I know this is gonna start some shit, but somebody’s gotta put the blogsphere on notice and it might as well be us. I don’t agree with everything Buzz says, but the man has been around long enough to have earned the respect for his words whether you like them or not.
Braylon probably didn’t know what hit him. He wanted that PTI Tony Reali button bad
Just gotta get something off my chest. The check and balance is never personal, always business…for it’s our destiny…
Will Leitch you’re the supastah athlete you love to tough guy but not really sneak, creep and picture oh you so funny guy leak now…
The Black Table could have been the shit…
Your commenters quiver epileptic soft behind their DNA drenched keyboards and baby feet stomp I’m mightier than thou because I’m me and that makes me better than you wow?
No The Starting Five jealous one’s envy. No looking down our nose even though you’ve become the 60′s face smacked hard against the you think you pay the athlete’s bills misnomer but fire watered concrete version for all of us not enamored with the snarky “journalism” primitive yet futuristic everything is the Dark Knight’s right now enemy’s hose. No God Save the Fan for I’m in Rocky lovin’ no championship paradin’ since 1983 Philly man!
Dude, you are no victim. You sat there all boyish trying hard to smile because you vexed but neat witted Deadspin opportunistic as Buzz became newspaper’s last gasp, bottom of the ninth, down by 10 million, crickets in the 300 million collar stadium because God Saved the Fan sick ‘em?
WTF was that? It was pointedly absurd like the grotesque absolute love of the Green Bay French Licked Chicago Miked cheese curd; without words…just unmitigated and unapologetic bitchass blurbs, Victorianish [sic] and luckily entitled but always unaccountable midget mouthed while pandering to defense mechanism carotid artery bleeding demography hoping to stay relevant little boy on the playground getting his ass beat every day in front of his pops words?
While your brothers laugh…
The diamond eyed sports is the smell of the green grass falling off Ozzie Smith’s cleats divorce cry child in me you do not see…cause you would cowardly but for the world laughingly and knowingly kick ‘em in his little pee pee for all to see just for the motherfuckin’ monme [sic].
The athletes don’t care about you or your army of last guy picked with no grease mad sticked despite the benjamins you disgustingly but entrepreneur acumen lick as you in the bar player hatin, mean muggin’ passive aggressive spillin’ your drink and self deprecatin’ duckin’ mad quick when the athlete Rock eyebrow peers your direction tired of your Desitin ass swings his groupie hangin’ all big and strong workin’ hard his whole life to get where he is despite the hate of you and others BIG ASS D….
Check that shit and stop being a eyes Deadspinnin’ at 6 in the mornin’ nose runnin’ bowlegged mismatched pumped bloody kneed you’re better than that chick lookin’ for the next fat pocketed but societal fate sealin’ dumbin’ down there is nothing else in this world but US trick.
Spoken word of the above piece in a .dvf link file below.
H. G. Bissinger needs no intro. The long time journalist and author’s words speak for him. You can’t hate him for wanted to preserve what he feels is the past, present and future of journalism.
Michael Tillery: Buzz, you’ve become an internet phenomenon recently mainly for your heated exchange with Deadspin’s Will Leitch on HBO. Those not familiar with your work have been enlightened because of the sheer volume of your journalism. Was your now infamous exchange with Leitch a tactic to market your writing to a new generation of readers?
Buzz Bissinger: No, absolutely not. Actually, in emails that I’ve received–subsequent to the appearance–there were many calm coaching emails that said “I was a fan of your work but now I’m turning my back on you.” So frankly, I’m worried that I may have lost fans because of my conduct that night…which was out of line. There was no act. I’m a man of passion and my passion got the better of me. I’ve said that before publicly. Mr. Leitch rubbed me the wrong way. I hate Deadspin. I think it represents everything that’s wrong with blogs because it’s snarky, malicious, mean spirited and vaguely filled with invectives–in particular when it comes to the comments. The comments are guided by the posts.
I just let loose in a way I should not have. All it did was subsume some of the valid points I was at least trying to make. There was no act there. I unfortunately have done similar things before where my temper has gotten the better of me publicly.
MT: See…I have to come to your defense there. The emotion is what has propagated the dialogue.
