- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 21, 2008

Will Leitch recalls his trip to Arizona for Super Bowl XLII, a trip he describes as one of the most miserable of his young life.

“It’s all just this big convention, and I couldn’t have hated it more,” he says. “I absolutely despised it and couldn’t wait to get out of there.

“And then the game happened.”

Ah, the game. The game that featured one of the most remarkable upsets in sports history, complete with acrobatic catches and last-minute scores.

That’s the type of thing Leitch, editor of the sports blog Deadspin.com, wants fans to embrace. Forget the corporate sponsors. Forget broadcasters and the self-loathing scribes. Sports is entertainment, don’t forget.

Leitch tries to hammer this home in a new collection of essays, “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.)” He will promote the book tonight at Barnes & Noble Booksellers in Georgetown.

“In doing the site, I really learned a lot about how the sports world works and how it’s really kind of stacked against fans,” Leitch says while sipping red wine at a restaurant two blocks from his Brooklyn, N.Y., apartment. “I really felt like I needed one place to document all the things about the world of sports I’ve learned. But mostly I just wanted to be funny.”

An opening essay about steroids in sports is titled “Please, God, Not Another Essay About Steroids.” Another is titled “Peter Angelos Kills Kittens and is Trying to Sleep With Your Mother.” Soccer star David Beckham is labeled an “over-the-hill pretty boy.” And college basketball analyst Billy Packer “looks like a Muppet.”

Few athletes, owners or media members are spared, but that’s the way it is on Deadspin, too. With more than 120 million unique visitors between 6 million and 8 million visits per month and the backing of Gawker Media, the site is the most popular blog individual sports blog on the Web, gaining much of its attention for publicizing the misdeeds of athletes and sportscasters. Leitch is responsible for spreading word that Falcons quarterback Michael Vick once used the alias “Ron Mexico.” (Read the book to find out why.) He has posted unflattering videos of ESPN anchor Chris Berman and other sportscasters and posted internal ESPN memos, much to the company’s chagrin.

Leitch is unapologetic.

“More people know who Chris Berman is than almost any major league baseball player,” he says. “This idea that ‘We are simply covering the games, therefore we are not part of the games, therefore we should not be covered’ is ridiculous. Chris Berman is a sports personality. Joe Buck is a sports personality in the same way that Dmitri Young [is] and Pacman Jones is. I find it strange that people say, ‘Why are you reporting on us? Oh, we just want the notoriety and the popularity and the famousness of being on television.’ ”

Leitch, 32, operates Deadspin with the help of an associate editor and a team of contributors, many of whom have blogs of their own. He considers himself a journalist but eschews many of the practices of traditional sportswriters. Though he once gave traditional sportswriting a try while a student at the University of Illinois, he will not accept press passes and laughs at the practice of hanging out in locker rooms and clubhouses to get quotes from players and coaches.

“The minute you start doing that, the disconnect is much larger between the people who write about sports and the actual paying customers,” he says. “I don’t have to go into the press box and pretend I’m not excited.”

Leitch says he keeps his finger on the pulse of what fans care about; he says the mainstream media often overplay stories that don’t really resonate, offering the recent scandal involving baseball and steroids as an example.

On the day when Roger Clemens held a press conference to play a tape of a conversation between himself and his accuser, Brian McNamee, it was big news on most mainstream sports Web sites. But the silence on Leitch’s end was deafening.

“I got like maybe two e-mails about that all day,” Leitch says. “I really do not think at this point people care. Fans are like, ‘Clemens is on steroids. What a jerk. … Go Yankees!’ Life’s hard enough, man, you know?”

Leitch is a native of Mattoon, Ill., located about 130 miles northeast of St. Louis. A look at Leitch’s spare Cobble Hill apartment shows he is still a Cardinals fan; the center of his coffee table is covered in figurines and bobbleheads of Jim Edmonds and David Eckstein. His most prized possession is an authentic Jeff Weaver jersey with a World Series patch.

It is Leitch’s adolescent fandom that allows passages of sympathy to seep through the harsh cynicism common on Deadspin and in his book. In “God Save the Fan” Leitch laments the plight of 26-year-old athletes who are past their prime and concedes he could never tolerate the pressure placed on athletes to succeed. He devotes an entire chapter to a Flatbush bar where he and other Cardinals fans congregate. And he acknowledges feeling deflated after finding out the Cardinals’ Rick Ankiel had been tied to the use of human growth hormone.

Leitch is now entering his third year as Deadspin’s editor, and he has no plans to quit. He is generally left alone by Gawker’s management — he has never had a conversation with his superiors about whether the site is profitable, which he sees as a good thing — and has managed to carve out time to work on side projects.

His next book, he says, will be a novel about a boy who becomes obsessed with former Nirvana lead singer Kurt Cobain. After that, he may write another sports book or write something about Woody Allen, his favorite filmmaker.

“I love to work. It’s my favorite thing to do in the world,” he says. “I’m going to keep on doing this as long as it’s fun.”

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