Who Am I?

I’m the guy who’s been trying to simplify his life a little.

Recently, I concluded that Sports Illustrated and ESPN (the) Magazine are two magazines that I rarely get around to opening. SI has been sending me increasingly desperate renewal offers, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to resist. I know there are some good articles in the mag, but there’s also an awful lot of crap and I can always find the good stuff on SI’s site.

ESPN was initially a gift subscription from my brother, around 1999. Subsequently, they nested the bi-weekly magazine as a freebie in my $40 annual fee for ESPN.com Insider material. I still enjoy reading some of that online columnists, so I’ve kept that membership.

Like I said, I rarely opened the mag anymore, but I looked through an issue a while back and concluded that I was so not the target audience, which apparently consists of fantasy sports addicts, motorsports fans, and XXXXXX-treme snowskateBASEjumpers, between the ages of infantile and dude. A few weeks ago, I e-mailed customer service to find out how to cancel the magazine subscription but keep the online membership. Naturally, you can buy all sorts of things through the ESPN website, but cancellation? That requires a phone call to customer service. I was too busy to take care of it last month (work-stress, social anxiety, whatever), but the issue I received in the mail yesterday served as a reminder.

ESPN has done a number of “theme” issues lately, for purposes that are beyond me. Maybe it’s easier for the editors to keep track of things, or maybe it was preferred 2 to 1 by a focus group of college-age men who want to smell like Usher while drinking Captain Morgan. Regardless, the current ish is “The Body Issue,” ESPN’s attempt to compete with the obsolete SI swimsuit edition by featuring naked athletes covering their junk. It’s meant to be aspirational, I think, because there are a bunch of ads for body-building supplements and athletic wear (along with Usher’s cologne, Captain Morgan, and Rogaine).

I have no objections to naked athletes in a magazine. Sure, none of them are exactly pretty, but I guess the point is that a super-human body trumps an average face. I do, however, draw the line at paying a company to feed me shit (or, to quote Malcolm Tucker, arse-spraying mayhem).

See, in the midst of The Body Issue, ESPN included an article about what issues from bodies. Accidentally. In the midst of sporting events.

Yes, they commissioned and published It happens, about athletes shitting themselves mid-game. That targets a demographic I hope I never belonged to.

So I called ESPN’s customer service to cancel my subscription last night.

The operator complied, then told me that the standard practice in this case is to keep my ESPN.com membership going and donate my print subscription to a local boys’ or girls’ club.

I told her, “Given that the new issue includes The Shitting Report and the recent ‘List’ ish included an athlete’s recommendations for strip clubs across the country, what’s say we pass on donating the magazine to the youth of America, alright?”

“Oh, dear.”

“Yeah, thanks.”

So, I’m the guy who let his SI subscription lapse after a dozen years and canceled his subscription to ESPN.

(You can see which magazines I’m still receiving and draw your own conclusions about who I am, I guess.)

Not By George

Looks like it’s Tangential Connections to George Plimpton Week here at Virtual Memories! Here’s another passage that stuck with me from George, Being George:

MYRA GELBAND: By the late 1980s, of course, the magazine evolved, and the kind of journalism George did for [Sports Illustrated], which was his signature journalism and I would guess his most commercial, took a backseat to the type of hard-sports journalism that became prevalent in the 1980s with the advent of things like ESPN and cable television.

I think it became harder for George to figure out stories that would work for the magazine, because his interests had changed, too — he wasn’t gonna go suit up and play football for us, and we weren’t gonna run those kind of stories. So it became a little more challenging for him to get into the magazine.

So SI faced the challenge of 24-hour sports coverage by . . . trying to replicate it on a weekly basis? Rather than play to the strengths it had in long-form writers like Plimpton, Dan Jenkins, Frank Deford, etc.? Because the media only got faster, but SI has to keep coming out once a week.

