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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

God Save the Fan

Curled around the index knuckle of the foam finger flipping the bird, God Save The Fan’s cover puts it in bold, black text for you to see: “Blackballed by ESPN!” Why would a network superpower like ESPN want to blackball a sports book written by Will Leitch, the editor of Deadspin, a sports blog? Because this book contains the secret to ESPN’s ever-growing supremacy, and its potential world-domination tactics. (Well, that might have gone too far, but Leitch would have liked it.)

Among many other things, God Save the Fan takes an inside tour of ESPN’s Bristol laboratory. It pries into the personal life of a few well-known ESPN personalities, such as the portly Chris Berman and the oafish Sean Salisbury, and the antics they don’t want the public to know about. Whether it’s Berman’s famous, “You’re with me, leather!” pick-up line in a bar, or Salisbury’s photography of his “lil’ Sean” for all of the lucky ladies at ESPN to see, Leitch creates vivid images and tells all the stories ESPN doesn’t want you to hear. (They’re bad for the network’s image, you know?)

When Leitch isn’t telling funny stories college-aged sports fan enjoy, he’s busy explaining “ten recent examples of ESPN’s self-promotion abilities, and how it’s sucking the soul out of our games.” He brings up Around the Horn, a daily bombastic talk show centered around who can be the loudest, stupidest and most like a donkey in one half hour. Leitch describes the show as “Pardon the Interruption injected with steroids and whacked repeatedly across the skull with a polo mallet.” That’s good insight.

Leitch’s overall point of the essay is that, before The Network, sports were the only distraction from everything else going on around us, getting our minds off work and mortgage payments. Now ESPN has a strangle hold on the Wide World of Sports, and has made it just as complicated as the rest of our lives. His opinion is convincing, well-researched and witty.

Leitch writes this book how he would write each one of his blogs on Deadspin. He holds a sarcastic tone throughout as he muses about players, owners, the media (in particular ESPN) and, finally, the fans. He warns us about the dangers of The Network, referring to it as (cue the dark, ominous music) “the Imperial Forces from the Star Wars movies; controlling everything with a dark hand, ESPN does not want you to notice that it’s warping everything you see.”

Covering almost every athletic issue in this book – racism, steroids/performance enhancers, gays, partying, double-standards – Leitch has a tremendous voice when speaking from the fan’s corner, and not the typical ESPN banterer’s. He doesn’t want to write about the performance-enhancing drug problems, or the Michael Vick dog fighting issues, but he does it out of necessity. And both of those issues relate back to race, an issue that Leitch is savvy about: “[T]he fact is, race is out there in every aspect of our sporting lives and, often, white people’s major reference point for other cultures is through sports. You could say the only colors you notice are the ones on the uniforms, but you’d be fooling yourself.”

Wildly entertaining, the glossaries of the book can be downright hysterical. Accordingly, they categorize the players, owners, media and fans. Leitch tip-toes the politically-correct line (like he really cares) by writing about David Eckstein: ‘”Scrappy” Cardinals shortstop whose heroic traits of “grittiness” and “guttiness” are common media buzz words for “short white guy.” Not Jewish.’ Look for many entries like this one, especially in the Media portion of the glossary, where Leitch calls ESPN “personality” Skip Bayless “the personification of a car alarm that won’t stop blaring,” describes NFL analyst John Clayton as spending “most of his time trying not to be stuffed in lockers by his ESPN colleagues,” and mentions that Peter Gammons has a distinct resemblance to former president Andrew Jackson.

Will Leitch wouldn’t like it very much, but I’m going to say it anyway: If you enjoyed Bill Simmons’ book Now I can Die in Peace, you will very much enjoy God Save the Fan. It’s cynical, sarcastic, cutting-edge, politically-incorrect and down-right funny.

It’s everything ESPN is not.

About the Contributor
Ryan Thomas served as the sports editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2007-2008; 2008-2009