I’m from Boston. I love sports. People often assume that I must love the Sports Guy. The truth is I haven’t read a word he’s written in several years. Here’s why.
I read Bill Simmons when he was the Boston Sports Guy and sent out his columns in a newsletter. I loved those columns: he was funny, relatable, fun, threw in lots of pop culture references, and had a really enjoyable rhythm all his own. When he made the jump to ESPN, I followed. I read every column. Two of his earliest there are still among my favorite pieces of writing on Boston sports: “The Nomar Redemption,” about how Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez revived baseball in Boston; and another about why Boston fans would never be able to embrace Roger Clemens again. I loved his essays enough that I would even read the ‘Compare Elements of This NBA Season to Quotes from Some Movie That Dudes Like’ stuff that he put out on other days.
But after a while, something started to bother me about Simmons. And it wasn’t that he moved to LA. It wasn’t that he traded in his cheap seats for luxury boxes. It wasn’t even that he returned too frequently to the same tropes, the same phrases, the same formulas. Those might have been a deal-breaker eventually, but what got to me was his rampant sexism. It’s not that sexism isn’t common in sports (and a whole lot of other places), but he was a frequent offender, and more than the fact of the sexism it was the particular brand of sexism that bothered me. That, and who it was coming from.
I could let the frat-boy stuff, the dumb comments about women that he would make trying to appeal to the ‘bro’ in so many of his readers, slide, or at least ignore it. What put me over the edge was the realization that Simmons actually could not or would not recognize that a woman could be a sports fan (really a sports fan, not just what we in Boston call a ‘pinkhat,’ or a girl that likes sports because she thinks it will impress guys or because she thinks athletes are hot or for some other reason than genuine enjoyment of sports). (And lest anyone think I’m judging on this, ‘pinkhat’ is just a term. I don’t give a hoot what color your hat is. You can wear a pink hat and be a real baseball fan, just as you can wear an authentic team replica hat and be a bandwagoner. Your knowledge and/or love of a sport is what makes you a fan, not what you wear or what membership card you hold. But “Red Sox Nation” is a rant for another day). In his mind, the very highest level of fandom a woman could achieve was to be a pinkhat. The most I could ever be as a sports fan was a pinkhat.
This will sound dramatic, but when I realized this was how he felt, it was a strike at my identity. It took a meaningful part of my life and said: ‘This is off-limits to you. You may not define yourself in these terms. This area will never be open to you, no matter what you think.’ It wasn’t just the bigoted wrongheadedness of it that bothered me – although that was infuriating – it was that it was coming from him: someone whose writing I had loved, whose career I had followed from the email newsletter to ESPN’s ‘Page 2,’ from Boston to LA, from regular fan to influential sportswriter, who could still write about what it felt like to be a fan – what it felt like to be a Boston fan – in ways I could relate to so much. When I realized that he could not accept my relating to it, could never respond to my appreciation of sports with anything better than condescension, I quit him.
Reading Simmons had been a regular part of my routine for so long that I missed it for a good while, but eventually I stopped noticing the absence in my daily reading. However, the sense of (perhaps somewhat irrational) betrayal lingered. (It’s sports. Irrational comes with the territory). My anger extended far enough that I refused to even read anything on Grantland when it started this year. I eventually got past that through the frequent trickery of a friend (known to the internet as Petulant Skeptic), who would send me shortened links which led to excellent Grantland pieces (although after enduring one or two of my anti-Simmons screeds, he knew that linking to Simmons himself was ill-advised). And yes, Grantland is great. I will happily read the other very talented writers who are working there, and I have no doubt that Simmons is being outclassed by a lot of them.
Just in the process of writing this out, I realized something: I’m not even angry anymore; I’m just a Boston sports fan who has no place for the man once known as the Boston Sports Guy.