Will Leitch talks to us about founding Deadspin, keeping a safe distance from your favorite teams, and the Saint Louis Cardinals.
Will Letich doesn’t need much of an introduction. In 2005, he founded Deadspin.com. From there, it’s grown to be one of the biggest, most highly-trafficked sports sites on the web. The site really opened the Internet up to all of the great work that was being done outside of the “traditional” sports media. Your dad and that guy at work might know the site because of the whole Brett Favre thing, but this is it’s real value. It gave us an alternative—and still does—and set the path for all of the important and creative sportswriting that’s now filling the Internet.
Letich left Deadspin in 2008. He’s now a contributing editor at New York magazine, a film critic for Yahoo, and has written four books, most recently Are We Winning? You can also follow him on Twitter.
Is there a moment from you childhood that stands out as a “Holy crap! Sports are awesome” moment, a moment that hooked you?
When I was 7, my father dragged me away from my Bugs Bunny cartoon one Saturday morning and drove me to Busch Stadium. Keith Hernandez hit a home run, Willie McGee stole three bases, and Ozzie Smith did a backflip before the game. It was breathtaking. I was hooked. Next thing he knew, I was memorizing Johnny Mize’s 1943 statistics and sneaking a radio into my room at night to listen to Jack Buck. You can make a strong argument, even today, that I have heard Jack Buck’s voice more than I’ve heard any other human’s. (Though Mike Shannon is catching up.)
I think sports matter more the farther you are away from them. That’s why I try not to get too close. I have no desire to ever meet even my favorite athletes, mostly out of fear that I won’t like them (or vice versa). Sports are an irrational construct, but a powerful one, and one that is more important to a person the less they know about how the sausage is made. I LOVE the St. Louis Cardinals, and covering them as a reporter would be a nightmare for me. I want to adore them from afar, and think about it as little as possible. The best diversions are like that, I think. That’s why they matter: Because it’s emotional rather than intellectual.
With the Internet cutting down barriers, sportswriting has become so much more than just game recaps, trade roundups, rumors, and quotes. There’s just so much more creative, insightful, entertaining, and important stuff. Obviously, you were at the head of this movement. Care to talk a bit about that?
Well, I don’t think I was at the head of it; I think I just happened to start Deadspin at a time when people were looking for a site that treated sports with the irreverence that they treated sports, and a site that helped introduce them to all the great work that was being done on the Web. In 2005, when Deadspin started, sports fans went to ESPN.com, and if they were inventive (or they wanted fantasy advice) they’d go to Yahoo or SI or maybe CBS sportsline or whatever. That was a closed off system. Now it has been opened up a little bit more. There are more voices, not just in general, but at ESPN and other places. If someone like Bill Barnwell or Katie Baker has a story on the front page of ESPN.com, man, I’d say that’s a good thing, regardless of the corporate parent.
As a man, what have sports meant to you?
They are, at their core, a way to communicate. They are a common language for people who might not agree on anything else or have anything else in common. It’s pretty rare to find something like that that isn’t evil.
And last, is there one specific moment in your life that really signifies what sports are really all about for you?
I’d have to say that on my wedding day, I was standing at the altar waiting for my bride to come down the aisle, when I looked at my father in the front row. He put up three fingers, then one finger, then mimicked Colby Rasmus’ left-handed swing. I smiled and pumped my fist, and then got back down to business. No matter what else is going on, sports are always there.