Bryan Joiner

Why then I

Tag: deadspin

When a man kills a woman: The ethics of the Oscar Pistorius coverage

At some point in the future, another famous athlete will kill another beautiful woman. This is inevitable. That’s why I was so disheartened with Katie J.M. Baker’s teardown of the Reeva Steenkamp/Oscar Pistorius coverage at Jezebel today. Baker said, basically, that the media was irresponsible for running pictures of Steenkamp from her work as a swimsuit model on their front pages, and that the AP and the New York Times had glazed over the severity of the crime and the totality of Steenkamp’s life to focus on Pistorius in their articles. She found fault with one NYT paragraph in particular, and I agree totally with her criticism of it, which reads:

His arrest is a stark reminder that violence is an everyday face of life in South Africa, where fear of armed robberies and carjacking prompt the wealthy to take refuge in heavily guarded gated compounds and arm themselves with handguns.

It is, of course, not a reminder of this, or not one worth mentioning. But the real problem, echoed by Deadspin later in the day, was boobs. I do not believe that the ethics of publishing swimsuit photographs of someone who was a swimsuit model, among other professions, aren’t as cut-and-dried as Baker and Barry Petchesky make them sound, and not leastwise because those outlets ran the newspaper covers themselves. Their defense might be along the lines of Jon Stewart’s, when he’s invariably asked if The Daily Show is a news program, and he invariably responds that it is not. I think you could make an argument either way with Stewart, and I think you could make an argument for or against Jezebel and Deadspin as being hypocritical by publishing photos they condemn, but I’m not interested in that argument or, frankly, what they did. I’m interested in what should be done the next time this happens. Because it will.

Baker didn’t propose a solution, which was the most disappointing part. My question is whether it is ethical to post posthumous photos of a professional swimsuit model. Steenkamp was a law school graduate in addition to being a model, and one commenter expressed her objections like this:

[S]he was also a qualified lawyer and modeled cosmetics, and that the photo on the cover wasn’t chosen as a direct representation of her career (again, she modeled more than just swimsuits) but to be titillating.

Of course, if a newspaper is going to put one photo on a cover at a time, it would be impossible to have a “direct representation of her career” if she modeled more than one thing. That the newspapers chose swimsuits is hardly suprising, but that doesn’t make it right. It also doesn’t make it wrong, and part of it has to do with your take on the modeling profession. Steenkamp chose to be a model. If you are a successful model, modeling is not easy. It looks easy, and that’s the hard part: Anyone can look good for a few minutes at a time with months of practice, but even then, it has to look easy. Like anything, it’s hard work — extremely hard, if you have to stay at a certain weight. She chose to do it, and she did it well. If one is going to attack the newspaper for publishing the photos because of the outsized effect exposed skin has on the human brain, one could see that as an indictment of Steenkamp’s chosen profession, and that she, herself, had exploited this outsized effect in her own way. One could say the newspaper was respecting her by showing off her work.

I don’t necessarily believe this. BlackSportsOnline, a site I respect for its breadth of coverage but cringe at which I cringe for its butchered grammar and constant barrage of pinup photos, ran a series of Steenkamp photos with their article, and it rubbed me the wrong way. For me, that was sexualizing her too much; my line was more than one photo. When I saw the covers of the Post and Daily News this morning, I wasn’t surprised, nor was I horrified. If we know about Pistorius because of his athletic accomplishments and now about Steenkamp’s looks because of her death, these are part of the same system that circumvents the logical parts of our brain. On the whole, we like stupid stories about athletes and we like pictures of scantily clad humans, and even if it was 55 percent for and 45 against, that’s a ton of people against. But this type of coverage isn’t immoral just because you personally don’t fall prey to these traps. It may be immoral, but it just means you don’t like it.

Maybe that’s not what Baker was saying, but she didn’t say much about why newspapers shouldn’t do this, except that this “is not [Pistorius’s] obituary.” Was it Steenkamp’s? Better question: If it was Steenkamp’s obituary, would it be right to run a photo? She chose to do this, after all: Saying that running a photo of her in swimwear implies that she didn’t take pride in her work, and that it’s less representative of her life than, say, a candid photo of her at home, is disrespectful to the work, whether that sounds insane or not. We don’t think twice about running photos of actors in their roles or chemists at the lab. Running the photo wouldn’t be disrespectful to her. But here’s the problem, and here’s why Baker is right. These things are not for Steenkamp — she’s dead. They’re for us. And running a photo of a dead woman in swimwear exploits our brains into not thinking about what to do when this happens again, and the next dead model’s boobs are up in our faces again, and the cycle of rage repeats itself, and we’re no closer to a solution. These are real people, not toys for Rupert Murdoch to play with, or for Katie J.M. Baker to channel outrage without having to say, in detail, why this is wrong and what to do about it, in face of all the temptations to do it the same way all over again. The forces of sex and violence are powerful. If we’re going to beat them, we’re going to have to try twice as hard. This wasn’t it.

