The lesson of Mike Wilbon

Wilbon (right)—painfully unprofessional
Wilbon (right)—painfully unprofessional

In case you haven’t read it, Sports Illustrated’s Tim Layden recently wrote a really interesting piece on the impact of blatant fandom on sports media. The story touched upon journalists now feeling free to express their allegiances, and sort of circled around a quote from ESPN’s Michael Wilbon: “Objectivity is something you strive for, but never reach.”

Well, bullshit.

Objectivity is something you strive for—and attain. Without much difficulty. It’s one of those things that accompanies the title, “Sports journalist.” You’re no longer a Padres fan; a Brewers fan; a Bills fan; a Penguins fan. You place those loyalties (generally born out of either civic allegiances and/or childhood love of a certain player) to the side and say (either aloud or to yourself), “I am now an adult, and I don’t care which team wins or loses.”

Yes, it’s that easy.

As a child, I had my teams. The Mets and the Mariners, specifically. When I was hired to cover baseball at Sports Illustrated, I no longer had my teams. The Mets and the Mariners were no more or less special to me than the Cubs and the Red Sox. They were subjects I wrote about, and nothing more. I didn’t root for them to win. I didn’t cry when they lost. I just knew my job required an emotional distance. It wasn’t hard.

Plus, there’s something even bigger. Namely, I’m an adult. I’m no longer the 14-year-old boy loving George Foster and Dwight Gooden. I’ve seen the man behind the curtain. I know the Mets exist to make money. I’m not blind, I’m not dumb.

What has long bothered me about Mike Wilbon is that his new way of expressing himself is (at the risk of some exaggerated language) dangerous to up-and-coming sportswriters. When I’m teaching at Chapman University, I make clear to my students that if, say, they’re a Dodgers fan at age 22, they can’t enter my line of work and be a Dodgers fan at 25. First, because it’s unprofessional. Second, because you look like a complete fool.

I mean, take a gander at the above photo. Wilbon is, what, 55? He’s been a journalist for, what, 30 years? Why is he at the stadium, wearing a Cubs hat?

Does he not get what he is?

Does he not get journalism?