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Trevor Berbick died on October 28, 2006 at the age of 51.
October 28, 2017
On Thursday, my friend Drew Magary, a person who, more than anyone who has ever edited it and definitely more than the person who founded it, is the public face of Deadspin now and throughout its history, wrote a cutting, honest piece in which he went back and found — and apologized for — some of the more “problematic” things he’d written in the early days of his writing career, both at the site Kissing Suzy Kolber (which he co-founded) and at Deadspin, where he has written his Jamboroo column for more than 10 years now. Drew has always been a funny writer, but watching him get better, and expand his skills, and grow more thoughtful and even wise as the years go along has been a pleasure as a reader and as a friend. I found the piece one of the best things he has done, and I’ve read just about everything he’s written for more than a decade now. He’s at the peak of his powers, and I’m happy for him and proud of him.
The piece was read by many as an apology for the early days of the Internet, specifically blogging, even moree specifically sports blogging, and I’ve had many people ask me what I thought of it, with a moderately accusing tone, as if Drew had unearthed some deep truth many of us who were around in the early days were trying to keep buried. One of the things I loved most about Drew’s writing back then was how, frankly, willing he was to come across as an asshole; my unwillingness to ever get comfortable with that, my constant fear, in fact, that someone would think me one, is a fault of mine not just as a writer, but as a human being. (It has often inadvertently led to being more of a jerk than if I’d just acted like one in the first place.) In the early days of Deadspin, Drew, who began as a commenter, was promoted to the site almost as Deadspin’s id, the guy who would go for the jugular in the way the nervous Midwesterner who wrote everything else never would. But to be honest, I never read Drew’s stuff — or Rick Chandler’s stuff, or, later, A.J.’s stuff — until it went up on the site. I am not an editor and never wanted to be an editor. I didn’t want anybody writing on that site other than me and was only forced by management to let other people contribute. My protest then was to just run it untouched, to abdicate responsibility for it all together. That stuff is going on over there; I’m doing my thing over here. I recognize now that, as editor of the site back then, that responsibility was still mine. I just told myself it wasn’t back then. I was wrong.
Much of Drew’s work that he apologized for strikes me as worthy of apology but also not particularly mean-spirited ... as if that makes any difference, of course. One of the things you learn when you grow up — or at least you are supposed to — is that just because you mean something a certain way isn’t the end of the story: Your words have power, a power that, particularly when you’re a white dude who never has to be worried about being spoken to or about a certain way, doesn’t end with “I didn’t mean it that way!” or “I’m just joking!” Drew’s honesty about that, his chronicling of his own personal growth process, struck me as mature and even a little moving. But, as Drew notes, the story isn’t “Drew’s maturation process,” It’s “I need to be better, and I will.” It’s a lesson I can learn, and so can many of us.
I am certain, deep in the archives of Deadspin (which are nearly impossible to search after countless redesigns and CMS adjustments anyway), there are things I wrote in 2006 that I’d be ashamed of now. This is an inevitable product of writing 32 posts a day for three years without any editor ever looking at it once — what a time the mid-aughts were for publishing — and my own weaknesses and blind spots as a human being, particularly a white male one. But I also might humbly argue that the site was a little less Wild West, LET’S OFFEND EVERYONE than perhaps the historical record is beginning to suggest. From the very beginning, since I was the only full-time sports blogger in the country (and I’m pretty sure that’s true, and what a sad epitaph that is), I was fully aware that Deadspin was going to be an introduction to the Internet and blogging for a lot of people in the world of sports. I thusly tried to make it as palatable and cheerful and even sort of inoffensive as possible. I hated cheesecake photos, I disliked (and still do) gratuitous cursing and I tried to keep a general “hey, we’re all having fun here!” vibe. I used to say that I wanted to do a site that had the incisiveness of an alt-weekly, a place to call out bullshit, but also a place that you didn’t feel like you had to take a bath after reading it all day. It was supposed to be friendly. Was it friendly? I think it was friendly. I tried to make it friendly. This was partly strategic — I wanted to be able to defend the site from its most sanctimonious detractors — but it was also, is also, my personality. I want to be liked, and I wanted the site to be liked too.