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LeBrontext

lebron's holding a purse

Part of my job now involves watching and reading an irresponsible amount of sports commentary, most of it recently having to do with the New Orleans Saints or LeBron James. Everyone agrees that LeBron James plays wonderful basketball until a certain point. To use a cross-sport analogy, LeBron basically refuses to be his own closer. Deadspin’s Sean Newell exhaustively listed the reasons that this is okay, but he wrote one thing that will be, at some point, proven demonstrably false: “If Lebron took the shot and made it, LeBron and the Heat would have done exactly what is expected: beat the Jazz in March.” No. The sports-watching world is waiting for LeBron to shoot. If he takes a last-second shot and he makes it, it will not hesitate to congratulate itself for remaking James in its own image, even if it’s only one game and one shot, and one he’s taken before, albeit under different circumstances.

While Newell and even Jon Barry, whose argument Newell briskly escorts to the woodshed, both say that LeBron’s pass to Udonis Haslem against the Jazz was the “right basketball play,” I think they’re overstating what they know. I love statistics and I pray at their altar, but what we don’t know far outstrips that which we do. Is a surprise Udonis Haslem 15-foot open shot a better percentage play than a LeBron isolation play after LeBron has drilled miraculous shot after miraculous shot? I have no way of knowing. I don’t like that people think they know the answer. I think the source of my confusion is: context.

Context is why the same meal on fine china tastes better than on paper plates, and why better-looking people get paid better than worse-paid ones to provide exactly the same service. It is powerful and deceiving, and it is real. To go back to the baseball analogy, the Red Sox’ closer-by-committee didn’t work because the pitchers were crappy, but the generally accepted theory is that it didn’t work because pitchers wanted to know their roles. If you’re willing to admit that that sort of uncertainly had at least some effect on their performance—and I encourage you to imagine yourself at work, battling uncertainty, and compare that to your most productive times—then you’re granting that context provides an unknown. If Michael Wilbon was to be believed on PTI today, Magic Johnson told him that other players on the Heat are likely looking to James to take that shot, and that they see his passing it up as something akin to Josh Beckett removing himself to let Dice-K face the last batter when Beckett has 18 strikeouts. If context has some effect, then it’s almost certainly playing a role here, both in the short term and long term.

If you grant all that, and you believe in the numbers… well, if you’re willing to discount a regular season game as just a regular season game, isn’t it in LeBron’s best interests to kill this storyline? Process is important, as the Sloan Conference hammered at last weekend. So is realism. You can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. The potential shitshow of this continuing nonsense is not worth one regular-season loss, even if it’s nonsense. I’m confident enough in my math to say that. We’re at that point. We don’t often get there. If LeBron takes the last shot the next time he has the chance, he will feed the monkey enough to shift the ball enough toward his amazing play that, if the stress is wearing on him at all, it’ll free him up to be even better.

Shoot the ball, buddy. It’s like sushi. You might love it if you try it.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love AJ Daulerio

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 ESPN.com 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.

Am I Missing Something, Or Have The Sane Baseball People Gone Wacko?

Old-school baseball writers and announcers have, by and large, become a straw man for online critics, who broadside their often ridiculous generalizations with statistics and watch them try to wriggle out of them or double down on their assertions that Derek Jeter is “clutch” without providing any new evidence. This was the entirety of the idea behind the website Fire Joe Morgan, and spawned a new type of “journalism” — take down the stupid guy! Yeah!

The problem with this type of work is that the people doing it are starting to double back on themselves. They’re so concerned with what everyone else is writing that they’re missing the low-hanging fruit. There are so many observations that could be made about what’s going on in the baseball playoffs that aren’t being made by either the “traditional” or “new” media that the “observations” they’re making instead are ridiculous.

Take the play for which Jeter was heartily lauded by Joe Buck and Tim McCarver last night. Bobby Abreu hit a ball into the right center field gap, and took a wide enough turn around second base that he couldn’t get back before Jeter threw to first baseman Mark Teixeira, who had raced over to cover. On the play, second baseman Robinson Cano had stationed himself in front of Jeter, but Melky Cabrera’s throw went over Cano’s head and into Jeter’s glove. Seeing Abreu lose his footing, Jeter snapped a perfect throw off, to the delight of Buck and McCarver.

Was it a good play by Jeter? Yes. But did anyone ask why it happened, then or now? Everyone said Abreu screwed up—and he did—but they never asked why. If you follow the play, it’s easy to see that Abreu was so far around second that there’s no reason for him to think he could have gotten back if there was someone there. So one might ask: why would he do this? How about because the second baseman and shortstop were both in front of him? It’s incredibly likely that Abreu thought there was no one on the base, but there was Teixeira, who had raced behind Abreu to make the play you’re taught to make in Little League but gradually forget to do. It was a brilliant play, for sure, just not for the person who got credit for it.

