If you have no interest in me, an attitude for which you should probably be commended, you can skip this one.
I live in fear. This is pretty much an everyday kind of thing. Some days I’m okay. Other days I’m paralyzed. On all days, like the high frequency buzz of a television that is on but only showing a black picture, it is the near inaudible hum of my life. Many a night have passed where I lay in bed, unable to sleep, knowing that the next day everything is going to come crashing down. This behavior is irrational and that is something that I recognize. This knowledge does not make me better prepared to deal with it. I don’t cope. I don’t manage it. Time simply passes and I’m carried through.
Jennifer Gish is a columnist for the Albany Times-Union. After the Buffalo Bills defeated the Oakland Raiders to ascend to 2-0 in the standings in the NFL, she penned a column in response to some local Albany Bills fans (which is distinctly Giants territory as far as I know,) demanding some more respect for their team in their local paper. No such respect was coming.
You can read the column here if you haven’t already. Believe me you have read it before if you haven’t read it yet. All the old standby arguments against endorsing the Bills or the city are manifest. Its basically a sophomoric taunt to the franchise and its fans. Pure sports pulp. Most certainly nothing to write home about. Almost assuredly nothing to write about in the first place.
“You’re so close to Canada you’re practically in it!”
“We know! They give us Aero bars! They’re nice you should talk to the Canadians.”
Non-event of a column.
What got the ball rolling was the vitriolic response delivered through anonymous comments on the Times-Union website. Again, standard fair. The lowest common denominator was hit at lightning speed as is the protocol when disagreement takes place in an open space without identity. A sociologist could make a lifetime of work on the comments sections of newspapers. To be sure, the commenters did not represent this fan base well. What I don’t understand is how she can sit down at the keyboard for another go, penning a response column.
There have been a lot of pixels constructed over this episode, many of which are pointing out how much harder women in sports have it than men and the discrimination that can take place against women sports journalists. This is most certainly true without qualification. This is not why I’m writing.
The amount of abuse that the guys at WGR take is pretty extensive. I’m not even talking about having to air the whiner line. I know this because I used to work over there. Not that I took extensive abuse, because I didn’t have enough of a presence to generate even the slightest bit of interest in my seven (my God!) years there. However you work the board long enough, especially as a producer for Mike Schopp and The Bulldog, people let you know how they feel. There are people who probably have the station on speed dial, ready at a moments notice to call up the station and tell the producer exactly how they think of Schopp. These people live terrific lives, I’m sure and probably really pleasant to be around. Keep calling the minimum wage making producer and swear at him for something that Schopp said that was totally fine. Here is a coupon for more soul-crushing. Come back again.
The personal vitriol reserved for that man is beyond the scope of his influence. As time goes on it seems that Jeremy White is slowly catching up to Schopp in this department. Ive taken all sorts of calls about pretty much every host of the station and how terrible of a human being they are.
Nature of the gig, right? When you express strong opinions it generates strong responses. Believe me, White and Schopp do not require me to defend their honor or ability, as they are fully capable of defending themselves. This is not why I’m writing.
The first thing I need to do is make people laugh because it places them on the defensive. When they are laughing, they are less likely to hate me. If they don’t hate me, there is a better chance that I can survive without them finding out the terrible thing I just did. If only I knew what that terrible thing was. Making people laugh ensures that we don’t have to talk about the 800 pound gorilla in the room that only I can see and only exists in my mind. I know for a fact that I reach a lot too. I’m too hard. I can be such a complete asshole to people. I wish I could stop myself and pull back. I wish to God I could be normal. Why can’t I just talk to people like a normal human being. Why do I have to be such a dick?
I can at a moments notice, and completely involuntarily, recall every moment in my life where I have been embarrassed in public. To say I have a sense of shame is an understatement. I have a state of shame. Everything else is trying to cope, and when that coping mechanism fails that shame turns to absolute panic. Somehow I’ve bluffed my way through everything. I talked on the radio for a living. How on Earth did I do this? I’d sit at home and listen to these guys on the radio joke around and have fun, and I was able to get into that same ether and make them laugh. What? There is no way I could keep that up. It would all come rushing down on my head. That people, when they found out I was on the radio, would like me let alone remember me only served to reinforce this. I was going to be found a fraud. The best I could hope for was that I could make a self-deprecating joke, delay or avoid being called to account, and break even. Breaking even was winning. I was a coach in the trap days of the NHL, which just makes me even the more loathsome. Who wants to root for that guy? Who could possibly want to root for Jacques Lemaire, a guy who hates fun?
I got to sit up in the press box with real reporters and walk into locker rooms with real athletes with no skill or ability at all. I had no right to be there. Yet there I was. That day was coming where a beat writer was going to walk over to where I was sitting, grab my computer from in front of me in the press box, throw it into the trash, and toss me into the elevator to be ejected out into the street, never to return. I would have deserved this, for certain.