I surely failed in that mission a lot, and that’s OK: If you’re not irritating someone with your writing, you’re probably not saying anything. But the goal was not overtly to offend in the same way it’s my goal now. I wanted to be able to show the site to my parents, to show them what I’d been working so hard on. Remember, back then, it was actually pretty rare for a sports blogger to actually attach his or her name to their posts: Aliases (including Drew’s, Big Daddy Drew) were industry standard because most people had full-time jobs that weren’t sports blogging that they could not afford to lose. I had to have my name next to every word I wrote. I had to be able to stand behind it.
Can I still stand behind everything I wrote today? Probably not: I wrote a lot of words. If you show me something that I wrote in 2005 that I’ve forgotten about and has aged poorly, I will apologize for it and hang my head in shame. I am just attempting to provide context. (Probably foolishly.) But I would argue that if Deadspin back then — or at any time in its history — had ever been truly cloddish and disgusting the way a Barstool Sports or a Clay Travis or a whoever is today, it’s likely it would be a far different site today. I saw back then that there were already people doing their bikini slideshows and Bro Guides and chose not to make the site I cared so much about anything like that. I like to think the site meant well, and I like to think a tone of Not Being An Asshole was at least partly set. Now Deadspin is so much better than it was when I ran it, so much better than I ever imagined it could be. Some of my favorite writers in the world write for Deadspin (or wrote for Deadspin after I left). I had nothing to do with that: I continue to receive undeserved credit and prestige in this industry for the work that all the people did after I left, and I continue to feel indebted to everyone there for it. I like to think my one lasting contribution to the site is that I didn’t go — never even considered going — full Barstool back then. This doesn’t make me special, or cool, or “good.” I have to answer for things like everybody else does. It’s just context.
So anyway, go read Drew’s piece. I’m glad it’s not 2006 anymore. There are more voices, sharper, smarter, more diverse, more learned, more vital, than there were in 2006, and we’re all better for it, even if some of us old people have to occasionally eat shit for it. I am not always certain the world is getting better. To be honest, sometimes it feels like it’s all coming apart. But in this realm — people called to account for past grotesqueries, voices being heard that couldn’t be 10 years ago, the stripping of power (mostly!) from those who have abused it — we are making progress. In this way, things are so much better. Sometimes the world improves.
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)
1. This World Series Could Be the Escape America Is Desperately Looking For, Chicago Tribune. I will never not be excited to get a copy of a newspaper I’m in. I know this makes me old, and sort of strange considering I’ve spent my entire career online, but it’s true: Being in print remains a gas.
2. Justin Turner Was an “Animal” in Game One of the World Series, Sports On Earth. I love the video of Animal from The Muppets cheering on Justin Turner at Dodger Stadium so much.
3. MLB Promotions You Wish You Could Forget, Uproxx. Sometimes it’s fun just to make jokes.
4. Game Two Was Epic ... and We’re Just Getting Started, Sports On Earth. Writing about games as thrilling and wild as Game Two is actually not my favorite thing. It’s very stressful! I’d rather write about something that few other people are writing about than have some sort of Big Game Bakeoff.
5. What It Means for the World Series to Be in Los Angeles, Sports On Earth. Dodger Stadium really is the best.
6. All Eyes on Houston For Game Three of the World Series, Sports On Earth. I came up with a concept and named it in this column, so there’s that.
7. Reasons to Cheer for Both the Astros and the Dodgers, Sports On Earth. They’re both pretty likable.
8. World Series Preview: Dodgers vs. Astros, Sports On Earth. So far, my prediction is not in fact impossible!
9. Confidence Pool, Week Eight, Sports On Earth. Picks!
10. Dive Dive Dive, Sports On Earth. Dive Dive Dive.
As I say every week: If you are the sort to subscribe to a weekly newsletter, I would have to think it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to subscribe to one of the three podcasts I do. You don’t even have to listen to them! Just download them. Here they are:
Grierson & Leitch, discussing “The Killing of a Sacred Deer,” “Wonderstruck,” “Only the Brave,” “The Snowman” and “The Fugitive.”
The Will Leitch Experience, previewing the World Series with Alyson Footer.
Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, I missed the big Florida preview this week, but it’s still a good show.
Oh, and I did not die during the half-marathon last week. Here is Bryan Leitch even cheering me on!
I might even do another one sometime. (Do not let me do another one.) Have a great weekend, everyone.