The irrelevnacy of professional sports commentators

I yawned at the news that Sports Illustrated columnist Rick Reilly is bolting for ESPN. I can’t recall the last time I picked up Sports Illustrated and don’t think I’ve ever found Reilly funny. I read SI voraciously as a kid– at one point I covered my bedroom wall with SI covers and I remember fine pieces like Steve Wulf’s history of Wheaties, George Plimpton’s Sidd Finch April Fools cover story and Frank Deford’s play on the life of Nolan Richardson. I am still a sports fan, but can’t think of one professional sports columnist who is a must read for me the way that Red Smith was for my grandfather and Dave Anderson was for my dad. William Rhoden is preachy and didactic, Bill Plaschke and TJ Simers are obnoxious without being witty, Michael Wilbon has become silly, and don’t get me started on Deford’s NPR commentaries. Locally the scene is no better– though I do admit to enjoying Jay Mariotti’s Bears Era Ends Too Soon column this week.

Bloggers and commenters are now the ones providing insight and humor. Fire Joe Morgan tops the list and many of the commenters at BBTF’s Newsstand are sharper writers and more insightful observers than are the aforementioned paid columnists as made manifest in the discussion over the latest Manny-Gate. I’m not a Dodger fan, but I read Jon Weisman’s Dodger Thoughts. Someone is still needed to provide raw material, I suppose, but in era of newspaper cutbacks, how long will there be high-priced columnists– or printed sports pages at all?

Jeff Jarvis took a crack at this question last year:

Sports is most vulnerable to online, which is up-to-the-minute, highly targeted, multimedia, interactive. Sports scores are a commodity. Columnists are expensive — and, according to my sports-fan friends, generally useless — and, besides, in forums and blogs today, everybody’s a columnist.

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