Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The Safety of Clichés

Sometimes, it's good enough to just call someone a "clubhouse cancer," as despicable and irresponsible a term as it may be. It's a bromide by now; any time a player is an asshole (excepting short, pudgy and overrated catchers from Brooklyn) he's labeled as such. In fact, as Section IX of the Implicit Sports Writer/Reader Contract actually states:

Reader shall ignore the visceral connotation of referring to a human being as a "cancer," and instead accept that "cancer" in the context of the sports section implies something much less serious; heretofore, "cancer" should be considered a slur on part with "petty annoyance," or, "somewhat cocky dude."

It would be nice if writers would stick to the basics when breathlessly trying to convince readers that an egotistical and rude athlete is worthy of public scorn. Maybe offer a little anecdote about some perk the player receives — "Can you believe he has his own post-game spread?!? And that it's all Flax?!?" — maybe run an anonymous quote from a teammate who describes in breathtaking detail how the story's subject didn't high-five him once after a homer, and then a mention of the old warhorse cliché, "clubhouse cancer." That way, the reader can then put down the paper, puke up his undercooked eggs in the sink, and head off to work safe with the knowledge that X is one bad hombre.

But every so often, a sports writer — usually a columnist — will try and find the door to the matrix, and take things well beyond the limits of taste. This is one of those times:

Despite their apparent need for a power bat/corner outfielder, and SI.com's recent speculation that Petco Park represents (Barry) Bonds' likeliest landing spot, the Padres have narrowed their search to exclude indicted sociopaths.

Sorry, you might have missed the part of that paragraph that's got my man-tits in a ringer. If I may, with a little more emphasis:

Despite their apparent need for a power bat/corner outfielder, and SI.com's recent speculation that Petco Park represents (Barry) Bonds' likeliest landing spot, the Padres have narrowed their search to exclude indicted sociopaths.

In case you're wondering, the author is Tim Sullivan, and the rest of his weekly insult to U-T subscribers can be found here. Maybe you want to read the column for yourself, because you don't trust the Diesel. But, if you want to save the 5 minutes of your life that you'll never get back, allow me to distill the column's main points for you:
  • Sports Illustrated wrote that the Padres were the most likely destination for Bonds;
  • Bonds has a psychological condition that is considered on par with psychopathy (Some would say that the causes of sociopathy are environmental [a.k.a.: "Learned Behavior"] as opposed to a genetic underpinning in the case of psychopathy, however the vast majority of mental health professionals still use the two terms synonymously) that generally involves an inability to function within society and a lack of impulse control that can manifest itself in violent outbursts and/or premeditated violence;
  • Kevin Towers/Sandy Alderson think that any benefits of having Bonds' still awesome bat in the lineup would be outweighed by actually having Bonds on the team at all other times;
  • The Padres, thusly, should not acquire Mr. Bonds.
Frankly, I'm exhausted by the "not-on-our-team!" shit columnists have been churning out ever since the Giants announced they were cutting ties. If I still had free access to Lexis-Nexis, I'd look up how many times the search terms "Barry+Bonds," and, "not+worth+it" have appeared in sports pages in the last year. And, it's usually bullshit — which I suspect columnists know, but pretend otherwise — because fans would get behind Pol Pot if he could slug .600 and draw 100+ walks.

But let's say Sullivan's right, and that Bonds wouldn't be a worthwhile pickup for the Friars. Can't he just say that without stating that Bonds has a mental disorder? Would he like it if I attributed his shitty, malinformed columns to paranoid schizophrenia?

Yeah, I know what some of you are thinking: "Boy, that literal definition of Bonds sure does sound a lot like him." No, it doesn't. Bonds is an asshole, dickhead, cocksucker ... name your epithet, and he probably fits it. Maybe he's the least approachable or sociable player in the majors. It doesn't matter. He's not a sociopath, because he hasn't fucking killed any of the sports writers who insist on saying the most outlandish shit about him daily. Maybe I'm being a little bit of a stick in the mud, here, but saying something like "Bonds is a sociopath!" isn't funny, or clever. It's an indictment of Sullivan's ability to understand the difference between a column in a major metro sports section and a drunken rant.

Yes, I know fans say crazy shit all the time, myself included. As I'm fond of pointing out, my college buddies and I used to joke that a rarely-used Arizona basketball player who went AWOL for a while had AIDS. It retrospect, it's not really funny, but at the time we thought we were a riot. Amazingly, though, no one made the leap to writing something even remotely that baseless and libelous in one of our sports columns in the student newspaper, because we all understood that there's a big difference between what you can say to your buddies and what you can put in an information-based news delivery vehicle. It saddens me that a bunch of beer-addled 20-year-olds who got in trouble on an almost-daily basis with our paper's advisor understood that basic principle better than a veteran hack like Sullivan.

Or, more bluntly, it's a good thing for Timmy that the U-T didn't narrow its search to exclude serial killers.

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One more thing: I didn't notice this at first, but did anyone pick up on the fact that Tim Sullivan is actually suggesting, thanks to his inability to punctuate sentences properly (or his copy desk's unwillingness to wipe up his typographical slobber), that Bonds has been indicted of being a sociopath? Man, I heard prosecutors could get an indictment against a ham sandwich, but I didn't know they could actual compel grand juries to offer psychiatric evaluations as well! It's a brave new world out there, kiddos.


Big C said...

This post was worse than the Holocaust.

But, really, good call. Over-the-top sports columns are not my cup-o-tea, either. Such overwrought hyperbole should be the domain of the blogworld. I've only got one issue with this post, so allow me the following jab:

I find it strange that one so fond of the casual use of psychological terminology is lit afire by reading the word 'sociopath' in some obscure sports column. According to the vitriol spewed forth in 'Say Hello To My Little Cliché', Randy Moss is "probably a sociopath", and Patriots fans are to be compared with paranoid schizophrenics. Just putting that out there. Oh, and Sun Bonds takes umbrage with the implication that Barry is bereft of any violent tendencies.

I wonder (not really) if you'd react so stridently if your friend and mine, Mr. William Belichick, were to be labeled as a 'sociopath'? He is frequently compared to the infamous 'Unabomber' (an extremely violent terrorist, btw) as it is, yet the outrage to that mess seems conspicuously absent.

Diesel said...

You sort of answer your own challenge: It's a blog, not a newspaper column. I have a readership of (maybe) 20 regular readers. I have a ridiculous internet handle. I have absolutely zero responsibility as a journalist or information source, nor do I want any. This is the writing equivalent of a drunken rant, in other words, and should be taken as such.

Also, RANDY MOSS HIT A COP WITH HIS CAR AND DROVE AROUND WITH HER ON HIS HOOD. I was just being flip when I dropped the sociopath thing about Moss, but I think the shoe probably fits a little more with him than it does Bonds.

The Belicheck/Unabomber stuff is a different story entirely; I do my best not to compare crotchety coaches to killers.

Pepe B. Secessionist said...

Jesus. If your internet handle is ridiculous, what does that make mine?

The answer, of course, is "clever."