MT: There has been great dialogue. I really appreciate…
Buzz: Well, I would hope so. I hope it’s done some good. It seems to me that it has. I’ve gotten hundreds of emails. Some have been typical. You know you are a douche bag and you are a shit head and you are a fuck head. You are a wife beater and everything else. There’s been some good emails written by some very sane people that were smart and very well laid out. It’s given me an opportunity to look at some blogs and see some blogs that are good blogs because they’re information based. I have to say that I’ve seen a helluva lot of blogs still are just ridiculous. The writing is poor. They go on forever and the whole intent of them is to be mean. The other intent of them is these are people that are praying and hoping to be discovered almost in the way people are discovered by American Idol.
MT: Well, why back off? You seem to be very adamant regarding your stance on blogs. I’m not sure why you appear to be backing off.
Buzz: I’m not backing off of what I said. I’m backing off of the way I conducted myself because the use of profanity became too much of a lightening rod for people to point to. When they say I acted like I was insane it didn’t help me make the points I was trying to make.
My apology extends…I should have not have used profanity. I shouldn’t have treated Mr. Leitch the way I should have. I should have made my points emphatically but not with overboard passion that I showed.
I still believe what I said.
MT: How can a guy with 10 million monthly hits be seen as a victim in all of this?
Buzz: In a funny way that’s what happened. I probably added to the amount of hits by attacking him that way.
I just don’t understand the appeal of Deadspin. Maybe it’s generational. Generational in that someone younger than myself finds funny. I don’t find any of it funny. I don’t. The posts are meant to elicit comments that become a game of who can top this in terms of who can be the most sexually sophomoric and who can lace their comments with the most invective and the most cruelty.
Why Deadspin is so popular is beyond me. I don’t think it adds that much to the discourse on sports. It adds a lot to the discourse on nastiness and maliciousness and things our society just doesn’t need.
I’m pretty sure Mr. Leitch is making a lot of money and he’s going mainstream anyway. He writes for the New York Times. He writes for Play Magazine. He knows where his bread is buttered. He’s a very bright smart guy. To his credit he’s hit the Zeitgeist so to speak. This is what people want. They don’t want information. They don’t want real facts. They just want some opportunity to vent and try to be funny.
MT: Could Deadspin be seen as chickens coming home to roost regarding the lack of check and balance for conventional journalism? Growing up I would read a journalist and had the want to voice my opinion but that opinion was never heard. Whether or not it was in a letter to the editor or some other form of complaint. Could blogs been seen as that check and balance for journalistic culpability?
Buzz: Yeah! I think that’s the best of blogs when they do that…where there is an interplay. People say why pick on Deadspin? Well, it is the most popular sports blog in the country. I don’t see that type of rational dialogue taking place. When I see the comments and replies that people make to a Deadspin post, it’s not rational argument. It’s all about the one liner that maybe can get me on Stewart’s (Jon) show or Stephen Colbert. They all think they’re much funnier than they are. It adds to this era of mockery that we live in. That’s not true of every blog. There’s one called the Beer Leaguer that covers the Phillies where the posts are rational and so are the comments. It’s all about what’s happening with the Phillies and what’s happening with Howard (Ryan), and Myers (Brett) etc. Do the Phillies need another pitcher and the like. It does give the fan a voice to give their opinions. I think that’s great. I think most blogs are used to make idiotic comments that they think are funny. To me it shows that they need to do something else with their lives because they have way too much time on their hands.
MT: Before blogs became vogue, did you see a point where you thought sports journalism was making a wrong turn in terms of the exacerbated attack on the athlete…
Buzz: Look…I do. Mainstream journalism is far from perfect. The real forerunner in all of this was sports talk radio. Whether it’s a blog, sports talk radio or conventional journalism, all are looking for an audience. Sports talk radio was the first to figure out that the meaner you were, the more ridiculous, the more controversial, translated into the more listeners you were going to get. Why that is? I don’t know.
When I talked about the dumbing down of society it seems less and less we have real discourse about events–sports or political–we just have venting. People seem to feel they can say whatever the hell they want, however they want and the facts and information be damned. That doesn’t matter to me as long as I get to type some words on my computer and make my point no matter how ridiculous and malicious it is.
MT: I caught hell from a couple of my readers who assumed that because I run this blog I should have defended Leitch even though TSF is disparate of Deadspin.
Why make sweeping generalizations of blogs that would put TSF in a position to almost have to defend other blogs we have no connection to?
