Redefining hot topics

Sports fans will get a real kick out of this book. (credit: Jesse Kummer | Photo Staff) Sports fans will get a real kick out of this book. (credit: Jesse Kummer | Photo Staff)

One of the few men in today’s sports media who offers his honest opinion without any hint of a hidden agenda or ulterior motive about all things sports is Will Leitch, founding editor of deadspin.com. Through the website, Leitch has been bringing the world “sports news without access, favor, or discretion” since September 2005, until his recent departure from the site in June 2008.

Recently, Leitch wrote a book titled God Save 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). The title may be a mouthful, but it gives you a clear sense of the kind of book you’re about to experience. Leitch is not hesitant to speak out about some of the most controversial subjects in sports today, including steroids and God’s place in the sporting world. He goes on to bring up his own controversial opinions about each and every subject, and does so with wit and humor.

The book is divided into four sections: Players, Owners, Media, and Fans. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to determine who he discusses in each part, though he does have a distinct method to his madness. For example, Leitch initially focuses on disgraced former Atlanta Falcons quarterback, Michael Vick, who was jailed after dog fighting charges surfaced, but doesn’t discuss the charges or Vick’s career. Interestingly enough, he focuses on Vick’s use of an alias, “Ron Mexico,” when he allegedly went in for STD testing. It’s this type of information — news that falls behind the main headlines — that is all over deadspin.com on a daily basis.

Leitch brings up ESPN quite a bit too, though not in the “good” sense. He has been “blackballed by ESPN,” meaning that ESPN employees have been notified never to credit any breaking news stories to deadspin.com or the man behind it. He blasts virtually every single commentator employed by the “worldwide leader in sports” and makes the very well-founded claim that, due to ESPN’s near monopoly over the sporting world, they are able to pick and choose which stories they believe should be “hot topics,” some of the time without regard to actual newsworthiness, like the “Who’s Now?” series.

But before you go thinking that Leitch is just a random, mindless drone preaching his ideals over the Internet, and who lacks any kind of true passion for the game, there’s an entire section of his book devoted to his experiences during the St. Louis Cardinals 2006 World Series push and eventual victory. He lives and dies with his team. Having grown up in the small town of Mattoon, Ill. before finding sucess in the Big Apple, Leitch has a “rags-to-riches” story that gives him a more relateable appeal.

The main idea of the book is indeed laid out in the title. Leitch’s basic opinion of sports is that they exist as an escape. As human beings, we all deal with stresses, major and minor, but the fact that some of us know exact statistics like the 40 Time of Jerricho Cotchery, the wide receiver for the New York Jets, or the statistics for every season of Pirates’ shortstop Jack Wilson’s career, is actually quite a fine means of relieving that stress. We choose to live and die with every pitch, pass, and shot of our favorite game because it gives us the utmost joy. As Leitch writes in his closing statement: “Because if you can’t let yourself go and enjoy sports, you can’t enjoy much of anything.”

Even the Steelers are not left out of God Save the Fan: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is pictured at a party in the book in a photograph of a scene not usually made into news, a scene in which Roethlisberger is letting loose and having fun.

Nowadays, people can catch Leitch’s rants and raves about everything sport-related in New York magazine, where he is currently employed and holds the title of “Intelligencer.”

This book is definitely a must-read for the sports fan that everyone harbors inside. Leitch’s viewpoint is both humorous and refreshing, and he provides a different kind of insight into the world of sports.