By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) Reality checks are necessary every now and then.
While I’ve used this little electric soapbox (which was also the name of a ska-country hybrid band I was in) to wag a finger at the foolishness of many sports fans, I’d be lying if I were to pretend I am constantly the mold for proper behavior. I, too, fall prey to my own heart once in a while and smother logic from time to time. Last week was a bad one for me in that regard, sportswise and else.
Call it being jaded or chalk it up to being a battered Cubs fan or whatever, but long ago I gave up on treating sports as a fairy tale. The straw that broke my delusional soul was baseball’s steroid revelations, one by one as the names of gladiators proved false the last bricks of the fortress that protected the perceived perfection in sports fell, and I no longer assumed some storybook characters were playing these games. Instead, I expected flawed bodies, but even more so flawed personalities, and waited to be proven otherwise.
This approach transcended sports, and ever since I’ve done my best to separate the entertainer from the human being. Michael Jackson was a deranged guy who may or may not have done some really bad things with children, but the guy made fantastic music. When I’m listening to “P.Y.T.” I’m not thinking about Jesus Juice or a chimp named Bubbles. I’m thinking what a damn good song that is. I don’t discredit thousands of years of accepted rhetorical theory because today Socrates would be jailed for pederasty. There will be no debate going on in my head this summer when Carlos Marmol takes the mound as to whether the woman that accused him of assaulting her was telling the truth or not. The game, the art, and the study exist in their own vacuums, and reality can take over when they are done being consumed.
Yet I’m usually aware of reality the whole time, which prevents me from building up grand hero figures that will ultimately disappoint me when they fail at life outside their professional vacuums. It’s a Nuke LaLooshian brain duality thing, I guess, that allows me to compartmentalize sports or art for pure entertainment purposes when I want to and critical/analytical purposes when I want to. Usually.
Last week had a few exceptions, though. It’s easy for me to point fingers until it’s time for me to reap what I sow. One of those exceptions had to do with my favorite sports site, Deadspin. (I mean favorite sports site beside 670thescore.com, which is the best place to go for Chicago sports news and opinions and please don’t can me, Hoge, I’m sorry and I’ll be an obedient worker from now on please don’t hurt me!) What I’ve long loved about Deadspin is its bravery. It pulls no punches and stays true to its motto of “Sports News without Access, Favor, or Discretion.” Criticize them for the tabloid aspect of their work all you want, but you cannot deny that the writers and editors have cojones. (And also don’t let your distaste for the site’s dealings with sports figures’ personal lives prevent you from appreciating the otherwise really good writing over there.)
Barry Petchesky, a guy whose work I like a lot, relayed part of a transcript from former Bears QB Jim Miller’s interview with The McNeil And Spiegel Show, and then Petchesky injected his conclusion that Miller is a homophobe. This was met with serious blowback because Petchesky originally neglected the part of the interview where Miller said that he personally would have no problem with a gay teammate. A correction to the Deadspin piece was made, though not to the homophobe accusation. Later Petchesky sort of apologized but maintained that Miller was in the wrong, which just isn’t correct.
This ate at me. Not so much the inaccuracy of the whole thing and the lack of a proper mea culpa, but more that my sports information idol had failed. And then it failed to fix its failure.
Not them. Not Deadspin. Please not the place I have to step away from some days because I’m posting too many of their articles on social media and don’t want to look like a fanboy. It felt so great when it was they who got all the credit for the huge Manti Te’o story. Something I liked that many others didn’t respect was finally top dog. And then they went and punched me in the gut.
This all came just a few days after The Onion deleted a tweet from Oscar Night in which it referred to nine-year-old actress Quvenzhane Wallis as the expletive c-word. You should understand that I hold The Onion up on the most high. I would gladly sell my family to Somali pirates to be counted among its ranks. If I was given the choice between the complete expulsion of all satire or all sports, you sports fans would be very disappointed.
For me there is no “off-limits” subject matter in professional satire. That’s not to say I endorse everything The Onion publishes, but I believe that when one thing gets censored in comedy, all comedy is at risk of being dissolved. I understood the outrage people had over the tweet, but I also understood what those people did not, which was the nugget of truth that was being satirized and was more than a profane word for a cute little girl. So it really bothered me when they deleted the tweet about Wallis, and it crushed me when CEO Steve Hannah issued an apology for the tweet and in that apology lied that the tweet wasn’t an attempt at satire.
The Onion isn’t supposed to apologize. It’s the last bastion of immunity to criticism. It’s an equal-opportunity offender, as any great humorist is, and after years of criticizing your religion, your favorite celebrities, your mentally handicapped relative, it showed a flaw in its armor that cannot be repaired. Satire is funny until it bothers you personally, and that’s when satire actually does its job.
Then a character known for often mixing humor and sports and awareness, the writer known as Mobutu Sese Seko, took off his mask last week. And it really did feel like an unmasking of a superhero (or supervillian as he is to many). I don’t hesitate to refer to the now-known Jeb Lund as such because I have the greatest admiration for someone that can write as well as him. I’ll be tongue-in-cheekly excited when a famous person like Vanilla Ice follows me on Twitter, but @Mobute is one of the few accounts that upon seeing that they were following me instantly frightened me and made me worried that my Twitter game was going to disappoint someone I admired.
But now that superhero is very much mortal, especially after you read the gut-wrenching account of how Lund’s pen name and persona came to be and the icky world of the internet commenter. Selfishly, I don’t want there to be a Jeb Lund. I want that distant, mysterious, witty, acidic Mobutu.
But isn’t that how it goes? That selfishness we have in demanding that either the idols we create be absolutely perfect, or in the likelihood they are not, at least demand that nobody bring the imperfection to our attention. Don’t report about some kid claiming Michael Jordan is his illegitimate father. Jordan is the greatest basketball player ever, and being a wealthy, powerful man who has sex with lots of women ruins the narrative we so long for. Don’t write an actual biography about Walter Payton. The truth sucks, and the truth somehow offends the sensibilities of people who believe in make-believe.
Don’t indict the reputation of Joe Paterno until you have all the facts. Don’t call yourself a Notre Dame fan if you’re also going to criticize the way they handled two awful, tragic situations and fostered a culture that helped create a third very weird situation with one of its most celebrated football players. Sports have to be good and fun and not make you feel bad whatsoever. The people we admire have to be infallible. They just have to be, or else what does that say about us for worshipping them?
As much as I’ll chide people for buying into that naïveté, it looks like I can still slip into the illusion, too, and for that I apologize. Disappointed as I was much of last week, I’m glad I got a well-needed reality check.
Tim Baffoe attended the University of Iowa and Governors State University and began blogging at The Score after winning the 2011 Pepsi Max Score Search. He enjoys writing things about stuff, but not so much stuff about things. When not writing for 670TheScore.com, Tim corrupts America’s youth as a high school English teacher and provides a great service to his South Side community delivering pizzas (please tip him and his colleagues well). You can follow Tim’s inappropriate brain droppings on Twitter @Ten_Foot_Midget , but please don’t follow him in real life. He grew up in Chicago’s Beverly To read more of Tim’s blogs click here.