Will Leitch, editor of the sports website Deadspin and former sports editor of the Daily Illini, will be appearing at the Illini Union today, Tuesday Feb. 12 at 4 p.m., to speak and sign copies of his new book, God Save the Fan. He was kind enough to speak with us by phone last Friday before his book tour appearance in Seattle, Wash.
Smile Politely: How was the Super Bowl?
Will Leitch: I had a lot more fun at the tour stop. Phoenix was not too much fun, it’s like you’re at the center of the corporate beast. They’re selling the NFL and a lot of other stuff, it’s so corporate, everyone has something to sell, so it’s like a big accountants’ conference.
SP: Have you been getting pretty good crowds for the book tour? Are most of the people Deadspin readers?
WL: The crowds have been pretty good. I’d say there’s about it’s about 60/40 of people who read the site, and most have at least heard of the site.
SP: How about the “pants parties” after the signings?
WL: We’ve had meetups of Deadspin readers before that have gone well, and it’s been nice to have a concrete reason this time to meet with them. When I sign a book for someone, I feel the urge to write something non-sensical like “Look out behind you, there’s a tiger!” so I’d had to suppress that a little bit.
SP: In the book, you take some swipes at Eli Manning’s ability. Is there anything else that’s happened since you wrote the book that you would change?
WL: I had actually wrote the galley version of the book before Rick Ankiel was accused of taking HGH, so I had to totally rewrite that section. Bill Wirtz [former Blackhawks owner] died, so I dropped him down in the worst owners rankings. Also, I would have changed Stuart Scott’s ranking in the [Most Loathsome ESPN Personalities] if I had known he would be going through chemo when the book came out.
SP: You have a reprint of an interview you did with John Rocker in the book that makes him look pretty bad. Have you had any subsequent contact with him?
WL: When [Deadspin correspondent] A.J. Daulerio went to the Super Bowl last year, he ran into him and told him he was from Deadspin, and Rocker told him to say hi to me. I’ve spoken to his publicist since the book came out, and she doesn’t make any big deal out of it. That’s the only part of the book that was reprinted from the site. It needed to be documented somewhere in case that whole series of tubes collapsed sometime. He wasn’t upset about the interview, and he’s got a right to his opinions.
SP: Have you heard from any ESPN personalities directly or indirectly who were disappointed that they didn’t make your most loathsome list?
WL: No, I occasionally hear from people from ESPN, and I will say this: They people you would think are cool by watching the network are cool, and they people who seem like they aren’t cool, aren’t.
SP: How much do you watch the ESPN networks on average on a daily basis?
WL: It’s always on, when I’m doing the site or whatever. I think there’s a lot of frustration with people, because they have no major viable competition, so nobody has a lot of choice. We’re [diehard sports fans] not going anywhere, so as a corporation, in order to grow, they have to go after people who aren’t as interested in sports. That means a lot of their programming is going to be directed at the least common denominator, and there’s going to be a lot of dumbing-down.
SP: What part of the book has gotten the most positive response on the tour?
WL: The Gilbert Arenas part, I think, has been the most popular. A lot of people have said that they feel the same way about steroids as what I wrote, but couldn’t articulate it. My personal favorite is the one about going to watch the Cardinals in the bar [during the 2006 playoffs in Brooklyn].
SP: Speaking of that, do you know any Minnesota Twins bars in Champaign?
WL: No, I had to go off-campus to even watch the Cardinals. I had to go to the Tumble Inn, it’s there on Neil Street. Is that still there?
SP: Yeah, I’ve seen it, but I’ve never been in there.
WL: They were the only place I could find that had all the Cards games. Everyone in Illinois is Cubs or White Sox fans. I’m dating myself here, but I watched the Cards beat the Padres there in 1996 on my 21st birthday. I’m really looking forward to getting to Champaign. I liked the journalism department there, but I rarely went to class. I just hope there aren’t any students at the signing who ask about what I did while I was in college, because I’ll probably say, “I didn’t go to class.”
SP: In some other towns, Deadspin readers organized the after-signing social activities. You’re handling that for the Champaign stop?
WL: Yeah, but I’m getting there a little early [on Tuesday], and I’ll have to figure it out. So many of my favorite campus bars aren’t there anymore. Even the Daily Illini, which I pretty much lived at, is gone, or I mean moved.