Sports columnists try to be funny, but mainly they just want to be loved. They crave the recognition and approval that comes with large audiences. Many use a gimmick to draw readers to love them. Some try to write the “human” angle. You know the ones. They find the story about the football player from South Central who stuck with football and received a scholarship to a D-1 school despite having a brother serving a life sentence for a gang-related crime.
Others, however, realize that those guys are a dime a dozen. They try to come up with what they think is a novel approach to “separate” themselves. There are fewer of them, but you know these guys too. One of the local papers has one. He is not really a reporter, and he is not a very good writer. He tries to make up for his shortcomings and differentiate himself by irritating this fan base or that one. When you can’t be the first one to break a story, and you don’t have anything interesting to say, you have to come up with a way to attract readers or you will be fired. So this guy decided to write insult jokes. Triumph the insult sports columnist. He's not the first one, and he won't be the last. This guy figures that the more jokes he writes about a team (or a city or an owner or whatever), the more people he will piss off. The more people he pisses off, the more people will read his column, and ultimately the more success for him. There is no such thing as bad publicity, right? Just think of him as the Paris Hilton of sports writers.
This guy has tried countless times to break into television and radio but has never done so successfully. Each time he has failed miserably. Why? Because he has no substance. Sure, he can poke fans with a stick and get people riled up. Hell, anyone can do that. When it comes time to do something more, though, the tank is empty. So every time he tries something new, he ultimately fails. For this guy it seems all roads lead back to the the same tired schtick: say bad things about a group of people and wait for the complaints (and readers).
This guy is not entirely stupid though. He is stuck in a low paying job with no upside, but it is the best job he can get. He knows that he needs to generate interest from readers or he will get fired from this job too.
One of the groups he regularly goes after is UCLA and its fans. He writes that UCLA is no good (and hasn't been for quite some time) and its fans have unrealistic expectations. He figures it is a no lose situation. If UCLA loses, he can claim to be right. If UCLA starts to win, he can break out his old lines about UCLA needing him to light a fire under their butts; how he really had faith in UCLA all along; and how he is glad he played such an integral part in UCLA’s success. Same old same old.
He thinks he is being funny, and at times he is funny. There is one thing that is hysterically funny about his columns, though, and it does not come from his wit.
Deep down, this guy wants to write columns that people remember. He wants to write columns that are distinguished. He wants to write columns like Dan Neil. Who is Dan Neil? Dan Neil is the automobile columnist for The Wall Street Journal and a former columnist for the L.A. Times.
Dan Neil, The Car Guy, won a Pulitzer Prize. A Pulitzer. For writing car reviews. If you have ever read his column, you know the man can write. Anyone who can make car reviews interesting and fun to read is one hell of a writer. The Car Guy has a Wikipedia page that is long and detailed, but that sports columnist from the local paper doesn’t. The columnist's Wikipedia page is only a line or two. Just enough to acknowledge his existence in the universe, but so small and devoid of detail and accomplishments to make the reader almost feel sorry for this poor schlub.
At bottom, that sports columnist not so secretly pines to be The Car Guy. He wants to win a Pulitzer. He wants to work for the Journal. He wants to be recognized. He wants so badly to be everything that the Car Guy is: informative, thought-provoking, humorous, smart, popular, and respected. When they chose Mr. Neil to receive the award, the Pulitzer Board said this:
one-of-a-kind reviews of automobiles, blending technical expertise with offbeat humor and astute cultural criticism.
Here’s the thing: no matter how hard he tries (and believe me, he tries), the gimmicky sports columnist cannot be any of the things The Car Guy is. He will never win a Pulitzer. He will never be respected for his writing. He will never achieve his dream of having a successful television or radio show. Hell, he's not even the best insult sports columnist. He will never be The Car Guy. He is The Wanna-be Car Guy.
And the worst part for him is, he knows it.
To me, that is what I see in every one of his columns. Every time he sits in front of a computer to write a column, he knows deep down that he is not good enough. Confined to writing for a crappy paper in a declining business. Trapped being an insult writer. Every escape plan has failed miserably. I can only imagine what he would give to have someone, anyone, tell him that he has an offbeat humor and is an astute cultural critic.
No matter how hard he tries to be funny at someone else's expense, the funniest thing in each and every thing he writes is that he will never be The Car Guy. He is stuck in his newspaper prison for the rest of his life.
Forever The Wanna-be Car Guy. Now that's funny.