Buzz: Look…I learned first hand the danger of sweeping generalizations. The context of the show was there was a panel with Will Leitch and Will Leitch represents Deadspin. Deadspin was there for a reason because it’s the most popular sports blog in the country. It is representative of something important.
I should not have condemned all blogs in condemning Deadspin. You are correct on that for that was a failing on my part, but Deadspin because of its popularity is a legitimate target. It says something about us. I think it says something significant about us as a society devoid of facts.
MT: TSF attempts to give the Black voice an opportunity to be heard in a field where authentic Blackness seems to be frowned upon. It also has to be said that a lot of Black journalists pander to a White demographic to keep food on the table. What is up with having true diversity and why is there an apprehensiveness for Whites to respect a true Black vantage point in the name of journalistic objectivity?
Buzz: It’s a complicated question. There could be a lot of reasons for it. One of the reasons frankly is racism. Anyone who thinks we aren’t a racist society is out of their mind. In my second book, which didn’t deal with sports at all, but urban America–the city of Philadelphia (A Prayer for the City)–I saw rampant racism. I saw rampant racism in Friday Night Lights. I saw some of the worse racism I’ve ever seen. It was directed at an 18 year old kid who was trying to play football. Once he got hurt he was called a “big ole’ dumb nigger” by an assistant coach. I certainly have not shied away from pointing out racism. Unfortunately, some Whites find the authentic Black voice–whether or not it’s rap or Hip Hop to be dangerous to society. We’re White and don’t understand the culture. We don’t really want to understand the culture so if your blog is trying to give an authentic Black voice I think that’s great. What I object to in any blog is if it degenerates into silly pot shots because so many blogs do.
There needs to be an authentic Black voice. There needs to be somebody pointing out the lack of Black coaches in college football. All I see is Black players on the field–sometimes 22 players all Black–but how many Black coaches do I see? Very few. It’s a little bit better in college basketball. How many Black managers are they’re in baseball? How come nobody is pointing out the ridiculous disconnect between the athletes who play and the coaches who coach? I think there is a subliminal racism there. The players are playing the game but don’t have the intellectual skills to be coaches? I think it’s really tedious at the college football level. It bothers me and it’s one of the reasons why I don’t really watch it anymore. I truly think that college football and college sports are the height of hypocrisy.
MT: I think it speaks to the mass attitude that most administrators for whatever reason see Black men as motivators instead of x and o guys and therefore are disqualified to lead a multi-million-dollar program for that reason and that reason alone.
Buzz: I agree with you. They will never admit to that and they have the right to make the decision they wanna make but there is this subliminal attitude that Blacks simply aren’t as smart as Whites when it comes to coaching. That is ridiculous. It’s absolutely absurd and I think they have an obligation to hire more Black coaches but they’re not going to because it’s big business. When big business and money are at stake, people are going to do whatever the fuck they want to do. That’s a shame.
MT: Could it also be seen as job security?
Buzz: Sure! I think it is partly job security. You know Mike, as well as I do, because you cover it, that coaching is a fraternity. It’s a White man’s club in many areas. They are very careful about who they let inside and trust. They are preserving their own job security. That doesn’t mean that every Black coach is going to be a very good coach. There are those who have tried and failed. If you fail, then you should be fired but I don’t think they’ve been given a significant enough opportunity. It’s very hard for them to break in. You know there’s not enough balance because every time a Black coach gets hired it becomes a big story. It’s like somebody is doing something brave. Well, they’re not doing something brave. They are hiring the right guy for the right job but because he’s Black, if nothing else, we’ll get a little pr pat on the back. That’s ridiculous.
MT: Why is conventional journalism souring and what would be your Utopian model?
Buzz: That’s a great but very complicated question. I am old school. You know what I mean? I don’t want to sound like some old fart but I grew up in New York City in an era in the 1960′s when there were 7 daily newspapers and fell in love with newspapers at a very young age. I just like to feel something printed in my hand. I loved the writing and the kind of voices that were available to me as a kid were astounding. Whether it was Jimmy Breslin or Pete Hamill or Red Smith or W.C. Heinz. What I worry about now is that those voices that were literate, wonderful, funny and poignant columnist voices are being lost. I think that as newspapers are foundering for their very lives, they are turning more and more to what blogs do. Newspapers are caught in the middle and therefore fall into that model.
