Q&A: Will Leitch
Deadspin.com's founder talks about his role in sports
Posted: Friday February 15, 2008 2:32PM; Updated: Monday February 18, 2008 11:14AM
The Deadspin.com editor is the author of God Save The Fan: How Preening Sportscasters, Athletes Who Speak in the Third Person, and the Occasional Convicted Quarterback Have Taken the Fun Out of Sports (And How We Can Get It Back).
SI.com: Two weeks ago you posted a never-seen-before eight-year-old video of ESPN anchor Chris Berman having an off-camera meltdown. Where does such a discovery rank in your world?
Leitch: It had the Shroud of Turin feel to it. Or the Lost Scrolls. It is hilarious in every possible way. My friend A.J. Daulerio, a writer for Philadelphia Magazine, called it the sports equivalent of the Tom Cruise Scientology video. If ESPN says that this video is not newsworthy, well, there were literally a million people who watched the video in the first three days. One million people. Which is more than watched Cold Pizza.
SI.com: Defend why people would be interested in an eight-year-old video of a sportscaster?
Leitch: Sometimes I think there is this notion that I hate Chris Berman, and I am out to get him. Certainly, that is not the case. It's more a matter of when you see a guy have a certain public persona and he has stuck so doggedly to that persona for such a long period of time, I think there is a desire to try to figure out: This guy can't really be like this, can he? It speaks to a larger kind of ideal. I don't see how the Berman video is any different than when we got fired up when a cameraman got Randy Johnson's face after he signed with the Yankees. Everyone ran that footage over and over.
SI.com: Is Deadspin fair to its subjects?
Leitch: I do try to be fair. One of the things now that I did not have when I first started the site is I'll do an ESPN-related post and if they [on-air people] think I am being fair, they will let me know. If someone thinks something is wrong or misleading on Deadspin, please let me know. That is why I'm not some anonymous guy on there. My e-mail is right there. I am very easy to find.
SI.com: In your book you rank the 10 most loathsome ESPN personalities. Stuart Scott is No. 1. Berman is No. 2. Sean Salisbury is No. 3. Has your order changed since the book came out?
Leitch: I think after seeing the recent Berman video, that might move him to the top, ahead of Stuart Scott. The reason Scott is No. 1 is not because I can't stand him on television, even though I think most people can't stand him. It's because he [told fans not to boo athletes], which Neil Best of Newsday wrote about. Dude, who are you? I mean, I can't believe you are considered a media personality when you say that. You're like an entourage.
SI.com: ESPN would argue that you have specifically and intentionally targeted them, especially in relation to other networks. Your response?
Leitch: I think that is probably true, but let's not kid ourselves: ESPN is just this huge thing in the world. Take for instance, Joe Buck. Everybody says he is everywhere. But maybe he's on television during a busy week five or six hours. An ESPN personality is ubiquitous every single day of the year. So, yes, I suppose it is true. But if you ever read Deadspin or another site during the baseball playoffs, I assure you Tim McCarver gets it as bad an anyone who has ever gotten it. But in a way, congratulations, ESPN. It means you are everywhere.
SI.com: Do you consider yourself a journalist?
Leitch: I consider what I do on Deadspin to be based in the foundations of journalism, yes, based on the foundations of journalism that I have been trained and that I certainly use when I write for GQ and The New York Times and so on. Certainly, I think the language can be a little looser on the web, but I am held to the same standards and accuracy everyone else is. If I am wrong, and if I am constantly throwing stuff up on the site that is wrong, trust me, people are more than happy to let me know how wrong I am. And if I do that consistently they will stop coming to the site. That is the key thing. If I have no credibility, people will stop coming to the site. People are not stupid. And, frankly, with the other places I write for, if I had a reputation for using very lax journalistic principles, I doubt some of these places would want me to work for them.
SI.com: What standards does Deadspin operate on?
Leitch: I think basically under that same kind of principle I just mentioned. Everyone at Gawker is on my case all the time because I won't run with just blatant crap (laughs). They actually get frustrated at me with that. I don't mean to say they don't have standards on other sites. Certainly, I feel like there is a threshold. Believe me, I have gotten so many "Oh, my Gosh, I saw so and so at a party last night. Man, he was bombed. Doesn't he have a game tomorrow?" I could run that, I suppose, and it would get people talking. But then it might as well be a message board if I do that.
SI.com: What percentage of tips coming in do you post?
Leitch: I would say 5 to 7 percent.
SI.com: That seems low?
Leitch: That is low. In a mainstream sense, Deadspin is often the only sports blog people know. I know that might sound frustrating for a lot of people who are doing great work on blogs. If you ask someone in the mainstream media, and even people who are not comfortable with blogs or don't know blogs real well, Deadspin is probably the blog they know. Therefore, I feel like I have to be really, really careful about that. Actual things that I run with, that I am comfortable with, that I am comfortable with the veracity that is not tied to a newspaper or a magazine story, is 5 to 7 percent.