I like to think of myself as an observer and informed critic. I don’t just take what is spoon fed to me and go forwards, I like to check things out a bit. I like to question, and probe, and listen. I like to watch body language, I look for eyes that smile, I’m good at picking up the small things people say and do that would be considered tells in poker. When the myriad of questions have been asked and answered, once I have confirmed and reconfirmed, once I’ve bounced ideas of friends and colleagues I feel like I have a pretty good handle on where we are. I’m not just talking about facts, I’m talking about mood, emotional state. I read people well, I feel like my bullshit meter is dialed in and it has afforded me a lifetime of amazing friends and relationships.
I might never be a rich man, or a famous, or appreciated for much more than this little space by the broader world but I can say, hand on heart I have never been let down by anybody I’ve put my faith into. I ask questions, I get answers and in return I can share what is on my mind in return. I try and bring that to bare on the work I do on Sporting Times, the work I have done for the team on the Radio, on the Podcast. I figure if you as a reader are going to put your faith in me, that I can give you a no horse shit account of what I think the case is. Where it has lead me to surprises me, I thought this site, when it was launched was going to become the all singing, all dancing one stop shop for Wizards fans. In 2013 I am a post or two a month opinion guy who only writes when he feels moved to. I don’t feel I need to throw out 500 posts a year to be heard, and what you hear reflects exactly what is on my mind.
Yesterday’s anti-Lance Armstrong tirade was weeks and weeks of growing frustration and fatigue boiling over into a piece that I guess reads well but I’m not so proud of today. I happen to think the guy is a cheat, and a liar and that should be no revelation to anybody with a pulse. While I am not going to list the article amongst my favorites, this is my space, I don’t have editors that will try and neuter my opinions, deadlines that force me to hit publish on things that I’m not happy with, just a Like box, comments and my analytics to let me know how I’m doing. I’m happy with it. In another world I might have discovered my love for writing before I had two kids, a wife and a mortgage and wanted to take on journalism as a profession. Given the constraints, salary and uncertainty that seems to pervade traditional print media I just can’t imagine it. Reporting facts without being able to go op-ed on things … that isn’t for me.
I respect the guys that do so. Occasionally I’ll butt heads with them, but I have many friends within the profession both inside Kansas City and outside. In a world where the newsrooms are shrinking and the guys that wear many caps are deemed to be more valuable than the one trick pony standards are dropping. Newspapers that I read these days (.. a rare event) leave me frustrated. The content has been replaced with fluff, half of it from the AP and it seems like opinion pieces have devolved into the written equivalent of the shock jock. I get it, you turn a few heads, you create a buzz, people engage and in a world where they can do so via social media instantaneously it is a commodity. I’m not sure if Sam Mellinger was trying to make ripples on Tuesday or write an honest piece about the Livestrong mess. Factually, he pointed out he was correct on many points but the tone and tenure of the piece left me angry. After reading it I put it down and got on with something else. I wanted to come back and look at the fallout later – to see how it was taken.
Sporting Kansas City Fans are a fierce bunch at the best of times. Fiercely protective of the team they love and any small slight can be elevated to hysterical levels. People were angry about the piece but that isn’t particularly unusual. I read the article later for a second time to see how it fit into a landscape where many fans and people I respect around MLS were talking about Sporting Club’s split with LIVESTRONG being unfortunate but necessary. Nobody of any standing seemed to be mocking, or painting Sporting KC too badly. But Sam Mellinger was talking about the organization earning its first “skid mark.. right across the face”. Delicate lead in .. I went on.
Humbled … Inexperience … naivety … star-chasing …. tarnished … blown to bits …. kick to the crotch … Sporting got dumped … Sporting looks the fool …. Sporting’s brand is sullied, it’s message diluted … and on and on and on.
I was frustrated again. As crazy as I get on here, and remember I likened Lance Armstrong to an unflushable piece of shit yesterday I like to think there is a line where even if I am hyperbolic, or crude, or judgmental, that I am still not too far away from reality and mood my audience is looking for. I am one of the SKC crazy’s. This piece didn’t fit that mood. It felt like misdirected and spiteful.
I wanted to pick at it .. to pull it apart paragraph by paragraph, instead I decided to chat with a journalist pal of mine who suggested that my Kansas City fandom might have been getting in the way of my objectivity. It stung a bit … I am not that guy. I’ve had Robb Heineman thank me for glowing praise written here .. I’ve also had him flat out slug me in the back, I’m a royal pain in the ass and I know it, but I like to think I am fair to almost everybody but Lance Armstrong. I’ve had my fill of that guy …. and it felt like Sam Mellinger’s piece fit that tone … the article felt like he was tired of having perfect Sporting Kansas City shoved down his throat and wanted to lash out now that he had a chance. Time to swing for the fences … Sporting KC have left one out over the plate.
I linked the article to Jason Davis, national soccer writer in a thousand places, host of The Best Soccer Show, a guy I respect, a guy who will just as soon jump on a cause as he will hammer fans who go over the top. He is one of the few folk around the game I follow and unconnected to Sporting KC or LIVESTRONG or me. I wanted to see what he thought.
