We are as useless to your future as a neighborhood fire-horse. By the time we're entirely gone, 20 or 30 years from now, you won't even remember why you remember us. Sportswriters, that is. In the coming InterTainment Age we'll be as anachronistic as gaslighters in beaver hats. Maybe we'll be exhibited in the low-traffic areas of corn-ball theme restaurants, like coal scuttles or butter churns, so you can, with a vague sense of regret and dutiful affection, point us out to your grandchildren while you wait for a table. "Look, MeeMaw! That fat man has a pencil!"
In a Web-wired world of anti-literate chat, of streaming tickers, unmediated global broadband and fiber-optic 411 fed 24/7 in satellite real time, we are museum pieces. (Just ask Bobby Valentine, nearly fired in April for an amateur reporter's partly fabricated Net posting concerning the Mets' manager's off-the-record talk at Penn's Wharton School.) Sportswriters are flat-footed reminders of a typewritten past, quaint and slightly comical, stinking of cheap cigar smoke and discount liquor, beating out our last few deadlines wreathed in a halo of clich�.
When did you last depend on the printed word for your primary coverage of an important sporting event? Of any event? Well, when was the last time you idly fondled your watch fob while you waited for the evening steamboat to arrive downriver from St. Joe? Unless you're 140 years old and clinically insane, it's been quite some time.
The imperative of daily sports-writing had come and gone, like operetta and trench warfare, by the 1920s. The sports page, circa 2000, is a wiseass adjunct to the business section, a vinegary chronicle of deals made or failed that is attached to four pages of commodity performance figures in tiny agate, with the occasional locker room interview or feature profile thrown in only as a gossipy nod to the weekend entertainment supplement or the cityside crime blotter.
As newspapers collapse like so many mastodons these next few years—with the possible exceptions of The New York Times (our national newspaper of record) and USA Today (our national newspaper for people too lazy to watch TV)—television and the Internet are evolving into a single interactive technology, boundless, seamless and frictionless, automatically tailoring content to meet the ambitions and appetites of billions of individual subscribers. By the process of natural selection, then, we will arrive at a total democracy of information and opinion in which there are no damnable hierarchies, no mediators or filters or "experts," but rather just keyboards and cameras and microphones everywhere, so that anyone can direct the coverage of any game, peek into the team showers for some postgame quotes and then provide one's own thoughtful commentary to the rest of an anxious planet without delay. Won't the guys on the loading dock or up at the club get a kick out of your pithy breakdown of that botched pick-and-roll late in the fourth?
Sportswriting will thus move house-to-house, every voice and opinion as valid or looney as every other—except for that guy next door; he's an idiot. Every thought in every head will be heard at last, like 'round-the-clock universal sports radio with no host and no commercials and no OFF switch, and everyone on the line shouting at once, self-canceling and contradictory, louder and louder. The global democracy of the future will be a noisy place indeed.
Magazines will never go away, though. Especially the ones owned by vertically integrated E-media giants. Right? My cigar club is meeting tonight to discuss that very thing—out at that restaurant by the superhighway, the one with all the cool old antiques. It's a dump, but the drinks are just a buck.