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Radicalized, Sleepy, And Sick Of Brock Purdy

3:33 PM EST on January 25, 2024

October 16, 1972 Sports Illustrated cover and signed limited edition Wilt Chamberlain sports porcelain figurine on display during the press preview at Sotheby's Auction House on August 01, 2023 in Los Angeles.
Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images

I would love to say that I never expected to find myself, in what is objectively middle-age, explaining Sports Illustrated's perverse corporate parentage to people I have known for decades at a bar in Tucson, Ariz. But if I am being honest, every aspect of that except for the part involving Sports Illustrated was not just how I'd hoped things would go, but something like a goal. It is a testament to how miserable things currently are and have been at Sports Illustrated that their ongoing idiot-engineered corporate death spiral was able to intrude on a long-planned weekend getaway otherwise built around irresponsible consumption and Pac-12 basketball. It certainly doesn't reflect anything about me, or what I am personally like to be around!

I wouldn't say that my sadness at the SI news ruined anything about the weekend, although you'd probably do better to ask the other people sitting at the table listening to me talk about that one. But this is a publication that has meant a lot even to people who don't do what I do for a living, so there was plenty to talk about, both at that bar and in the first half-hour of this week's two-handed episode of The Distraction. The Elder Men's Hoops Party Weekend recap is brief; the discussion of Sports Illustrated and the broader business of publishing words aimed at helping people better understand and enjoy things is less so.

I won't repeat too much of what we talked about here; it's a decently substantive exchange between two people who care about that magazine and a lot of the people that work there. It's also a conversation about both that publication and the dispiriting and cowardly shit going on in the industry more broadly. But I want to underline the seemingly discordant note of optimism on which the conversation ends. I don't hold out much hope for The Authentic Brands Group or The Arena Group or any of the other cretinous corporate donkeys and effectively interchangeable grave-robbing enterprises currently in control of entirely too much of the industry; what they do and don't value is pretty obvious by this point, and they clearly have no ideas about how to make any of this any better. Their plans for making it worse aren't even interesting. All of my hopes for them are not things I'd want to put down in a blog.

My optimism springs from the fact that, as our experience here has proven, the work really does have value, and that there are other ways to do it. If the old way of doing it is dying—and, not to get too another-round-of-mezcals-at-1:17 a.m. on you, but it sure can feel like that way—it's not because the work or the people doing it don't have value. People still read that work, and care about it; by the crassest definition of "value," there's still some money to be made from that. The biggest problem is that the people who are supposed to value this, or just make money off it, either don't know how to do that or can't be bothered. But they are not the only people that know how to make or sell this stuff. I believe—I have to believe, but also I really do believe—that there are other ways that this can work. I don't imagine that getting from here to there will be pleasant or easy, but it won't be worse than this, and in time I think it will be better, and more equitable, and more fun than the world that these wreckers have turned into ruins.

Anyway, that conversation ends with an incredible segue into one of Drew's dumbest fake sponsor ad-reads yet, and then there's a commercial break, and then we talk about the NFL playoffs. Just as it would be unwise and quite possibly dangerous for me to keep doing those Tucson weekends on a regular cadence—we are all waking up feeling more or less normal by now, but some of us only just started doing that—it would probably not be smart to have whole episodes given over to Drew and I tag-teaming our State of the Union assessment of the world at large. Especially when there's football stuff—our shared fatigue with the Cheeves and 49ers, the latest eruption of Sean McDermott Behavior in Buffalo—to balance it all out. It fits that this episode, which starts out decently heavy, ends with us fielding Funbag questions that got us talking about the distinction between Bill Belichick disciples and Bill Belichick clones and a heated discussion of Stolen Italian Valor as a New Jersey cultural value. Just as a man cannot survive for long on Modelo and Sonoran hot dogs alone, this podcast cannot be all darkness or all light. It's a balance, and we're working on it. As work goes, I feel pretty lucky to be able to do it.

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