— SportingTimes.net (@Sporting_Times) January 16, 2013
@sporting_times Reads like a hatchet job from someone who didn’t like Sporting from the start.
— Jason Davis (@davisjsn) January 16, 2013
I was almost disappointed when he came back talking “hatchet job”, I wanted him to pat me on the head and say “simmer down James, it seems fair …”. Hatched job … according to the Collin’s English Dictionary .. “a malicious or devastating verbal or written attack”. It was exactly on par with my gut feeling, except there appeared to be more malice than devastation. I’ve learned that the more extreme I am the less credence folk give me. While I have seen Mellinger go balls out in the past it fit, watching him throw Scott Pioli under the bus fit, watching attacks on the Royals fit – everybody could relate to those frustrations yet here he was faulting Sporting KC in the most inflated way.
“Sporting KC’s brash and innovative brand is now tarnished.”
The detached from reality nasty tone and the idea that Sporting KC as a brand now had what amounted to shit in its face and didn’t do anything but reinforce the simple idea that if things are going to be done right. I’m going to have to do it. Andy Edwards is going to have to do it. Teenage Grace Rogers who approached this with more maturity than the Star Columnist … will have to do it. The un-pros have this covered.
If I were in Mellinger’s spot last night I might have started by saying:
“When Robb Heineman and Co climbed into bed with Lance Armstrong and the LIVESTRONG foundation it was an exciting time, a bold decision from a team who have made bold decision after bold decision.
Innovative might be the buzzword they have chosen to describe themselves with but I prefer hell bent and determined to make Sporting Kansas City the premier franchise in sport in any measurable category. Instead of building a cookie cutter stadium they went big and built the Taj Mahal – they wanted to make a serious statement of intent to Kansas City and MLS, it was bold. They took an established if under-performing American brand and switched it up to a European ‘Sporting’ which was a risk that has paid off tenfold. It was bold, bold enough that Heineman acknowledged that some fans would hate it and that Sporting KC might lose them. Sporting did lose some, they gained tens of thousands more.
They went big on the US Open Cup bidding and beat out Seattle for home field advantage … bold …. they changed the team colors … bold … they put fans in charge of ticket sales in areas of the stadium … bold … they stand with the fans in the section … bold … the US OPEN CUP is given to FANS to cart around the city to show off to people … BOLD … they have unashamedly campaigned for World Cup Qualifiers and the biggest games. They’ll get a qualifier and the All Star Game this year … BOLD BOLD BOLD … etc etc etc….
And one move fails? The most admirable of the lot? the altruistic one? The one where they get into bed with a charity hoping that the charity will help them get concerts and events into LSP through which they can generate and donate tremendous amounts of money for said charity as well as via ticket sales and merchandising on match days? Instead of taking the first major corp to throw a million or two at them they stuck LIVESTRONG across the front of the crown jewel of stadiums?
Naive they were maybe, to believe that Lance Armstrong’s downside basically didn’t exist – underestimating it was the mistake, but maybe when you are a positive, forward thinking company that makes bold decisions it is by your very nature and character normal to look the beast in the face and go for it anyway.
Fortune favors the brave, befriends the bold, and in the words of the Bard himself – Boldness be my friend. Sporting Kansas City have no egg in their face, it simply didn’t work out and we all know that Lance Armstrong had a big part to play in it. They deserve nothing more than a pat on the back, and a thank you for trying something so unusual in this space. If it had worked, if Armstrong had gone quietly away and everything had worked out how Heineman and LIVESTRONG had wanted it to this decision would be lauded, and why not? I can’t imagine any other reason to grind the axe here but to be spiteful unless being touchy-feely in the face of defeat does not sell enough pop-up ads.
It was a good thing the team tried, a really really good thing. As a fan I’m proud of them, just as I admired Barcelona for the UNICEF shirts back in the days. It was a solidly commendable move, on par with the Chiefs quietly doing work in Joplin and Matt Besler being a prom date to a Highschool kid with cancer. With soccer players going to Soccer night in Newton. If only more of our organizations and teams did these things. Can you imagine a world where sportsmen and teams as ‘role models’ did more than point to the heaven’s and mutter ‘all the glory’, a world where more people cared enough to simply step up because there was a need? If my team wants to occupy that space and lead it in a visible … even risky way,to be bold enough to name their stadium after the endeavor? Well that is the kind of team I’ll happily follow for a lifetime no matter if they succeed or not.
The fact they tried is everything.
I have tried to steer clear of the blistering personal attack on Sam Mellinger that he threw towards Sporting KC … I hope I have achieved that. Obviously this is a critical piece but ultimately I wanted to swing this more towards Sporting KC’s unsuccessful yet highly commendable endeavor than mud slinging. I feel like taking pot shots at Armstrong are fair given his track record but I felt no need to hurl insults at Sam or any of the Star writers many of whom I have met and a few I count on as friends. I greatly appreciate the Star’s coverage of Sporting KC and I don’t want this to be an anti-Star rallying cause. I feel that judging a publication on the basis of one regretful article isn’t really kosher but the press are also not in a lofty enough position that they cannot be held to a standard that is fair. I believe Mellinger stepped beyond fair at this point and the language and tone he used betrayed the basic facts he reported and exaggerated the failing way beyond its stature.