I’m not saying anything new; here’s a piece from 2007 by John Levin on why SI sucks. Still, I knew there was a reason that the only articles I remember from the last 10 years of SI were Frank Deford’s long pieces on Bill Russell and Roger Bannister and Edmund Hillary. (Wait: 1999 was 11 years ago, huh? Man, that decade just flew by.)

And of course, the most memorable piece published in SI in the past 30 years was Plimpton’s Sidd Finch prank, from 1985. The section on that article in George, Being George is hysterical, as expected. There’s a great passage from one of the Paris Review young’uns, detailing how afraid he was that he and Plimpton were going to get mugged by a trio of thugs, until one of the thugs realized who Plimpton was and told him how much he loved the Sidd Finch article.

Oh, well. I guess this means last April’s TEN-PAGE FEATURE ON A PROFESSIONAL SURFER was SI‘s attempt at getting back to its roots.

Gripegripemutter. . .

This Week in Oh, No, He Di’n’t!

Last week, I goofed on Sports Illustrated for ignoring ongoing sports in favor of a Tolstoy-length profile of a guy who surfs.

This week’s “SI:WTF?” moment comes in the form of a Dan Patrick interview with Tony Dungy, former head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Football season is, um, around five months away and Mr. Dungy is retired, so who better to interview?(?!)

Mr. Patrick asked Mr. Dungy about the latter’s plans to visit Michael Vick in prison. Let’s join in progress:

DP: What do you hope to accomplish?

TD: I want to go out there as a friend. I met Michael when we played [the Falcons] in Japan, and we’d always talked about going fishing together. I’m just going out there to talk about life and what he’s going to face. Most people are going to be against him, and he’s got to understand that. I’m going to talk to him like I would talk to my son.

At this point, there were three ways Mr. Patrick could have proceeded:

  1. “You do recall that one of your sons killed himself right before Christmas in 2005, right?”
  2. “Are you planning on bringing Andy Reid as support?”
  3. “If you were still coaching, would you take a chance on him?”

Unfortunately, Mr. Patrick chose “3”.

I’m very glad that this blog has such small readership that I can actually make a joke about the suicide of an 18-year-old and not feel like I’m going to get vilified too harshly.

But if you think I’m bad, Mr. Patrick is the one who seems to think Vick deserves a “second chance” because . . . guys with DUI manslaughter convictions are given second chances?

Just to prove I’m not making this up, here’s another excerpt:

DP: You could kill somebody and have a better chance of coming back [than Michael Vick, who bred dogs to fight to the death and, if the dogs didn’t “show enough fight,” killed them by “various methods, including hanging, drowning and slamming at least one dog’s body to the ground.“] . . .

TD: I’ve said that. I agree with you. We’ve seen it. It’s happened.

DP: [Rams defensive end] Leonard Little killed somebody with a DUI, and it’s not brought up. But Michael Vick killed dogs, therefore he doesn’t deserve another chance. [I DID NOT ALTER THIS LINE IN THE SLIGHTEST]

TD: Some people say, “That could have been me; I drink a little bit. So I can have empathy for that, because that could have been me. But I could never kill a dog, so we shouldn’t give this guy a second chance.” It’s a strange mentality. But that’s what Michael is going to be facing. And that’s what I want to speak to him about.

I have no idea what Mr. Patrick’s point about DUI is. If he’s angry that people aren’t complaining that Mr. Little killed someone while DUI, then he should probably get out and protest the opening of every Matthew Broderick movie (as though they could have worse box office). If he thinks that DUI in general is as serious as death, then he oughtta ban Charles Barkley from his radio show.

If he doesn’t have any coherent point, and just believes that athletes should be out on the field, regardless of their legal transgressions, then . . . he’s your standard idiot sportscaster, I guess.

But I’m more interested in Mr. Dungy’s response. See, he thinks it’s a “strange mentality” we have, not allowing a guy to make millions in the NFL just because he spent his money building a dogfighting syndicate and, in his spare time, killing his dogs in brutal ways. I find it interesting that Mr. Dungy strips all the conspiracy, the brutality, the ugliness of Mr. Vick’s actions and replaces it all with “killing a dog.” It’s amazing how far people will relax their standards when a star quarterback is involved.

