Deadspin has for years been a home for journalists who took no prisoners in the world of sports and beyond. Yet now its new corporate overlords at G/O Media are dismantling this razor-edged fulcrum of athletic dissent like a buzzard chewing the gristle off the last bone. In a memo obtained by The Daily Beast, one of Deadspin’s bosses, a blank cipher named Paul Maidment, ordered the crack staff to stop straying into politics, food, or other assorted ephemera and stick to sports. “Where such subjects touch on sports, they are fair game for Deadspin. Where they do not, they are not,” the instantly infamous memo stated. This means that the most popular writing on the site—about Trump, about media/corporate malfeasance, about things that can get stuck in your rectum—are no longer part of Deadspin. Without that content, Deadspin really isn’t Deadspin.
As if to hammer home this corporate edict, the new owners fired acting editor Barry Petchesky, who had been with the site from its beginning in the early aughts. Petchesky announced this himself, tweeting simply, “Hi! I’ve just been fired from Deadspin for not sticking to sports.” The site’s union, the Writer’s Guild of America, East, tweeted in response, “Earlier today, @JimSpanfeller, CEO of G/O Media, fired our colleague and longtime Deadspin Deputy Editor Barry Petchesky. This will not stand. We will have updates soon.”
Immediately, the scummiest people in the sports world celebrated—no need to call them out by name or link to their flotsam; may they fester in their own putrescence. Their joyous dance of the damned, however, was just more proof of how much Deadspin is needed on the sports landscape. True to form, amid this storm of ugliness, the writers at Deadspin took to social media and proudly proclaimed their resistance. Editors covered the website’s home page with articles that had nothing to do with sports. Later in the day, all-sports articles were installed in their place. The following night, in an act of collective resistance, the bulk of the journalists on staff resigned en masse.
I reached out to Will Leitch, the founding editor of Deadspin, the day before the mass resignations. He wrote to me: “I will say that craven dopes like these people buy media companies all the time, and they slowly suck the life and vigor out of them until they are shades of their former selves. Usually, people who work there have no choice but to stomach it and make tiny but real compromises because they have families or mortgages or medical bills or real-life stresses. It is to the ultimate credit of everyone at Deadspin that they did not roll over to ridiculous and incompetent non-plans and brainless edicts out of self-preservation. They are fighting and punching and digging their heels in because they are at a place that they, and I, and tens of millions of readers every month, truly value and care for. I don’t know if they’re gonna win. But we should all be inspired and proud of how much kicking and clawing in the face of this. It makes me honored that I even get to have my name indirectly associated with them and the kicking and clawing THEY ARE DOING in the face of this.” I would certainly argue that resigning collectively is part of the process of resistance that Leitch is describing.
This move by the corporate hacks destroying Deadspin should not be seen as distinct from the broader attempt throughout sports media to disentangle sports and politics; or to put it more clearly, the attempt to disentangle sports and a certain kind of politics: the politics of resistance. As George Atallah of the NFL Players Association tweeted, “Taking a ‘stick to sports’ position dehumanizes athletes and turns a blind eye to the issues they care about, which happen to be shared by most people: equality, community, health and safety, fairness, transparency, rights, accountability & much more.”
This ruthless attack on Deadspin should also not be seen as separate from what has happened to the leviathan sports entity that Deadspin was launched to mock and watchdog, ESPN. Its new chief, Jimmy Pitaro, said last year, “Without question our data tells us our fans do not want us to cover politics. My job is to provide clarity. I really believe that some of our talent was confused on what was expected of them. If you fast-forward to today, I don’t believe they are confused.” Part of “unconfusing” the talent was elevating right-wing voices, centering braying apolitical voices, and showing the door to people like Jemele Hill, Michael Smith, and ESPN legend and longtime host of Outside the Lines, Bob Ley.
And it’s no coincidence that just last week it was announced that Outside the Lines would after 29 years no longer be on daily but be relegated to the graveyard of weekend programming. It’s clear that three years after Colin Kaepernick took that knee and polarized the sports world, the backlash is in full swing. The example set by the Deadspin staff and their union could not be more important at a time like this. There is an effort to silence voices that aim to view sports through a political lens, that aren’t willing to cede this space to the forces of reaction who want to turn the games we love into foghorns of corporatized patriotism. They are raging against this imperative, and we should join them. Passivity is not a response, not when we can still fight back.