Questions For… Will Leitch
You probably know Will Leitch from the groundbreaking website Deadspin, where he and his merry band of commenters gleefully skewer the sports world every day.
From his work at New York magazine and the New York Times, among others, you also know him as a damn good writer. In his new book God Saved the Fan: How Preening Sportscasters, Athletes Who Speak in the Third Person, and the Occasional Convicted Quarterback Have Taken the Fun Out of Sports (And How We Can Get It Back) he has combined his Deadspin experiences with his own wry observations to write a long overdue—and incredibly long-titled—treatise on the world of sports. (Go here for info on his Feb. 19 reading at BU’s Barnes & Noble).
God Save the Fan is hilarious, great fun, and exactly what you would expect from Leitch who takes shots at everyone (fans, jocks, media, owners) but not in a smarmy sportswritery kind of a way. We talked to Leitch this morning, and since we couldn’t decide what to cut, we decided to run the interview in two parts.
After the jump, Leitch discusses sports in Boston, sports writers, and a life-altering moment with Robert “Tractor” Traylor’s appendage.
BostonDaily: My first reaction when I read the book was, there is a lot of your voice in there…
Will Leitch: I wrote it.
BD: Yes, exactly. What I mean is, I was happy it wasn’t a collection of old Deadspin posts.
WL: It’s really funny when I talk to people about the book that I have to emphasize that it’s actually all new material. It seems weird because I did go to the trouble of actually writing it. I was a writer long before I did Deadspin, and one of the things that was exciting, was to take what I’ve learned from Deadspin and combine it with long-form writing.
BD: I really enjoyed the chapter about finding a bar to watch the Cardinals play the Mets (during the 2006 NLCS). Who can’t relate to an experience like that?
WL: When I walk down the streets of New York City and I see someone wearing a Cardinals hat, it’s like, ‘Yeah!’ And if I wasn’t wearing a Cardinals hat, you’d think I was crazy. To have all those Cardinals fans in one place was sensory overload. People are moving away from where they grew up, and a lot of times that means moving away from your team (Leitch is from Mattoon, Illinois).
Before that series, it was like, ‘Oh how cute. He’s a Cardinal fan,’ and when the Mets played the Cardinals, they hated me. It was fun to find that oasis. My favorite line from that is when we went back to the bar for Opening Day, we were all being nice and shaking hands, and a friend said, ‘This is weird. A few months ago, I got to third base with every woman in here.’ That kind of summed it up.
BD: I was away from Boston for 10 years before I came back for this job, and when you saw someone in a Red Sox hat, you felt a connection.
WL: Did you make it back for 2004?
BD: No, actually. I was a sportswriter in Philly.
WL: Oh, man. Were you working when they won?
BD: Yeah. This is painful. I actually had to cover a field hockey game.
WL: (audibly groans). I’m sorry.
BD: Thanks. Well, since we’re talking about Boston. We are completely entitled and insufferable, and you would be too if you were in our situation…
WL: Oh, I agree with that. Absolutely. You’ve had such a run of unbelievable good luck so enjoy it. It won’t last forever.
BD: One of the great things on Deadspin is the line you walk, where even if your team is the joke, you can still be in on the joke. And if you can’t laugh at yourself…
WL: Right. I felt like I had an advantage with Deadspin because I didn’t have any Red Sox/Yankee baggage. Very rarely do people say that they’re sick of your Midwest bias. The advantage I have is, most of my teams are innocuous. I’m obsessed with the: ‘I hate you because you’re a Red Sox fan’ thing. I have a look of perpetual bemusement about it. I genuinely like the idea that it’s a site where both Red Sox and Yankee fans can enjoy it, and actually talk to each other.
The point of sports is, it’s supposed to be fun. One of the keys to the site, and the book, is that at the end of the day sports are a way for us to get away from our lives. We have to go to work. We have to sit at our desks. Sports is a release from that.
Anyone who works in the world of sports, whether you’re a player, a coach, or a reporter you think sports are more important than they actually are. I don’t think fans actually think about sports the way people who cover them think they do.
BD: That’s a great segue to talk about sportswriting, and your Robert Traylor Experience (wherein a young Will Leitch came face to face with Traylor’s, uh, tractor while attempting to interview him). Sometimes I wish people understood the miserable life these guys have. They spend the majority of their time trying to avoid contact with another man’s junk. It’s bound to make you a little insane. How do you think sportswriting got so far off track?
WL: The notion of going to the press box and reporting on what happens is based on the time when you had to pick up a newspaper to find out if your team won last night. These are hard-working people. It’s a tough job. But the archaic notion of: We Will Report the News, and Bring it Back to You, well, that’s not how people consume sports anymore. I mean, who reads a game story anymore?
I’ve done the press box bit, and I respect it. It’s tough work, and it’s not very fun. The minute I started doing that, I said, ‘Nope. That’s not what I want to do with my life.’ You’re starting to see a change in mainstream places. It’s going very slowly, but it’s only good for the fans. Anything that replaces ‘Around the Horn’ is a good thing for fans.
B D: Couldn’t agree more. My Robert Traylor moment happened with Rick Ankiel, by the way?
BD: Yeah. When I was covering a kid covering the Carolina League and he was a 19-year-old phenom, he cursed me out in the locker room. Now I can chalk it up to, he was a kid and I didn’t know what I was doing, but it definitely made me rethink my career path.
WL: There’s a great story in the book about David Hirshey, who is my editor on (God Save The Fan), back when he was at the New York Daily News and Reggie Jackson farted in his face. That pretty much sums up what the interaction between athletes and reporters really is like. I said, ‘No thanks. I have just enough dignity left.’
Tomorrow in Part II: We talk to Leitch about Bill Simmons, John Rocker, and of course, ESPN. Don’t forget Leitch’s book reading, Feb. 19 at the BU Barnes & Noble.