“An avid sports fan can now read Sports Illustrated and not learn anything new” charges Slate’s Josh Levin. That’s not entirely true, however. Until the current issue, I wasn’t aware the Islanders’ Chris Simon might be “too sensitive for his own good”.
To get a sense of what now populates SI’s pages, please take a minute to read Michael Farber’s recent profile of Seattle Mariners closer J.J. Putz. The story begins: “The first bars of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck came at precisely 9:54 p.m. PDT, Putz Domination Time.” In the next few pages”about three minutes of reading; please set your watches to Putz Domination Time”we learn the speed of our hero’s fastball (“When Seattle’s resident sandman tosses his magic dust in a hitter’s eyes, it’s usually at 96 mph”), the pronunciation of his last name (“puts as in ‘puts up numbers so spectacular that they border on the implausible’ “), and his prank of choice (“Putz generally eschews cutting up teammates’ clothing … having made the shaving-cream pie his signature bit”). We’re never told, however, why we should give a damn about J.J. Putz. The piece, like the great majority of SI’s profiles and game stories, is bereft of ideas”it never explains how it feels to close a baseball game or why Putz’s magic dust is any different than Mariano’s magic dust. The old SI used sports as a window onto life and culture beyond the playing field or, failing that, as a vehicle for great writing. The new SI uses sports as a window onto itself or, failing that, as a vehicle for cringe-inducing anecdotes.