How to be a bitchy sports writer

I’m not much of a sports fan, much less a student of sports journalism. But I know petty bitchiness when I see it, and I figure it’s worth identifying its traits, even if only to help me decide whether I like it or hate it.

The immediate prompt for me was reading Tom Withers’ fussy AP wire story about Mike Tyson’s return to the ring. I’ve linked to the Sacramento Bee pickup of the story, but there are dozens of copies of the story out here.

In the story, Withers snipes at Tyson. Now, I don’t know much about Mike Tyson, but I know that he’s a predator who’s consistently shown himself incapable of existing politely in civil society. I also know that he’s a tragically exploited figure who is, at best, a has-been in the only realm where he’s ever displayed any success. If you consider either of those facts, or especially if you consider both, there’s a much more interesting angle to hang a story on than “Ha ha, let’s make fun of this guy since he’ll never get close enough to punch me!”

But then, the punchlines are so tempting.

  • “… [A] rousing ovation from about 4,000 fans in the 6,000-seat Chevrolet Centre, home of the Youngstown SteelHounds, a minor league hockey team.” Double-slam! The show didn’t sell out, and Tyson’s reduced to a venue that’s not even home to a major league hockey team. Zing!
  • “The arena, which will host a concert by Disney’s Doodlebops on Saturday, erupted as Tyson made his way to the ring.” Oh snap! It’s not just a small arena, it’s a small arena frequented by Disney’s Doodlebops! (I don’t have any kids, so I am not sure what Disney’s Doodlebops are, but I am DEAD CERTAIN that they don’t have any tribal warrior tattoos on their faces. Unless they do, in which case they’re probably cute warrior facial tattoos.)
  • “The crowd … first began a vulgar chant directed at Tyson and soon began to boo at what looked more like a pillow fight than a boxing match.” So funny, it’s not even accurate! The statement refers to Tyson not trying to knock down his opponent, which is of course standard behavior at an exhibition, since even a boxing ignoramus like me knows an exhibition is not a match. However, Mr. Withers, as much as I hate to fall into the cliched role of the blogger fact-checking the MSM (that’s short for Evil Mainstream Media), I do have to point out that I’ve actually participated in pillow fights, at least as recently as 20 years ago. They may have changed in the past 20 years, but I am certain that even with the latest advances in Internet technology, a pillow fight is nothing like getting punched right in the goddamn face by Mike Fucking Tyson. I’m just sayin’.

The story continues, with another reference to the minor league hockey team and a couple other en passant jabs at the boxer. But I really don’t care if Mike Tyson is annoyed by the boxing press, I’m more annoyed that the story couldn’t commit to either being really snarky or to just telling the human story straight. Instead, this one random piece of sports journalism failed on both counts, and showed why straight journalism kind of ends up being boring a lot of the time when the writer ends up being too clever by half for either the enthusiast audience or for the casual reader, like me.

Plus, there’s no mention of DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince anywhere.