How can someone possibly want to take the kind of abuse people get for expressing opinions. How can people want to ignite that kind of response. I stopped doing talk shows because of the debilitating headaches I’d get coming home from the station, confident that every single person I knew had been thoroughly sickened with my performance. Every now and then I’d get feedback from the program director; emails from listeners would describe in excruciating detail how I was an abject failure. I know why I was given the emails. Use them as constructive criticism! I’m telling you to get better in a passive aggressive way by using listener comments instead of telling you myself. No, the solution is to fire me because I’m a hack. I’d write back to people and try to explain myself. I want to talk this stuff out. I can’t let the confrontation hang. What if they tell other people that I’m terrible, what if everyone else knows. I don;t want them to hate me. I’ve let them down.
I have no idea why I expose myself to this kind of stuff. Dude, if you have no interest in this kind of abuse why work in the public eye? Just throw on a hoodie, pop in your headphones, and disappear man. Well, I do that at my day job. I mean, I’ll post things on Twitter to get a response, and I’ll still live in complete fear of that response. Maybe if I distract you with an opinion you won’t see how terrible of a person I am. There is so much vitriol out there though. There is an amazing casual level of hate for things that shouldn’t matter at all. Not even like the “your team sucks/no your team sucks” stuff. More like the “get cancer and die” stuff.
I’m not even a native to sports. I came into this stuff late. I’m nerdcore from around the way. I know what its like to be on the bottom of the social order. Pretty much all the way through my 17th year of life. At least I could find other losers and play GoldenEye 64 all night and feel some modicum of safety. Then I walk in and want to talk about sports? There are times when I feel like a pilgrim in an unholy land.
But man oh man. There are times when sports can save and heal the soul.
I’m in the press box of the Buffalo Sabres when they are playing the New York Rangers. Its game five of the Eastern Conference semi-finals. My brother happens to have season tickets directly below the press box, and my wife and a mutual friend of ours were in those seats. I literally sat above them. This was very convenient for sneaking them ice cream sandwiches.
The game was exciting in that it was filled with tension and anxiety. At least in this setting, even the more reserved atmosphere of the press box, I was able to express the anxiety that was my normal with everyone else. Basically everyone in the crowd turned into me. Community! Maybe that’s a reason I stay with sports and need to talk about it with people and need to connect even through the ambient buzz. Just get me into a room where we all have a common interest. Give me something to share with people.
Now the game has gone to overtime, and the building is flipping out. I’m flipping out even more so than I normally do. Its moments like these when the tension is high that I question the whole ordeal. There is only so much of that a person can take. When you get it in short moments it can be a thrill. When it is always in the background all you want to do is just kind of lay down. Maybe eat a sub as well. Like, can I just watch The Daily Show and tune out now, please?
When Afinogenov scored that goal, I leaned over the edge to see my wife going nuts in the crowd. She turned around and caught my gaze. I just shook my head without an answer. I didn’t know how the Sabres kept doing it. She said ‘I love you,’ and I lived another day. The last part is the story of how I’m not dead yet because she keeps telling me that. She’s Locke slamming on the keyboard to reset to clock in the hatch. I’m positive that one day she will turn to Jack’s point of view and just walk out and let it hit the zeros. She hasn’t yet, and that wins her my eternal trust and servitude.
Folks, I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, but get a woman or a man who you can merge with emotionally and psychologically. It will save your life.
I really don’t know if I write about sports, or write in general, as a way of trying to reach out of of trying to distract or what. I see what flies around on the internet sometimes and it makes me wonder if I’m not trying to stick my hand into a bees nest trying to get to a drop of honey. I’ve written a fair amount here. I only have 150 more posts before I’m at 1% of the contribution of Ryan! I am making PLAYS.
I’m so jealous of people like White, Schopp, and Gish because of there ability to take the hits. I have no stamina. Some people look at athletes in envy. Why can’t I hit the longball? I want to score touchdowns! Me? I just want to be able to sit and have a conversation without people hating me even when they don’t hate me.
What I am doing is exposing myself to the type of criticism that frankly everyone gets. Nature of the gig. I’m just really glad that I have a place here that will let me do that in a relatively friendly place. I don’t want to hurt people’s feelings here. Every now and then I see an injustice that I need to get off my chest. I can’t help but join into a conversation and hope to make a new friend, or at least make people laugh a bit. Maybe one of these days this searching process will land me some peace, or at the worst a trip to a psychologist.
When I get to the point where I make you write or comment to me, and you want to reach through the speakers or the screen and strangle me, and you let me know, just expect a response. This pathetic loser of a writer is going to try and make you back off a bit. I’ll try to defuse. I’ll try to settle you down. One person in a state of panic is enough for both of us.