In the waning days of print media, an old, enfeebled sports columnist for a major metropolitan daily shakes his fist limply at soccer to remind readers exactly why they left newspapers behind in the first place.
The Los Angeles Times is the fifth highest-circulating daily in the country and fading fast. Take a look at their roster of sports columnists. You’ll see that there are not many of them. Their average age makes Sir Alex Ferguson look cherubic. And they are just as bland as their dot-matrix portraits.
The paper once had a dedicated and great soccer writer, Grahame L. Jones, but he retired. The hole left by his departure has been filled with days-and-weeks old game recaps. At latimes.com, under the sports heading, readers can choose from the following sub-topics, “Dodgers, Angels, NFL, Ducks/Kings, USC, UCLA, College Football, Preps, Scores/Stats.” Good luck finding their soccer coverage.
Into this void stepped T.J. Simers, 61, who penned an asinine assault on David Beckham and soccer at large. Titled, “You name it, the Galaxy's $250-million man hasn't been worth it: It's five years later, and soccer still is nothing but an afterthought in Los Angeles,” it ran on Tuesday.
In his lede he harps on the dollar value of Beckham’s contract, as if Beckham were paid with taxpayer money. Why aren’t other hobbies cursed with the small-minded and pathetic obsession over how much stars earn? Do people care how much Drake makes, or Nic Cage’s per-movie gross, or what NBC pays for Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson? Of course not, they just want to tip their cups to “I’m On One,” mock-plead “Not the bees!” and get rid of SNL’s dead weight. Sensible adults know that celebrities, athletes included, make their huge sums because of us, the fans and not from pilfering from the public purse or from putting a gun to anyone’s head. If we didn’t go to the concerts, if we didn’t watch the movies, if we didn’t go to the games, and if we didn’t spend $80 for uncomfortable ad-laden stretchy-fabric replica shirts then the stars of stage, screen and stadia would be clipping coupons.
So Simers thinks Beckham’s salary is a sin. And Victoria Beckham is “…the well-known wife who looks like she has to live in a posh palace to be happy.” Nevermind this point’s lack of relevance for any self-respecting sports fan, Simers’ deep insight is that the rich enjoy being rich. Maybe Victoria Beckham should drag the stone of shame up and down Rodeo Drive to please Simers.
Like most lonely people, Simers equates his personal experience with universal experience. Beckham did not speak with Simers, thus Beckham spoke to no one. And because Simers doesn’t watch soccer, well, then no one watches soccer.
It’s hard to analyze the rest of his column, because it descends into the incoherency common to megalomaniacs, as when he revealingly writes, “I replied [to Tim Leiweke, of the L.A. Galaxy ownership group] that I would take an interest as soon as Becks became available for a sit-down interview.”
Why should anyone having anything to do with the beautiful game, or any game for that matter, talk to a supposed professional who writes such unprofessional and ignorant drivel like, “Best record [the Galaxy’s regular season performance over the past few years] in L.A. for what? Being the team that no one cares about? If so, that would tie them with the Kings,” and cribbed Jay Leno gags like, “Did you know there's going to be an arrival celebration for the MLS Trophy Cup, with the Cup getting a police escort? You can just imagine how proud a cop will be to tell his wife: ‘Honey, I put my life on the line today for a paperweight.’"
Is it worth listing the leaps and bounds that soccer has made in this country in just 16 MLS seasons? Is it worth pointing out that the L.A. Galaxy averaged more than 23,000 a game this season, almost 2/3rds that of the Dodgers (at a much higher base ticket price to boot)? Is it worth telling Simers that NBC will broadcast MLS games next season? Is it worth having a pint with Simers on an early weekend morning standing cheek-by-jowl in the Ye Olde King’s Head in Santa Monica for a slate of games? Is it worth inviting Simers for a drive on a sunny southern California Saturday afternoon to point out all the barren baseball diamonds next to the soccer pitches teeming with players young and old?
No, it’s not worth it. T.J. Simers is a cheap instigator. He accomplished his goal. He got more than 100 comments for his nonsense and thousands more hits. But any attention he received for his paper only served to remind readers why they stopped reading it in the first place. As recently as 2000, the L.A. Times had a circulation of one million, now it tenuously sits at a little more than half that.
The internet is the commonly blamed culprit for the death of newspapers. But newspapers have mainly themselves to blame. Just because no one is buying the physical paper every day doesn’t mean they aren’t reading the news, judging by the popularity of news aggregator sites like yahoo. Unfortunately, newspapers were slow to establish decent web presences. And even today, many papers have poorly designed sites that merely replicate the limited Associated Press content of their physical editions.
Content was king and will always be king. People who want interesting sports coverage visit sites and blogs like deadspin, theoffsiderules, every day should be saturday, soccer by ives, baseball prospectus, sports by brooks, and the epl talk family of sites just to name a few. People who want celebrity gossip or pop culture news visit sites like film drunk, the superficial or tmz. Many of the most popular sites are coarser than what existed before this century and there is no doubt that hard news coverage has suffered immensely because of lesser resources. But sports and entertainment newspaper content never kept pace.
Open the L.A. Times sports section today and you’ll find a meager five-page section filled with stale game recaps, staler box scores and one or two opinion columns from their roster of has-been reactionaries. Of those meager five pages, one or two will be devoted to high school sports, this, in the country’s second biggest city and in a city filled with transplants. The main page may have a color picture, the rest will be black and white and have the same milquetoast graphic design as twenty years ago. And the paper remains a broadsheet, making it a chore to read outside in a city where it is 70 and balmy in January.
And with all that, they wonder where all the readers went while wasting what little sports content they offer spitting in your face for daring to enjoy soccer.