talked to, they really got a lot out of your thoughts.

    I think what’s interesting though is that just like journalists, bloggers come in all shapes and sizes in terms of personality and passion and gifts.

    Although maybe today it seems we all love sports, I know for myself there’s days for me when even my passion is a grind, and that makes it all the more depressing. When I don’t feel like getting up to work before my REAL work to write about the Jets … in June … when no one cares … it’s hard to keep it going 24-7 365 days a year.

    But the truth is, even though I love my team, the validation from readers really helps me deal a lot with the grind.

  2. Thanks for this post and for coming to the conference, Jeff. I’m only a few years younger than you (I’m 34) so I’m pretty jaded myself. But my blog helped land me a job with a national sports network in Canada and that never would have happened without the Internet.

    I don’t think this gets mentioned enough, but the best thing about sports blogs is that the most talented bloggers almost inevitably rise to the top. It creates a meritocracy where no “old boys club” can keep younger talent from reaching the levels of career achievement they deserve. Bill Simmons was the first prominent example, but the Kissing Suzy Kolber and Basketball Jones guys are also cases where original, entertaining people used the Internet to reach the masses. For all the hand-wringing about the media and advertising in this conference, I feel like this aspect should have been celebrated a little bit more.

  3. Hi Jeff,

    First off, great job on the panel. I was especially pleased that you did not resort to dropping f-bombs every other word like Shoals.

    I did not get a chance to talk to you, but I wanted to make a few comments in response to one of the things you said yesterday. You were in the middle of a debate with Mike Hall and your claim was that journalists for the most part have no bias. I have to say I disagree, especially when this is combined with your praise of Tom Verducci. While Selena Roberts has been getting attention as the one who exposed A-Rod, the bigger attention should be given to Verducci as the one who sat on his hands. I stopped subscribing to SI about two years ago because just about every other article Verducci did was about the Red Sox or the Yankees while he virtually ignored the other 28 teams in the league. To me this was an example of lazy journalism. While you praised him for going to talk “to the backup catcher while everyone chases the star,” the fact is that he had unprecedented access to Roger Clemens specifically, not to mention the rest of the Yankees and basically did nothing on the steroids front. When he came out earlier this year releasing a book with Joe Torre, it’s hard to say that Verducci doesn’t have a bias when the appearance is there that he didn’t want to expose Clemens, A-Rod, or anyone else because he didn’t want to risk losing his future book deal with Torre.

    One of the things I completely agreed with you on, and I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing, is a lack of emotion from sports journalists who are covering games. There’s nothing that irritates me more than when I am listening or watching a broadcast and the play-by-play guy or his partner start squealing, “We’re down with 2 minutes to go, but there’s a chance we can still pull it out.” Who’s we?! The blind passion in some places gets carried away and then you can’t get an honest opinion or perspective about what is really going on.

    I also disagree with the point (not sure if you were for or against) about having to be “at the game” to be able to write a column or something meaningful about it. I cover international cricket, which is not played in America but is something that I hope with enough exposure one day international cricket will be played in America. 20 years ago, it would not be possible for me to cover or even know about cricket. But because of the technology available nowadays, I am able to watch matches from all around the world right on my computer. I agree with what Scott Carefoot said above. It’s not just the “Old Boys Club” that is a problem. It’s the insinuation that to be a color analyst, you must have been a former professional player to have anything meaningful or insightful to contribute and that you need to be a former player to have credibility. The fact is that most of these players who move on to tv and radio are absolute blockheads (Emmitt Smith, Tony Siragusa, Eric Dickerson, David Justice, Brian Baldinger just to name a few) and if more average Joes can rise to the top through the blogging meritocracy, then they deserve to have their voice heard.

  4. I will be forever disappointed that I missed Blogs with Balls. Not just because it would have been a great opportunity to pick the brains of so many of my fellow sports bloggers, but also because I missed hearing you on the panel. I’m a big fan, having read both The Bad Guys Won and Boys Will Be Boys, and I hope you’ll speak at more conferences like this in the future; ones that I will hopefully be able to attend.

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