Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Media | Sports

January 31, 2012

Gridlocked in the Bog

Dan Steinberg is six years into a stint as the Washington Post's sports blogger. Can he keep up the furious output without Gilbert Arenas on the scene?

Justin Adler

Dan Steinberg's started the Washington Post's DC Sports Bog in 2006, and while much has changed in the internet landscape since then (you'll find athletes embarrassing themselves on Twitter, not MySpace), Steinberg's Bog remains just as essential—or as completely unessential, depending on how you look at it—as it ever was. Despite the city's sports drought—which has involved only one pro team, DC United, reaching the conference finals in the past six years—Steinberg continues to find interesting angles on DC-anything, from chronicles of curly w's, to Ovie's 'do, to Redskins-themed BBQ beasts known as "fanbulances."

Dan Steinberg. Photo by Washington Post.
"I can't remember the last time I cried over sports."

Dan Steinberg. Photo by Washington Post.

Six years into his tenure at the Bog, Dan Steinberg isn't sure he wants to remain there in six years. The job has changed, from all quirk to some posts he admits he hates, as he fills the void left by the shrinking of the Post's sports staff. It doesn't help that the city's pro-sports teams currently hover between mediocre to horrendous, and that his once-favorite subject, Gilbert Arenas, is no longer a fixture on the DC sports scene (or any sports scene). But as long as there are JaVale McGee's big kahunas or Art Monk answers on Jeopardy! to discuss, Steinberg will remain the essential man to read about them.

Gelf spoke by phone with the breakneck-paced blogger, who took a breath from firing out his 140 posts per month to discuss existential crises, sticking up for the First Amendment (in this case freedom to make Dan Snyder-hating signs), and how he's quite happy to talk to JaVale McGee. The following interview has been edited for clarity.

Gelf Magazine: What's been the biggest change to your blog since you began it six years ago?

Dan Steinberg: Practically a million things have changed—especially the Post's sports section, where we have fewer reporters than when I started. I used to deal strictly with quirky, ridiculous stuff. Now I do more straightforward stuff—lots of image-based posts, TV/radio transcriptions, and other things so straightforward that any monkey could do it. I write a lot of things that I would never be proud of or want to look at 20 years from now. All the changes have made me a more essential part of the website, but it's less creative than it used to be.

Gelf Magazine: Where do you see the Bog in five years?

Dan Steinberg: I have no idea. If I want to keep doing it, then it will be around, but I worry about boredom and repetition. With the same audience and the Washington sports beat, it's hard to imagine how much it will change. Then I look at guys like Tom Boswell, who's been the voice of DC sports for over 25 years, and he still gets satisfaction and finds ways to keep his column unique. So maybe I'll be like that, or maybe I'll shoot my brains out and do something else.

Gelf Magazine: What's been your proudest Bog moment?

Dan Steinberg: I don't want to sound self righteous about it, but in 2009 the Redskins banned—and began confiscating—signs from the stadium when things with the team were going really, really badly. Dave McKenna wrote something about it the week before, and then I went to the stadium to see what was going on. My post of pictures of the confiscated signs got a ton of attention, and within a few weeks the Skins put out a press release saying they never officially changed their policy and fans could resume bringing signs.
I obviously didn't save anyone's life by allowing people to bring dumb, stupid signs to a football game, but that was a pretty cause/effect that helped reverse a lame policy.

Gelf Magazine: If you could blog freely about anything else aside from sports, what would it be?

Dan Steinberg: I don't know. I would love to mix in more cheese and beer, even though I know nothing about beer. Sports is the thing I'm most comfortable with—it's the easiest way to strike up conversation with a stranger. It would be hard for me to say that I'm not doing my ideal blog right now.

Gelf Magazine: Are you to having an existential crisis about having a job that revolves around JaVale McGee?

Dan Steinberg: I'm always nearing an existential crisis. In this particular case I'd rather discuss JaVale than Rashard Lewis. At least JaVale is fascinating. He doesn't drink at all, doesn't go out at all, doesn't get in trouble off the court, but for all that he's immature—planking in a freezer, saying reporters have diaper breath. So no, I'm not having an existential crisis about that. But everything else about my job, I'm having an existential crisis about.

Gelf Magazine: The Nats and Redskins stunk last season, the Caps are clinging to a playoff spot, and the Wizards are redefining awful. Is it more fun to blog at a time like now in the DC sports scene, or when things are moderately better?

Dan Steinberg: It's less fun. When the Wiz were good for those few years, I can't even explain how much more interest there was in the team. When the Skins were going to the playoffs, it opened up a whole different avenue of fun stuff I could do with the players—and fans want to hear it and players want to talk about it. Whereas if the team's losing, you get holed into doing a certain brand. Also, from my perspective, web traffic jumps when the teams are doing better.

Gelf Magazine: How much do you and your readers (or maybe just me) miss Arenas? Did you ever decide if he was genuinely odd and entertaining, or if it was all calculated and contrived?

Dan Steinberg: I'd definitely say he's the most interesting athlete I ever covered. I knew this at the time, but all his hype was primarily based on him being an awesome basketball player. I'm sure he's just as fascinating now, but people just don't care. That's the weird trade-off for the reporter, athlete, and fan: You love these guys being wild and outlandish, if they're part of a successful team. The Wiz still have some of the more fascinating guys in the league, but nobody cares about them because they suck. Look at Clinton Portis. When he dressed up in costumes in 2005, everyone loved him and thought he was hysterical, but three years later, when he was not running for 1,200 yards a season, everyone was totally fed up with him.
I absolutely think Arenas is an oddball and that he's genuinely different, but part of his act was conscious because he understood the viral buzz and that he was the anti-Lebron. He's a complicated guy, but I never thought he was doing it for the wrong reasons.

Gelf Magazine: How did it feel to be cited in Dan Snyder's lawsuit against Dave McKenna and the Washington City Paper? Did the lawsuit make you more or less likely to blog something negative about Snyder or his team?

Dan Steinberg: I took some weird pride in it, that they felt I was important enough to worry about. I feel like Dave McKenna has a lot of street cred among educated DC sports fans, so to be publicly associated as a colleague made me feel good. I tried to make sure it didn't make affect how I wrote about the Skins, but you'd have to be robotic to not feel differently about the team if they were trying to get a hold of your private emails. It's not like I held that against Mike Shanahan or any of the players, but when you see the team and you think, "Oh yeah, the owner of the team is trying to have my personal emails shown in court," it's really hard not to resent that. It also impacted my work flow because at the time it happened, I was self-publishing, but then my editor had to review anything I wrote about the Skins.

Gelf Magazine: Did you cry when former Wizards guard/psychopath DeShawn Stevenson won a championship in Dallas?

Dan Steinberg: No. I can't remember the last time I cried over sports. I cried at the end of Muppets Take Manhattan when they all leave the city on different means of transportation. That was the last time I cried.

Gelf Magazine: Finally, a question from Dave McKenna: How do you pump out so many articles so frequently?

Dan Steinberg: I've told him this before: At some point you have to not care about the quality so much and do things you're not overly proud of. People might criticize you and call you a hack. Every single one of his columns you could justify and was worthy of print, but it's a trade-off. I have a job and stability, and because of that I sometimes write a post that I fucking hate.

Justin Adler

Justin Adler is a graduate of the University of Arizona. He blogs here.

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- Sports
- posted on Feb 01, 12

Dan (and Sally Jenkins) are the only reason I'm loyal to WaPo sports.

Article by Justin Adler

Justin Adler is a graduate of the University of Arizona. He blogs here.

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