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Books | Sports

February 1, 2009

Back in the Locker Room

Less than a year after becoming the unwitting and unwilling poster child for the ills of sports blogs, Will Leitch is straddling the line between new and old media.

Jim Chairusmi

It's been a year since Gelf Magazine last checked in with Will Leitch. What happened in the last year? As Leitch writes in the new paperback edition of his book God Save the Fan: How Steroid Hypocrites, Soul-Sucking Suits, and a Worldwide Leader Not Named Bush Have Taken the Fun Out of Sports, "Type in 'Bissinger Leitch' into Google, and you'll be all set."

Will Leitch. Photo by Nick McGlynn.
"In my Brokaw emeritus role, it's less pressure for me to anchor Deadspin like I used to, and therefore a little more fun."

Will Leitch. Photo by Nick McGlynn.

Soon after the author of Friday Night Lights elevated Leitch to spokesman for sports blogs, then castigated him for all their ills, Leitch, age 33, left Deadspin to take a job as a contributing editor for New York magazine. Now he's straddling the line between old media and new, visiting locker rooms for his magazine job while filing access-free, whimsy-filled weekly NFL dispatches for his former online home.

Gelf recently caught up with Leitch to discuss his relationship with Buzz Bissinger, his thoughts on A.J. Daulerio's Deadspin, and why he won't be at the Super Bowl to cheer on his beloved Arizona Cardinals. This interview was conducted by email and edited for length and clarity. You can hear Leitch and other sportswriters read from and talk about their work at Gelf's free Varsity Letters event on Thursday, February 5, in New York's Lower East Side.

Gelf Magazine: It's a chapter in your book, but exactly how did you become a fan of the Buzzsaw that is the Arizona Cardinals, nee St. Louis Cardinals?

Will Leitch: I grew up in Mattoon, about an hour and a half from St. Louis, so they were my team growing up, which is the major reason any real fan is a real fan of any team. When they left, I couldn't exactly just switch loyalties out of nowhere. These days, if you have DirectTV or a sports bar nearby, you can watch every game, and the web allows me to know more about the team than if I just read the newspaper every day. (Though, for the record, the Arizona Republic does a great job covering that team.) I'm more up on what the Cardinals are doing from my home in Brooklyn than I'd be if I lived next to the stadium. They're my team. I do feel like this has been a long time coming.

Gelf Magazine: Is there a specific bar in New York that Arizona Cardinals fans actually gather at?

Will Leitch: I know of two. Not bars. Fans. So no.

Gelf Magazine: Are you headed to Tampa for the Super Bowl? If not, where will you be watching the game?

Will Leitch: I'm not, actually. Last year was such an unpleasant experience (you can read my Sporting News columns or New York Times columns from that week to get a feel for how bad it was), that the experience itself is more than enough to destroy any joy taken from the game. Last year's game was one of the best football games I've ever seen, and it still didn't overcome the oppressive banality of the week before. Even with my team going, I don't want to go. Frankly, I'd be tickled pink if I never have to go to a Super Bowl week again in my life, as media or otherwise. I'm going to have some friends over, put on my Larry Fitzgerald jersey and nervously pace the room. That's how sports should be watched.

Gelf Magazine: Deadspin's motto is Sports news without access, favor, or discretion. Your new job at New York magazine has you visiting locker rooms of some of the local teams. You explain in God Save the Fan that avoiding interviewing naked athletes in the locker room is one reason you started Deadspin in the first place. How do you feel about the issue now?

Will Leitch: Oh, I still dislike it. I don't understand how this is supposed to be a meaningful way for media to interact with athletes. I'm fortunate at New York that I'm not on a daily deadline with stories I write for them, so I don't have to get mixed up with the stupid back-and-forth that we make our beat reporters deal with. When I'm in a locker room for New York, I'm mostly there to observe, ask a couple of questions if I'm genuinely curious about something, and then stay out of the way. The Eli Manning story is a good example of this. But no. I still dislike it, and I still think it's totally pointless. And I think everyone in there, reporter and athlete, believes the same thing.

Gelf Magazine: How was meeting Buzz Bissinger at Varsity Letters? [Videos below] Are you and Buzz in any kind of contact? Does Buzz think differently of you now that you're working for a mainstream publication?

Will Leitch: Well, I think Buzz thinks a little differently about me now that he, you know, is halfway aware of who I am and what I do, as opposed to that night on Costas Now. Remember: At that time, Buzz and I both wrote for four of the same publications. It wouldn't have taken Buzz very long to have researched that then, but for whatever reason he didn't, and I think everybody saw the results of Buzz's lack of expertise in the field he was there to discuss. (But hey, he did use a printer. I'll give him that.)
I respect Buzz a lot, and our interactions since Costas have been nothing but friendly. I'm quite impressed with him; he talked that night at Varsity Letters about still helping out some people financially he wrote about in Friday Night Lights. He legitimately cares about what he does, even if it's in self-destructive ways sometimes. It's funny, though. I had him sign my copy of FNL, and he wrote, "To Will, we have been through hell, and we have survived!" It made me feel bad for him, because I don't think the time since Costas has been hell. But I suppose he has. I think everybody kind of wishes it hadn't happened.

Gelf Magazine: You have stated that you're an avid movie buff. Is that the main reason for your new blog, the Will Leitch Experience?

Will Leitch: Yeah, I'd say that's the primary reason. Writing those movie reviews allows me to work on muscles I never get to futz with. But it's nice to have a home-base site, where people can find everything I'm working on, a place where I can doodle around a bit. I'm having a lot of fun with it.

Gelf Magazine: You still seem to be a frequent contributor to Deadspin. Was that one of the agreements you had with New York before you started?

Will Leitch: Oh, yeah: I think that was understood. I think I've been writing more for Deadspin than I initially expected, probably because the Cardinals have played so well and partly because, in my Brokaw emeritus role, it's less pressure for me to anchor the site like I used to, and therefore a little more fun.

Gelf Magazine: What do you think of A.J. Daulerio's Deadspin? What will Deadspin look like in 2015?

Will Leitch: I think Daulerio's doing a rather amazing job, actually. Not only does he have to keep a notoriously fickle audience happy, he has to grow the site dramatically, break stories, manage a group of writers, keep the site relevant, navigate the site's ever-changing status in the sports media world, make sure he writes enough himself … and he has to do all this under a reduced budget in scary economic times. I have no idea how he does it. I wouldn't be able to.
And the world's ending in 2012, so none of us will see 2015. Sorry to be the one to break this to you.

Gelf Magazine: Free Darko claims Gilbert Arenas as a "fan." Who is the biggest athlete "fan" of Deadspin?

Will Leitch: I'm not sure there are any. Kyle Orton said he found it funny. But I think you're underrating my softball prowess. I say that I am the biggest athlete fan of Deadspin.

Will Leitch at Gelf Magazine's Varsity Letters in February 2009 (Part 1 of 3)

Will Leitch at Gelf Magazine's Varsity Letters in February 2009 (Part 2 of 3)

Will Leitch at Gelf Magazine's Varsity Letters in February 2009 (Part 3 of 3)

Bonus Will Leitch Varsity Letters footage:

Jim Chairusmi

Jim Chairusmi is a journalist in New York.

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Article by Jim Chairusmi

Jim Chairusmi is a journalist in New York.

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