I was never as down on The Athletic as some. I suppose I appreciated their aim, or stated aim, of creating an online sports section, as I was one of the few of my generation, or the ones to come after, to still grow up on sports sections. I was raised on Bob Verdi and Bernie Lincicome (pre-crank) in the Chicago Tribune and Steve Rosenbloom in the Sun-Times. No, I didn’t have many friends. I guess there was something about what the Athletic was attempting that rang some sort of bell in my childhood.
It’s hard to know if their stripping newspapers of talent helped lead to the downsizing or closures or other massive changes to those publications, because there certainly are people who bought papers for the sports sections. But then again, The Athletic provided an actual sports section for everyone, which a lot of papers stopped doing some time ago. It provided jobs to some talented people to keep doing what they do, and full disclosure, to a fair amount of my friends. They certainly didn’t limit their writers or scope, which maybe was part of the problem.
The Athletic was bought by The New York Times yesterday, and it’s hard to know what that will mean long term. It’s hard to imagine the shape won’t change at some point soon, and the use of the term “at this time” from the letter from the founders yesterday is certainly foreboding. At the moment, as it always is at the beginning, everyone’s saying the right thing. It also feels like they’re doing it through forced smiles. Or, as my friend Sean put it:
For as much derision as The Athletic got with what always felt like something of a Ponzi scheme, it is the place where Katie Strang broke all kinds of important stories. It’s where Meg Linehan blew the cover off the detritus that was taking place in the NWSL this past summer. It’s where writers got paid to do what they do, which is something that isn’t all that prevalent these days. Maybe most of us didn’t need 17 observations from a hockey game in February. But there were people who did, and The Athletic provided it. It rarely, if ever, used slideshows and clickbait and polls, which these days is to be cherished.
It is in the “time is a flat circle” category that The Athletic sought to stand out from newspapers, perhaps even destroy them, by robbing them of sports sections people sought, and now are bought by The Times. We all become what we abhor, I suppose. Like a lot of papers, The Athletic overreached, overpromised, and now is at the whim of a better moneyed entity.
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It’s hard to shake that The Athletic was always a vehicle set up for exactly this, so a couple guys could cash out for many, many millions and those who will lose their jobs in the process are just collateral damage. God knows The Athletic has been looking for a buyer for long enough, and the $550 million price tag sure sounds lower than what they’d been rumored to be looking for. But I suppose it would be shouting at the rain to bemoan this phenomenon some more.
It’s been a week of seeing the state of sports journalism, from Ken Rosenthal to Hub Arkush to this. We all continue to scrape and claw.
Let’s get to cool shit among the games people play. Dylan Strome and Alex DeBrincat of the ’Hawks came up with one of the more impressive goals in the NHL this season, which didn’t save the ’Hawks’ embarrassment of losing to the remedial class that is the Arizona Coyotes 6-4:
This is better than Trevor Zegras’ alley-oop from behind the net, because Strome had to react to the puck bouncing off the boards and under pressure, and adjusted his hands on his stick (phrasing!). And DeBrincat has to bury this on essentially a half-volley, which given the variance a puck can bounce off the ice with is truly impressive.
Which isn’t out of character for DeBrincat, one of the league’s best scorers, and one barely anyone knows about because he has never played a game that meant anything for the ’Hawks given their recent incompetence. Maybe one day he’ll get to do stuff like this for a team that has anything to play for.