I guess the best of all worlds would be that newspapers exist in print and dedicate themselves to great writing. That newspapers not cave into this notion that everything has to be shorter and dumbed down. Newspapers are dumbed down terribly now so I don’t think that’s gonna happen. Newspapers are preparing for the moment where they will be extinct in print. It might not happen in my lifetime but it’s going to happen.
The question is will readers read long nuanced and wonderfully written stories on the Internet like they do in print. My instinct would be no because that is not what makes the Internet special. What makes the Internet special is that you can bounce around site to site in ten minutes. Even when I look at the Internet. When I look at the Internet I probably look at 15 different sites. It’s very rare that something captures my eye that I’m going to read all the way through. It’s probably because I just don’t like to read things on the computer. I’m part of an older generation and my son who is 16 is very very different. The best model would be that there’s a place for bloggers and there’s a place for real discourse on sites like your own who articulates the Black voice. There would also be a place for the printed word. It’s not just newspapers, it’s magazines and books. Borders is for sale. I mean think of it, we might have one conduit for books which is Barnes and Noble. It’s bad for the country. It’s dangerous. Magazine circulation is down in many many places. The only ones who are doing really really well is the gossip magazines. That makes me feel very fearful for us as a society. I remember the ’60′s; the ’60′s were very different in terms of the knowledge base that we had. We had a willingness to protest things we felt were wrong. We’re kind of a very passive society now and we think the venting and protesting can be done from our living rooms typing into a computer and I don’t think that’s the case.
MT: Should there be a responsibility to reporting or is it all about the money churning hit piece?
Buzz: Sure, there has to be a responsibility in reporting. Otherwise, how do you trust what you are getting? I feel we are getting to an age where we are going to have 150,000,000 different opinions in lieu of reporting. Reporting is where you learn things. It’s been sacred all my life–not in terms of what I’ve done–but in terms of books that have guided my life. You are really learning. You are depending on someone who may have spent 10 or 15 years getting to know their subject. What you read is fantastic. Reporting is entering a subculture. It’s entering a world where the reader thinks they may know but know nothing about. When it’s done well it’s fantastic. You come away from reading saying wow these are things I never knew about and when you add to that great writing then there’s no better special experience.
When I worked at the Philadelphia Inquirer in the 1980′s it was practiced all the time. That’s why the paper won 17 Pulitzer Prizes. The best printed journalism you are ever going to see was during that age. It was fantastic.
Reporters were given two years to work on a story if that’s what it took. Now you are lucky if you get two days.
Newspapers, instead of dumbing up so to speak and becoming more literate, have fallen right into the hands or holes of blogging; an opinion oriented society where the only thing that counts is “hey I’ve got something to say and I’m gonna say it!” People don’t care if there’s any foundation to it whatsoever, they are just gonna say it because we live in a very narcissistic society.
MT: I couldn’t wait for the paper to hit the door on a Saturday or Sunday morning so I could see if Reggie Jackson or Mike Schmidt hit a homer the night before. Now you can go on the Web and quickly find that information. Newspapers are becoming the dinosaur.
Buzz: They are for the very reason you cite. You don’t need to pick up the paper to see if Reggie hit a homer. You can go on Fox Sports or ESPN and get more information than you ever need to know–not only about the home run but any instant statistic. Newspapers are looking for ways to change and there are papers that are still doing it brilliantly such as the New York Times–both in print and the online side. People call it the Big Grey Lady but it’s been at the forefront of switching to a more Web-based content while also keeping intact standards of reporting and good writing. They are at the cutting edge but their revenue continues to drop–as has every paper’s. That is what scares me.
I was just in Minneapolis recently. I don’t want to be accused of being a blogger in terms of rumors but there is a rumor that the Minneapolis Star-Tribune may go bankrupt. I can’t imagine a paper going bankrupt. It’s really scary out there. I guess what’s really scary is what is going to replace it? Is Deadspin going to replace it? Is that where we are going to get our information? Is it going to come from someone who doesn’t know reporting but may watch the game on TV but is more interested in cracking silly one liners giving his own spin of events–which is not reporting?
There’s no substitute for reporting. There just isn’t. It’s one of the most beautiful things in the world when it’s done right. It seems like we want that less and less.
