When he died of a heart attack last year, there were people who mourned Andrew Breitbart, right-wing media mogul and rancid human oyster, as a hero. These were the people you’d expect to respond that way—the pseudonymous and anonymous internet hordes who feed on the scalding hot rage mayonnaise that pours hourly through the funnels Breitbart designed, first at the Drudge Report and then at his own eponymous network of blogs. These are, truth be told, fairly ugly sites in form and content—Drudge Report looks, as it has for 17 years, like the inside of a mean old person’s mind; Breitbart.com is at least contemporary looking, but it’s home to deceptively edited videos that, in conjunction with shameful eats-own-poop responses from various ostensible watchdogs, have destroyed ACORN and the career of former USDA employee Shirley Sherrod. There are verticals like Big Hollywood, where an AP article on Beyonce’s lip-synched national anthem has 83 comments, of which Redley62’s “Because Beyonce is what all Liberals are—Fakes & Liars” is a fair representative. There’s also Big Government, Big Peace (international news), and now, as of the new year, Breitbart Sports.
The sites share a politics that could broadly be described as conservative, although that doesn’t seem quite right. Breitbart himself was less conservative than he was contrary, and was proudly less interested in ideology or policy than he was in opposing and humiliating a vaguely defined elite. His ideal story was a famous liberal saying one thing but doing something that didn’t necessarily contradict the first thing but whatever, fuck you, Matt Damon. The goal was a steady rolling boil of disgust, with the comments section where the real action popped off. If Breitbart Sports succeeds, this will be the model.
The genius of Breitbart was that he greeted the acolytes in his comment sections as revolutionary brothers at the bottom of those low and fatuous trenches he dug; he encouraged them to get to know each other, loosen up, and maybe scream at each other about how there should be a White History Month. Breitbart didn’t discriminate on ideology in this respect; he helped create the Huffington Post, too. Breitbart was in the echo chamber business. His job was creating spaces where people could agree with each other stridently and mostly wrongly about various easy outrages, safely out of earshot of those who disagree. It’s only fitting that after a career spent treating politics like a long football game between Black Nazi Communists and the Founding Fathers, Breitbart has posthumously lent his name to a sports-news website.
Breitbart Sports is, at this early stage in its existence, only barely operational. What exists of it is pretty lame, and familiar—it follows the Breitbart recipe of re-headlined wire service news items and videos, with some odd, staff-penned articles about how Obama’s brother-in-law isn’t a good basketball coach thrown in for flavor. The audience is identical as well: There are no comments on Cole Muzio’s article about Auburn’s football recruiting class, but there are 60 on a piece about the no-homo-am-I-right-bro idiocies that 49ers’ defensive back Chris Culliver shared with Artie Lange at Super Bowl Media Day on Tuesday. As you can imagine, there’s much talk in those comments about the gay agenda and “sacrificing decency and sanity to the gods of political correctness.” It’s not good, but it’s not necessarily worse than the considerably more numerous comments that accrue to the (much better-crafted) articles at, say, Yahoo Sports. The difference is, the comments at Breitbart are more partisan, and notably not about sports.
This sort of dim partisanship defines a certain type of sports fandom—people with Calvin Pissing On [Team Logo] bumper stickers, the SEC football diehards calling sports-talk radio hosts, waiting an hour, and then saying, “Yeah, I’ve got a question: Steve Spurrier is a pussy!” Breitbart’s own tendency towards casual race-baiting and fakey-fake, wrestling-promo fervor and misprioritization are all well-represented in sports media. But while there’s a lot of the comments section seething in those fans, at bottom, they’re not quite Breitbart’s people.
In terms of feigned indignation and prickly, vain creep vibes, Breitbart has a clownish cousin in Skip Bayless, ESPN’s resident troll king, but at least Bayless’s brand of dunderheadedness is heartfelt and seemingly authentic. Even in the dregs the of sports media world, the audience is treated better than Breitbart’s ever was; the dumbest Tebow-humping on ESPN, offensively pandering and dumb though it can be, is safe thanks to the smallness of its stakes. For all the overstatement and willful stupidity of sports talk radio or Shoutin’ ‘Bout Tebow programming, their basic foundation lies in caring (too much) about and liking (the wrong things about) sports—it’s dumb fun, but it’s at least supposed to be fun. But where sports trolls aim to keep their audience piqued, Breitbart’s success came from keeping them in a state of constant righteous rage about how violent and dumb the blacks are, or how much gays like to fuck, or whatever most readily got them lathered up. There’s an escape in the comments section on Breitbart.com, but it’s from one bleak place to an even bleaker one.
Breitbart’s secret was to give people a safe space to play with rage—at the cocktail parties where he’d hobnob with the elites he pretended to hate, his secret was pretending not to know why all those creeps were following him, or how all those awful things came out of their mouths in such vile, giddy unison. It worked for him, but I doubt it will work with sports. Everyone sort of hates politics, after all, especially those who spend their free time reading about it. But what other reason is there to care about sports—let alone read about it or jump into a comments section—but the pursuit of pleasure? And pleasure was never what Breitbart was selling.
Previously: The Lakers’ Unreality Show