How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love AJ Daulerio

by Bryan

I tried to give AJ Daulerio a compliment once. I told him, in a chance meeting before Memorial Day in 2010, that I thought he had done something remarkable: He had taken a site that was essentially Will Leitch’s and made it indisputably Gawker Media’s. I was a fan of Deadspin from near the beginning, and like many of the people into the tiny sports bar into which we were crowded, I read it compulsively. Daulerio’s eyes fixed on a point somewhere behind my skull as I talked. He was polite enough in thanking me, but it was clear that it was not a conversation he wanted to be having.

The Daulerio/Leitch dynamic dominated the site’s early years, not entirely without reason: both of them were extremely talented, but they were also friends with divergent styles, and you could draw a line from their friendship to their Nick Denton-sanctioned editorial handover. “AJ RUINED DEADSPIN” became a both mock- and sincere refrain among the commenters who made it their responsibility to feel the weight of the change from Leitch’s aw-shucks Midwestern blend of optimism and cynicism to Daulerio’s pretty much balls-out misanthropy, replete with penis pics. Sex sold, and the pageviews went way up, and three and a half years later here he was answering questions about Will F*cking Leitch.

On January 9, Daulerio will take over as editor in chief of Gawker. He has made Deadspin the most important sports site on the web. ESPN’s aspirant, Grantland, can’t touch it, and and the other sports news sites are fundamentally interchangeable. Deadspin has something no other sports site can totally claim: credibility. It has built a reputation for sniffing out hypocrisy with the efficiency of a team of hard-living bloodhounds, while simultaneously celebrating the greatness of sports. Unlike ESPN, its sine qua non, it conforms to Leitch’s founding principle of Sports Without Access, Favor or Discretion. What Deadspin has gained in access and reputation it has worked to shed in favor and discretion.

As Daulerio departs, he gives way to Tommy Craggs, the site’s one-man Supreme Court. For everyday and even minor glitches in the sports-industrial matrix, the site can rely on its increasingly talented cast of writers, including Emma Carmichael, Barry Petchesky and Tom Scocca. Only the most dire cases end up on Craggs’s desk, and he dispatches them with a firmness that leaves his targets in shambles and the Internet community agog.

What’s next for the site is anyone’s guess, but the changes won’t be as drastic as they were during Daulerio’s tenure. For better or worse, he made the site what it is now: the establishment anti-establishment sports source. For those of us constantly choking on ESPN’s crap, that’s something for which to be thankful.