MT: I love it. When I walk into a locker room and step up to someone I’ve been a fan of or my children are fans of, and engage them in a conversation that’s different than how they are characterized on TV, it’s the greatest thing. The reader knows nothing about that and it’s my job to relay those thoughts through those unique words of the athlete.
Buzz: Exactly, and you are doing it though reporting. You are doing it through your ability to crack through an athlete or college athlete. That’s not so easy to do but you are doing it. What you are doing is conveying your stuff to the reader. When they read it they’ll say, “You know what? This Tillery stuff is really good. This guy knows his stuff.” Opinion is something when somebody knows their stuff. It’s not very interesting when someone does not have a clue. Most bloggers revel on that they trade on disinformation. I bet many bloggers say, “We’re not journalists.” I don’t know what they are. I think they all want to be discovered, quite frankly. Not all of them, but I think some of them like yourself and other information-based bloggers are dedicated to giving the fan as much information as they can about a particular subject. What’s stopping bloggers from quitting their job like me and moving to Odessa, TX because I knew there was a great story to be written? They can do it. Why don’t they now? I think they are more content to sit and type and write and spout opinions that are bad sex jokes and invectives. Unfortunately, that’s what I did on Costas Now.
There is one big difference to what I did on Costas Now and bloggers. I didn’t hide behind anything. I didn’t hide behind some silly email handle or some silly name. I was myself. That was my name. My email is public and that’s a big difference. Blogs should insist that people use their real names. Would they still get the same amount of hits if they are really for change?
Post whatever you want but you gotta use your real name and it’s gotta be verified.
They’ll never do it because it’s a money game, let’s face it. The more posts you get, the more hits you get, the more money you make. That’s not just to entertain us. That’s also to make money.
Deadspin is in it to make money.
MT: My problem with Will is that he wasn’t more ambitious regarding The Black Table. Now, I obviously wasn’t there so I don’t truly know why the demise but I thought it was a great idea to post stories that were killed. I thought it was ingenious. You know better than I that there are some stories out there that editors just don’t want to go with for whatever reason. To see that idea morph into Deadspin is where my disappointment with Will Leitch lies. I did a nice interview with Will but like you said earlier, he went for the dough instead of IMO putting in the work to make sure The Black Table got off on its own. Maybe it was before its time.
Buzz: You have to remember that these stories may have been killed because there simply wasn’t enough information.
MT: That’s true.
Buzz: Newspapers might be conservative, but the newspapers I’ve worked for do have standards of reporting and they probably killed the story because the reporter simply didn’t acquire enough information to uphold those standards. Reprinting those stories may have perpetuated things that were not true or rumor. Will’s about entertainment and that’s what he says. I’ve seen interviews…I think it was on NPR where Scott Simon accused Will of being racist in his book. His response was that he didn’t really think about it. He was mocking Black sportscasters for sounding too White. You know, if you don’t realize the racist implications of that (inaudible). His response was that he was a moron, he’s stupid, don’t listen to him.
I don’t think that’s much of a response. I think that is a cop out.
MT: See…I have to be honest with you. Would it have been construed as racist if I said something like that? Because I damn sure would have. Maybe because it came from him but I don’t really have a problem with what he said there. Let me tell you why. Because there is that aforementioned lack of Black voice out there, some Black broadcasters feel they have to sound White. Maybe it’s in the hiring practice and not the individual. I don’t know. They have to write a certain way. I in no way shape or form mean for folks to modify their speech patterns just to get a job. Folks know exactly what I’m talking about in that I’m referencing what is more palatable a tone for Whites.
Buzz: Then why didn’t he say that? Why didn’t he say exactly what you are saying? Why didn’t he stick to his guns? That’s my point, Mike. He should have said what you said that he put it in his book because he believes that Black sportscasters are under tremendous pressure to sound White because they work for organizations that are controlled by Whites. Most Black sportscasters are appealing to a fan base that is predominately White. I mean, he could have given a serious answer. I don’t want to personalize with Will. He does seem like a bright kid that I barely know at all. He could have given a much more honest response. Just like the one you’re giving.
MT: What’s up with you calling Stephen A. Smith Mr. Ubiquitous? Was that fair?
