Gelf Magazine - Looking over the overlooked

Media | Sports

November 2, 2010

Phallic Journalism

Deadspin editor Tommy Craggs sees greater journalistic purpose and freedom in his gig, even when it involves detailed coverage of athlete penis photos.

Justin Adler

"I never thought I would be writing about penises so much," Deadspin's senior editor Tommy Craggs tells Gelf. But ever since news of Brett Favre's alleged sexting tendencies while with the Jets broke on Deadspin, Craggs's job has became genitalia-oriented.

Tommy Craggs
"Gawker is very upfront that we're whores, we're in a business of whores. All of journalism is a whorehouse."

Tommy Craggs

And therein lies Deadspin's dilemma: how to discredit what Craggs describes as the misconception of Deadspin as "the TMZ of sports—all dick photos and little else."

Is there a way to post cock shots in a more refined manner, to discuss penis pictures as if they were more in line with a controversial Terry Richardson photo shoot? Contesting all conventional logic, Craggs thinks so, particularly in the case of Favre, whose alleged penis photos were being sent in an apparently harassing manner to a woman who was doing work for the Jets. "I think the Favre story is a great story. People may not have liked how we went about getting it, but it's a hell of a story, and there are not many places that can do it like we can," says Craggs, who has worked at the site since May 2009.

Craggs takes pride in the Deadspin posts that "undermine the notarized, ESPN-sanctioned accounting of things." These include Barry Petchesky's story on Pete Rose's corked bat and excerpts from disgraced NBA ref Tim Donaghy's book that never was.

"If there's an abundance of low-minded stuff, it's there in part to subsidize the high-minded stuff, except on those rare occasions—the Brett Favre story, for instance—when the former and the latter intersect," Craggs says. "People say we can't have it both ways. Well, why not? The newspaper that broke Watergate also had Sally Quinn writing about Zbigniew Brzezinski's crotch. Deadspin's house contains many mansions, as either Jesus or Nick Denton once said."

Deadspin first brought on Craggs for his long-form writing style, to help fulfill editor-in-chief AJ Daulerio's vision of transforming the site from sports-themed rumormonger to a more in-depth magazine. "We're at a lot less of a bloggy pace," Craggs says. "Week to week the site runs on the big-ticket stuff more than it did when I started."

Gone are the days of regurgitating trivial hirings and firings. "We've done away with the aggregation," Craggs says. "If there is a big breaking news story, we'll be on top of it. But if it's a manager getting fired, unless we have something new to add, we won't write about it."

Within the Gawker network, Deadspin is unique, as it updates less frequently with longer posts. It is also working on a redesign that aims to focus on a central story and can be previewed at Craggs says the new site should go live in January.

In his tenure at Deadspin, Craggs is most proud of his reporting on MLB's financial documents earlier this year, which showed the Florida Marlins attempting to manipulate their earnings to gain more financial aid from taxpayers.

"After seeing the kind of money the Marlins were pretending not to make, what city won't demand that a baseball team open up its books now?" Craggs says. "I'd like to think those docs have the potential to change the dynamic between teams and fans. Anybody who looked at those numbers now knows that there really is no such thing as a poor baseball team, that sucking is in some way incentivized, and that those twin facts explain, among other things, why the Pirates continue to be the Pirates."

Before Deadspin reached out to him regarding an open position, Craggs was a freelance writer and a fact checker for ESPN. While Craggs is still not sure what led Deadspin to him, he knows they were fans of his Stephon Marbury article in New York Magazine. He eventually was given a tryout as the weekend editor. "It's one of the worst Saturdays in Deadspin history in every which way," Craggs remembers. "My head was spinning. I was learning HTML on the fly and my last post was on the World Baseball Classic, which no one gave a shit about."

Craggs is grateful for the move. He's come to appreciate the freedom involved in working for Gawker Media. He says he no longer has to put up with "standard journalism bullshit" or feel like his "nuts are in a vice like at a daily newspaper."

"Gawker is very upfront that we're whores, we're in a business of whores," Craggs says. "All of journalism is a whorehouse. Other journalists don't like that shoved in their face, but it's true. Even the upright folks at the New York Times are part of the whorehouse."

A lifelong sports fan, Craggs is turned off by the "willful delusion" he sees in more typical sportswriting. Moralizing over steroids use while ignoring the witch-hunt tendencies of investigators into the banned doping, for example, has the potential to set what he describes as a "horrible Fourth Amendment precedent."

"This is actually dangerous stuff, and people shrugged over it because it was sports and it was done in the name of keeping the game clean, fair play, and all this bullshit," Craggs says. "It's dangerous stuff that could have a serious effect on privacy laws because of a stupid fucking record book. I can't yell about this issue enough."

Craggs also is annoyed by the media's use of players as one-note rhetorical devices, such as Hank Aaron becoming the "anti Barry Bonds" or Kevin Durant as the "non-Lebron."

"We've created this horribly misshapen world in which we lionize authoritarian scolds like John Wooden and Tony Dungy and vilify physical geniuses like LeBron and A-Rod and Barry Bonds, simply because they don't outwardly conform to whatever values we're pretending to believe in at the moment," Craggs says. "It's sports. It's competitive exercise. It ain't church. I like sportswriting that throws a brick through stained glass."

Despite being a self-described whore in a sports world that can make even diehard fans ill, Craggs still loves the game. "I love watching people fly," Craggs says. "I'm a big basketball fan. I like it for all the obvious reasons, just for the pure visceral enjoyment of watching people do incredible things."

But, as long as Brett Favre continues to unretire, with a cellphone enabled with MMS, Craggs's fandom and work will continue to collide. At least he's somewhat at peace with the collision, despite the occasional inconvenience. "My mom wanted to send one of my articles to my aunt," Craggs says. "But she asked me how she could send it without the penis links on the top of the site."

Front-page image courtesy Deadspin

Justin Adler

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

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Article by Justin Adler

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

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