Monday, March 10, 2008

TAKING SPORTS SERIOUSLY DRIVES YOU TO DRINK

The feature on Gregg Zaun at ESPN.com kind of touches on some personal and professional frustrations.

For starters, it was the second time in about a week a U.S. publication had a profile on a Jay that you're probably unlikely to read in a Canadian newspaper any time soon. Please don't take that as a slam. Yours truly is guiltier than most of failing to change that across the past decade. Bear in mind, though, there's the layers of senior editors and publishers who care more about catering to functioning illiterates* than chewing on the old Dan Jenkins adage, "The dumber the world gets, the more the words matter."

Most importantly, there's what people are willing to share. Americans, since they're so big on celebrity and redemption, are very much into the whole idea of a public confessional, while Canadians favour stiff-upper-lip stoicism and not wanting anyone to know your business, since we all know each other, right?

Not only that, but the sports writing culture in Canada has always been geared toward being shallow. Taking sports seriously, putting it in a larger context, is just too, too American. So the horizon becomes the doors of a hockey arena. It's as if you couldn't expect a Canadian to write about sports the way the best U.S. writers do, unless their name is Stephen Brunt -- and he's just as rooted in the Brit all-things-considered approach, besides.

That's why, as previously noted, there is no Canadian equivalent to Will Leitch. It never changes. A fellow writer who went to journalism school in the late '70s telling this story. Around that time, The Globe and Mail wanted a young sports columnist since dour dispatches of who won and who scored had become passe (although, three decades on, you can still pick up a the sports section of a daily in a small city -- the Brantford Expositor, to give a random example -- and find the same old tired story).

What did they do? Instead of trying to find out if there was a Canadian version of Rick Telander, they got an American, Allen Abel. It never changes.

Anyway, there is a levelling effect that comes with reading about Zaunie's time in a bottle. In 2004, when he'd just been released by the Expos, Zaunie was not much different from a certain sports editor at a small-town daily who was also "wasted way too many nights at the bar."

Now one of those guys is making more than $3 million a year. Perhaps there is hope yet.

Related:
The Steroid Era begets the Skepticism Era (Jeff Pearlman, ESPN.com; via The Tao of Stieb)

4 comments:

Dennis Prouse said...

I always like reading stories of personal triumph like this. Alcohol abuse has ruined more careers, both inside and outside sports, than you can possibly count. (No surprise - alcohol is a depressant which slows your central nervous system.) To see people openly talking about it, and winning the battle with it, is heartening.

Now Greg Zaun needs to be honest about something else - his use of performance enhancing drugs. It's insulting to the intelligence of fans and the media to ask them to buy his entirely unconvincing story about the cheque. Just come clean, tell the truth, and move on.

Andrew Bucholtz said...

Good piece: I appreciated your take on the story. I think there's something to be said for both schools of writing: on one hand, you want to know what's really going on, but on the other hand, there's still a bit of the desire (for me at least) to see athletes as larger than life and above that. The steroids thing really made this story interesting for me, because as sad as it sounds, even the "comeback against odds" is starting to be cliched: it's interesting to see that it's not always as clear of a jump from bad to good.

Tyler said...

Though the numbers are hardly Ruthian (or, for that matter, Bo Diaz-ian), they were plenty for a catcher long gifted with a bat's instincts and a lightning arm.

A lightning arm? This story must be about some other Greg Zaun.

sager said...

Tyler,

You would judge the Louvre by its washrooms -- not that you'd be wrong to do so.