ANYWAY: all of this brings me to a thought experiment about Michael Vick. A little earlier in this post, I linked to his indictment, which included graphic details of how Vick & his pals brutally killed some of their dogs.

Here’s my hypothetical: How would your opinion of Vick’s case change if they had killed those dogs with the same care and practice that a veterinarian uses when putting a dog down?

That is, how would you feel about Vick if his guys had gently euthanized their rejected dogs with an injection, rather than killing them by hand? Would it make any difference in how “forgivable” his actions are?

(Note: Do not read this heartbreaking SI cover article on the fate of Mr. Vick’s surviving dogs until after you’ve thought about that hypothetical, because this’ll likely redouble your rage.)

Surf’s down

The new issue of Sports Illustrated arrived yesterday in the mail. This morning, I flipped through it, looking for coverage of the fantastically competitive first-round NBA playoff series between the Bulls and the Celtics. There it was! Five full pages! Three of which were photos! (Well, after subtracting long pull-quotes and inset  photography, at least there were 1.75 pages or so of writing about the series.)

Sure, much of it was about the absence of Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, but at least the Bulls’ loss of Luol Deng got mentioned, too (in the second-to-last paragraph). And the writer even managed to shoehorn in his required reference to Twitter! Awesome! Even if it was a complete non sequitur!

Still, I was a bit disappointed there was no other playoff coverage, in what’s been a weirdly compelling first round. Sure, the loss of Garnett is big for the Celtics, but the Spurs just got knocked out in the first round because they were missing Manu Ginobili. The Orlando Magic, seeded third in the east, can’t separate from a poorly assembled Sixers team with an interim coach. LeBron James & the Cavs just put the last nail in the Detroit Pistons’ coffin. Chauncey Billups has managed to get the year’s biggest collection of (playoff-level) knuckleheads to keep its collective head together long enough to reach the second round.

The only other NBA item in the ish was a two-page spread of Dikembe Mutombo lying in a crumpled heap on court — it would’ve been fantastic if he waved off assistance by wagging his index finger — and a one-third-page item on . . . Dikembe Mutombo’s career-ending injury.

So what was in this 78-page issue, that kept the editors from covering — or even making mention of — the rest of the NBA playoffs? Well, as far as features go, there was the NFL draft, which warranted 4 pages of coverage (including pix & sidebar), the 4-page cover story on rejuvenated pitcher Zack Greinke (including 2-page photo-spread), and a 3-page feature on twin brothers who play for some tea called the Canucks in a sport that seems to involve ice.


I’m not making that up. It’s a TEN-PAGE FEATURE on a 37-year-old guy who surfs. (Okay, it’s slightly smaller than 10 pages, because of the one-third page ad on the final page. And if you subtract the pictures and pull-quotes, it only adds up to about SEVEN PAGES OF COPY, compared to the 1.75 pages given to the Bulls-Celtics story.) So 13% of the issue is devoted to A SINGLE ARTICLE ON SURFING.

I guess you have to chase the ad dollars. Oh, wait! There’s no advertising in the article, except for a one-pager for the InterContinental Hotels Group and the aforementioned one-third-page, which refers to a facing page ad for Rockport Shoes. (Not surfwear. Just dress shoes.)

So the editors ran a TEN-PAGE PROFILE ABOUT A SURFER WITH A GIRL’S NAME (okay, that’s a cheap shot) with no related advertising.

I’m not going to make some wild claim about how “this illustrates everything that’s wrong with print and why all newspapers and magazines are going out of business.” Frankly, this editorial decision is so staggeringly bizarre that I don’t know what it means.

I do know that, if you go to SI’s website this morning, you can look over the entire front page and find no reference to surfing anywhere.

I also know that, in my world, we have a term for articles that are too long for an issue that doesn’t have enough ads. We call them “Part 1 of 2.”