Chuck (charlesofcamden) wrote,

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Jay Walking

Today was a very good day to be a sports fan living in Chicago. I’m not talking about our two first-place baseball teams, not at all. After all, we crown a new World Series champion every year so any success on the part of the Cubs or White Sox is inherently short-lived. No, I’m talking about lasting change, something that will improve Chicago sports fans’ lives for years to come: Jay Mariotti has left the staff of the Sun-Times.

For the uninitiated, let me explain. Jay is the most irresponsible sports columnist I have ever encountered. He has a habit of writing impassioned columns espousing a particular point of view, and then writing an equally impassioned column espousing the opposite point of view a few weeks later. This way, he’s covered. No matter how things play out, he can say that he was on the right side. In my 16 years in Chicago, he has repeatedly called for the firing of every coach/manager of every major pro franchise in town. He always tries to portray himself as the brave moral conscience of the sports community, unafraid to take a stand and speak the truth, no matter whose feelings he must trample in order to get the word out.

I was familiar with Mariotti’s work before I moved to Chicago. He spent a few years in the 1980s writing for The Detroit News, and I found him irritating even then; his act was already firmly in place. How he managed to parlay this into a 7-figure salary in Chicago is beyond me, because it’s not just me who can’t stand him; he is surely the most disliked sports columnist in town. And it’s not a matter of him being “the man we love to hate” – far from it. More like “the man we wish would go away.” So thanks go to Jay for obliging.

I realized a few years ago that even his fellow columnists at the Sun-Times didn’t much care for him. It was an accumulation of little observations that enabled me to connect the dots. It isn’t unusual for sportswriters to occasionally refer to one another, but most of the other columnists would never refer to Mariotti directly. At least twice, I read columns that were critical of a certain style of sports journalism, and the style they were describing was Mariotti’s. Today I learned one major contributing factor to this attitude. It seems that it has been many years since Mariotti has been sighted in the locker room of any of the local teams. That’s right – you might have thought that a leading columnist would relish the opportunity to have that kind of access, but Mariotti contented himself with pulling quotes out of wire service stories, or from the articles of his fellow writers, and writing his articles either from home or from the confines of the press box. This meant that when he would write one of his typically scathing columns, it was his fellow staffers who had to absorb the feedback in the locker rooms. The proper term for this approach to sports journalism would, I believe, be “chicken-shit.”

So why did Mariotti walk? Well, he claims that his eyes were opened while in Beijing covering the Olympics. He saw how limited the Sun-Times web site was compared to many of the other sports media web sites, and decided, he says, to get away from a dying entity. I would have to agree that the printed newspaper business certainly appears to be dying; or if not dying completely, then repositioning itself at a much lower level in the media food chain. It’s also true that Jay still has a job as a panelist on an ESPN talk show, so he’s not going to disappear just yet. Still, his largest source of income by far was his job at the Sun-Times, so I’m not quite convinced just yet. Jay claims that he has no other job offer waiting in the wings, but we’ll see how that pans out – maybe one will “magically” surface.

As for my own speculation, I see several possibilities. Number One is that he does indeed have another lucrative opportunity waiting out there that will be announced after things cool down a bit. Number Two is that the Sun-Times was getting ready to fire him and he figured walking away would look more like his coveted “high road” than getting canned. That’s not at all far-fetched, by the way – it’s no secret that the Sun-Times is not doing well and that they’re getting ready to fire a bunch of folks. Still, Jay was under contract with them through 2011, so I’m not sure what kind of payout they would have had to make to fire him. Number Three is that maybe, just maybe, Jay is telling the truth. Yes, it would be quite out of character for him to deal in simple honesty, but I’m not ruling it out. But I hope Jay doesn’t think he’s going to land one of those 7-figure blogging contracts they’re handing out these days, because it ain’t gonna happen!

The final word goes to long-time Sun-Times sports columnist Rick Telander. When asked for his reaction to Mariotti leaving, he said this: “Ding dong, the witch is dead!” Thank you Mr. Telander!

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