Buzz: Well, he was Mr. Ubiquitous. He just spread himself too thin. He was trying to do the column for the Inquirer. He was on the radio and also TV. I know from experience it’s hard enough to do one thing well and when you are spread that thin it’s just going to lead to disaster. I think he was trying to do too much and it hurt him. You are juggling too many important projects and none really are given the time and attention they deserve. It can lead to a real disaster.
MT: I for one am sad to see he and David Aldridge go. What’s your opinion of Philly sports? The city obviously hasn’t won a championship since 1983. There’s beginning to be a disapproving groundswell for the Rocky statue. People are thinking maybe that’s the reason why because the city has idolized a fictional character for far too long.
Buzz: Maybe the Rocky statue is a jinx. I think, with the exception of the Flyers, the Phillies and Eagles in more recent history have been beset by terrible ownership. Ownership here has been very conservative and I think the Phillies have been systematic of that. At least Ed Snider goes out and gets interesting players for the Flyers each year. The Phillies are just a step away from having a real shot at the thing. There’s no dominant team in baseball this year but will they go out and get a starting pitcher? Will they pay up..will they pony up? If you look at past history the answer is no. It’s just not a town that historically has had good owners. The ownership of the Eagles up until Jeffrie Lurie has been horrendous. Fans are tough, so I don’t know how many players really want to come here. It’s an amazingly pathetic level of performance given that the city has four major teams. The one team I think has hope this year is the Phillies. Howard is gonna come back. The hitting is gonna be good. I’m not worried about the hitting but I’m worried about the pitching. You have Jamie Moyer who is 45 and smart as hell to get you to five innings–but that’s only five innings. Adam Eaton was done before I think they got him. You are gonna work over your bullpen. It’s just a matter of time.
MT: Is Ryan Howard as unique a player we’ve had here ever strictly because of his race?
Buzz: I think he’s unique. Whether or not he’s unique because of his race…I don’t know. I don’t know him. I’ve briefly seen him. He seems good with the fans. He seems like a good guy. The Phillies have never had a home run hitter who was Black. I wish talk radio here would just leave him alone. Guys go into slumps. Every great player in the history of the game has gone into slumps. I think he’ll come out of it. This is what happens today. You have no moment to gather your game together. You go into a slump for a week and everybody is all over you. Blogs are all over you, talk radio is all over you then the newspapers are all over you. Everyone has some ridiculous theory as to why it’s happening. Give him a chance to gather himself and get his stroke back. He seems to appear to be on to something whereas he’s hit two homers and a double recently in a game. Ryan Howard is not the problem here. Pitching is. Pitching is 90% of baseball.
MT: Does the media here have a hand in the demise of team success here in terms of their aggressiveness and also what you alluded to earlier with players maybe not wanting to come here?
Buzz: Well, the media here is tough. It’s a tough town. I don’t think it’s as tough as New York necessarily, but it’s second. I think it’s much tougher than Boston. Yeah, so the media…and the fans turn sour very quickly. Fans of Philadelphia are much happier in some perverted way when somebody is failing then when the team is doing something successfully. The switch board here lights up when somebody has screwed up regarding the Phillies or the Eagles or some trade that Andy Reid has not made. Why doesn’t he like wide receivers? Philadelphians are Philadelphians and they have chips on their shoulder. It’s still in many ways a tough working class city–at least those are its roots–and fans are tough. If they don’t like you, they really don’t like you. That has an impact on players. There’s no doubt about that. I’ve seen it up close and personal. Athletes, for all the money they make and all the glamor they have, are very sensitive. They are in tune with that stuff, so when they hear boos it gets to them. Some players can stand it, but a lot of players can’t. I mean look at Mike Schmidt’s relationship with Philadelphia. It’s truly bizarre. He’s one of the greatest third basemen ever. He heard a lot of boos and just had a very contentious relationship with both fans and with the media.
MT: That was very unfortunate.
Does Vanity Fair allow you to stretch out in respect to the newspaper editor? It seems everyone is hot with your journalism. Everyone from Mayor Michael Bloomberg to Pete Rose.
Buzz: Uh..yeah. What I like about Vanity Far is I think it’s a wonderful magazine because it’s so eclectic. I think Graydon Carter is the best editor in the world because he has such varied tastes that allow me to do all sorts of different stories. Whether it be on Pete Rose or Mayor Bloomberg or Stephen Glass–the young journalist from Washington who fabricated all those stories for the New Republic. Whether it’s on the book Running With Scissors by Augusten Burroughs…huge, huge best seller…whether or not he fabricated parts of the book. I like doing different types of stories.