If Will Leitch wants to know why people hate Joe Buck, that’s why. Also, he announces the game’s like he’s Jacob Silj. But my real pet peeve is Buck’s constant attention to what critics will say. He always unloads, “well, the critics will say…” and ping-pongs opinions on the game. That’s not inherently a bad thing, but he does the faux-equivalency thing the MSM is guilty of w/r/t political reporting. Just because there are two opinions does not mean they are of equal merit. STOP TALKING ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE WILL SAY ABOUT THE GAME, AND TALK ABOUT THE GAME. (Oh, and being better than Chip Caray doesn’t make him good.)

Unfortunately, Leitch’s buddy at Deadspin, Tommy Craggs, is not much better. An Angels fan took a video of Mariano Rivera spitting on the ball last night and got a overboard with his analysis… leading Craggs in the odd position of trying to argue against video evidence to try and make a point. Perhaps realizing the silliness of his endeavour, at the end of the post he said it would be “just about the coolest thing ever” if Rivera did throw a spitter—just in case, he, you know, did. Which he did. Craggs’ point, I guess, is that some random Angels fans on a blog are more worth making an example of than focusing a laser beam on the obvious:

1) That yes, Rivera threw a spitter.

2) Yes, it’s cool (I agree).

3) If Rivera is throwing spitters, it stands to reason pretty much everyone else is. So calm down.

Concerned with this? No, he’d rather tell you why your eyes don’t work. (Don’t worry, they work fine.)

I’m all for criticism (as you can see). But base it on what you see, and not what other people say. The game’s the thing. If you read something that’s tearing someone else down just for sport, just quit reading. You’re not going to learn anything anyway.

UPDATE: ESPN’s Amy K. Nelson tweets: “rivera spitball” No. 19 on google trends right now. so stupid.” Right, it’s stupid for people to be curious of things. The commissioner’s office also thinks you’re stupid, btw. They’ve just released a statement saying there’s no evidence he spit on the ball. I’ll assume they mean besides the evidence they have. Did Sammy Sosa have a corked bat or not?

Look, do I think the spitting thing is a big deal w/r/t fair play? Of course not. It’s silly and will pass, and I agree with Craggs that it’s even pretty cool. But it did, you know, happen.

UPDATE 2: Amen to new pals of this website Stupid Sports Blog for nailing this.

The Arizona State Preview That Wasn’t

In honor of Arizona State’s opening-round game in the NIT tonight, here’s the ASU preview that would have run on Deadspin had they made that elitist NCAA tournament.

  1. The Herbivores. The Tempe fans have nicknamed themselves the “Herbivores” in loving deference to second-year head coach Herb Sendek, late of NC State. And let’s face it: Herb Sendek is a just a terrible name. At least someone is having fun with it. Though I’d like to think the fans got the name after eating at the Crapplebee’s on ASU’s campus. Its slogan should be, “In sober — out a vegetarian!” Every night they have half-priced beers after 9 p.m., which are expected to make up for the Rottweiler-meat burgers. They do not. The nachos, however, are excellent.
  2. Tucson Raiders. Wait, why are we talking about the NCAA Tournament? WE BEAT U OF A TWICE. Let that sink in for a second. Twice. Do you really think we care about the NCAA Tournament? We care about the Wildcats not making the tournament. Since domestic disputes aren’t (always) funny, we won’t make fun of Lute Olson, but without Lute, the university’s got nothing to hang its hat on. And don’t yell “Jennie Finch!” There are a dozen Jennie Finches in every class at ASU, and for that matter, three Amanda Beards and one Jake Plummer. The Snake’s no fool.
  3. Harden fast. Fast ‘N Hard. No wait — the first one. From ASU ’07 Grant Joiner’s lips to your eyes, I present to you the 2007-2008 Arizona Sun Devils offense: “So it’ll be the end of the game, and James Harden will have the ball. He’ll dribble. Then he’ll drive a little bit and get double-teamed. Then he’ll get triple-teamed. Then he’ll stop and shoot it over three guys and it will go in. That’s it. That’s all they ever do.” Rumors persist that a second ASU player — named “Pendergrass,” “Pendergraph,” or “Pie Graph” — actually exists, which Deadspin associates were working feverishly to confirm at press time.

Sometimes the best laid plans are ruined by a B.S. over the back call

I wrote an Arizona State preview for Deadspin last week for the NCAA tournament, which they were likely to make. They did not. The University of Arizona Wildcats, whom the Sun Devils beat twice, did. There was an inflammatory paragraph about the opposite scenario — an ASU berth with U of A out — shows what I know.

N.I.T.! N.I.T.!

Will Leitch Interview

For those of you looking for lighter fare than Queens Stories 2, my Will Leitch interview, for his new book God Save The Fan, is up on Last Exit Magazine.