I don’t consider myself a sportswriter. I like that Graydon comes up with stories and lets me run with them for as long as I need to. It’s still a very very special place to work and I feel privileged and lucky to work there.
MT: In respect to the Augusten Burroughs story…why do you come so far out to say he fabricated his version of his life?
Buzz: Well, because I did extensive interviews with the family and it wasn’t just based on interviews. April also supplied me with documents which showed a tremendous variance between what he said in the book and what was the truth. I’m a journalist. I know how hard reporting is. I know how many people that have done it much better than myself to get facts right. It’s difficult, so when you see someone write a book under the guise of nonfiction that may contain fabrications to advance sales that gets to me. A lot of damage was done to that family. They were real people. He made no attempt to hide their identities. They went through terrible amounts of pain, suffering and humiliation. How much was fabricated and not fabricated we really won’t know, but the suit was settled and he did make some slight changes. Having spent time with that family and getting to know them intimately and to see the documents they supplied me with, it seemed clear some liberties were taken with the truth. Augustin denies that and he has that perfect right.
MT: This is a legendary story. Could you explain your whole exchange with Ken Griffey? The exchanged lasted about a minute, what was that all about?
Buzz: What it was about is that I just don’t take shit from people. I don’t care who they are. I treat people with the respect that I expect to be treated with respect. You’ve been in baseball locker rooms. You go in and you see that sign on the board which has about 50 different rules about when the media can be there and when they can’t be there. I was there when it was the media’s time.
MT: Before batting practice?
Buzz: Yes, it’s our time to interview athletes. It’s very very specified and Griffey spent most of that time talking with a representative of Nike who I don’t think was supposed to be in there at all. I don’t know what permission he had to be in there except he was a guest of Ken Griffey’s. There were four of us waiting around, waiting around, waiting around. He’s sitting there getting dressed. I’m not interested in watching athletes get dressed. Time was running out. Batting practice was 10 minutes away. After batting practice the clubhouse is closed, so I interrupted this conversation he was having and asked if I could talk to him for a few seconds. He said, “Who are you with?” and I said “The New York Times.” He said, “What if I say no?” I said, “Well, I don’t really give a fuck.” You know what, it was a senseless story and I didn’t give a fuck. I walked away and he ran after me and screamed “You disrespected me!” I said, “No you fucking disrespected me!” That’s the kind of person that I am. I don’t take shit from people. If it makes me look bad, it makes me look bad. I was not there to watch Ken Griffey have a conversation with some guy from Nike. He’s a professional ballplayer and he has an obligation to the media whether he likes it or not. If MLB doesn’t like it then take it away from us. If he really wanted to have that conversation, he could have gone into the cafeteria. That’s where they hide anyway when they don’t want to talk to us. I guess if anything, it proves that my appearance on Costas Now was not an act. If I feel what I feel I’m gonna articulate it. Obviously, he didn’t like being treated that way. He’s a superstar and you are supposed to treat superstars differently. Well, I don’t believe it.
MT: Buzz, I think this speaks to earlier about the way newspapers were going. There’s always going to be a contentious relationship with players because of our peers in the past who wrote with a disingenuous pen…
Buzz: I think you’re right, but I tell you what doesn’t help is blogs. Those buys look at those blogs. You know, they see how they are treated. They feel these blogs are doing nothing but trying to catch them in horrible situations with their little camera phones and they lump all of us together. My question to Griffey was a very innocent one. I was doing a piece on Kerry Wood and simply wanted to ask what was it like facing Kerry Wood when he was in his prime? Ken was one of the greatest hitters of all time and is still a great hitter. I thought his observations would be really interesting. That was the only reason, but you are right and I think bloggers make it worse. They trade in innuendo, rumor, vindictiveness, maliciousness and catching athletes in embarrassing poses and athletes lump us all together and say why would I talk to any reporter regardless of what credentials they have–I don’t care what their credentials are because all they want to do is make me look bad.
MT: My guy with that is Tim Duncan. I don’t have a problem with any other basketball player. Tim just doesn’t speak. Rasheed Wallace might not talk as much as the other players but at least he says, “Both teams played hard.” Like I said before, I think it’s a measure of the chickens coming home to roost with a lot of these guys. Just like anyone in the world, some of them are just not good people.
Buzz: You’re right. Some of them aren’t. I don’t know Ken Griffey from Adam. I just knew him from reputation. He might be a good guy. I don’t know.
You’re right. I’ve had great interviews with athletes–particularly when you talk about the game. They like talking about the game. Then I’ve had situations where it was clear to me that asking a player what time it is was a waste of time.
MT: It’s really a shame, because a guy like me wants to know why. I want to know why, why why.
Buzz: You want to do reporting. I think it’s interesting. These guys shouldn’t shit talk to the media. It’s part of their job. When you are making 20 million–I don’t know how much Tim Duncan makes–what are you gonna say. They probably say what do I care? They are not going to fire me from the Spurs.
MT: Buzz, I’m coming straight out with this. I read a lot of your stuff–maybe 30 articles. It seems like to me that you could be seen as the devil that hates the devil because of your aggressiveness. You have a style that I think is the shit, but you do go hard at people. The whole stuff with Imus. The whole stuff with Bloomberg and Rose. You go hard to get a story and it could be construed that you are an asshole.
Buzz: Well…people may think I’m an asshole. A lot of people didn’t think I went hard enough on Imus. There may be some disagreement there. I do go hard at people if I feel I have the reporting goods. I certainly thought I had the reporting goods on Pete Rose. I thought I had the goods–at least writing–on Augusten Burroughs. In Friday Night Lights I went hard at the town, but I didn’t go hard at the kids. It’s clear that I loved those kids.
People have no idea what I did for those kids after that book ended. Particularly Boobie Miles.
I do go hard after people if I think the facts and the reporting justify it. That’s the way I am as a reporter and that’s the way I always want to be. I’m not trying to take shots at people. I’m just trying to be fair. Some people deserve it and some people don’t. I wrote a piece about Joe DiMaggio that actually was pretty soft. I’ve written soft pieces about people. The piece about Bloomberg was pretty balanced. It was early in his term, he was trying to find his way and there was a lot of complimentary things said about him.
It’s not hard to go hard at Pete Rose because he’s one of the biggest shit heads in sports. Everything that Tommy Gioiosa said turned out to be true. Everything. Pete admitted to gambling. Pete admitted to using a corked bat at least once. Pete tried to discredit me by saying Tommy was paid for the interview which was ridiculous.
MT: Why do you say the international support for Mumia Abul Jamal was based on ignorance of the facts?
Buzz: Uh…because based on my reporting it was. My reporting was pretty extensive. I had done something that most of the people supporting him had not and that was to read the entire trial transcript and examine what advocates of Mumia were saying versus what the facts showed. What rang in my mind was how many big name people said they hadn’t read the transcript and didn’t know what was in it. You have to read it. You would think that before you supported someone you would want all the facts at your disposal. It doesn’t mean that judge was a jerk. I know that judge because I won a Pulitzer for covering the Philadelphia Court system. Sabo (Alfred F.) was a very, very, very, very controversial pro-police judge. There’s no question. There were some problems with that trial in the way Sabo treated Mr. Mumia. The facts showed a complete variance to what his supporters were saying–his celebrity supporters–and the actual facts. That’s the way I saw it and that’s the way I wrote it. History will be the judge. There’s a new appeal still in play to whether or not he may get a new trial.
MT: Buzz, you’ve had an award winning career that’s still in torrid swing, what stamp do you want to leave on this world through your pen?
Buzz: I don’t know. I just want to leave a stamp…Look, I don’t do everything perfect. I’ve thought about stories and said to myself I was too soft or I was too hard. I would like to leave a stance that I was not just dedicated not simply to good writing but really dedicated to good reporting and did not take pot shots. People will disagree that maybe I did take pot shots. Maybe subjectively from time to time we do take pot shots. Then you will have people say that when they picked up a piece by Buzz Bissinger they could trust it. They could trust the authenticity of it. They could trust the facts of it and I can come away learning something I knew nothing about. That’s the type of legacy I would like to leave in my magazine pieces and in my books. I really do bend over backwards to try to be fair–even if I’m going hard after someone.
MT: Wow. Thanks Buzz.
Buzz: This was really a good interview. Thank you for this Mike.