Hey Neil, we get it. You’re too smart for sports.

‘Patrick Kane is in the restaurant,” says Grant DePorter, checking his BlackBerry as we file into FBI headquarters.

I quickly try to assemble my features into an expression of enthusiasm, but don’t do it fast enough, apparently, because Grant, who as managing partner of Harry Caray’s has an eye for detail, detects a certain blankness.

“You do know who Patrick Kane is?” he says, narrowing his gaze.

“Sure!” I bluster, immediately deploying my Emergency Sports Conversation Algorithm (a logic tree that works like this: 1. What team is currently in the news? The Blackhawks! 2. What player on that team is currently being celebrated?

“Of course,” I bluster. “He’s the guy who lost his teeth.”

“No,” says Grant, with a hint of frost. “That’s Duncan Keith. Patrick Kane is one of the biggest stars on the team. He went to Harry’s after the Cubs game. So did Jonathan Toews — the captain — Brian Campbell and Adam Burish. They walked in, one after the other.”

“Wow!” I say. “Exciting!”

Got it everyone?

In case Neil was being too subtle (which of course you didn’t grasp because you’re a dumb sports fan), you are stooopid because you like sports and you know who Patrick Kane is. Got it? You = stupid. Neil = smart and also better than you.

If you go on to read the entire column (a difficult feat), he tries to dance around it by saying yeah, yeah, I get it. You have your interests and I have mine, he writes. Yet somehow his interests – opera for instance – still come out sounding superior to your dumb sports.

Again, to reiterate, YOU ARE DUMB. Yes YOU, the Blackhawks fan reading this, the man who would rather watch a sporting event than go shopping, the woman who would rather do the same and finally, you, the serious news consumer who loves, say, public affairs reporting but also loves to read the sports section.

That last demographic is hinted at when Neil goes on to bemoan the gallons of ink that will soon be spilled to cover the Blackhawks in the Sun-Times. All the while, he writes, what will be written for the masses who are not hockey fans?

I don’t know Neil. How about THE REST OF THE NEWSPAPER? I mean, are all your colleagues in the newsroom about to take the next two weeks off? No more stories from Fran Spielman, Abdon Pallasch, Frank Main, etc? Did a loudspeaker just announce that the entire staff of the Sun-Times is now devoted to the Blackhawks 24/7?

I could go on, but I’m too exhausted. I now pass the baton to you.


  1. Anonymous June 3, 2010

    I don’t know, Anna, but it seems that you’re imagining a premise for me (I’m better than you) then condemning me for it. Nothing in the column suggests that it’s superior not to follow sports. I’m just pointing out that it’s okay to. You have your own superior thing going on, judging by your bio. “Books — remember those?” I read books, too, and sometimes write about them, which causes people — maybe you — to think I’m showing off. In my view, I’m just talking about something I’m excited about. If you don’t like it, you’re free not to read it. Anyway, I hope you don’t mind my putting a comment here. It seems awfully lonely with none. Writing is tough, and I enjoy laughing at people as much as the next guy, probably more. But I try to limit my criticism to what people actually say, and not what I imagine they said, or conjecture they might have meant.

  2. Anna Tarkov June 3, 2010

    Neil, first off, thanks for coming over here to comment. Why would I mind? This is what comments are for. And yes, you’re the first to comment in this particular spot, but there have been discussions in several other places about this. Not everyone is up for writing a comment you see, at least not a well-thought out one. Anyone can write the sorts of comments that appear at the bottom of Sun-Times stories and columns, but not everyone can write comments like these or has the time to do so.

    As for the line in my bio about remembering books, that’s really directed at a web audience which is comprised of people who often do most of their reading online or on Kindles or iPads or Instapaper and may not read books too frequently. As a result, they may be very well-read, but are just not getting their knowledge from actual paper books. So it’s meant to be a funny observation. Thus far, you’re the only one to have taken it as a condescending statement. I guess I’m not alone in misunderstanding the intent of someone else’s writing?

    If I did in fact misunderstand the intent of your column, let me assure you that I was not the only one to do so. This is of course anecdotal, but quite a few people expressed similar sentiments to me personally, via e-mail, etc. Now, I realize that it’s possible that we’re all in the minority on this one, but at some point you have to ask yourself if we may have a point. Contrary to your suggestion, I am limiting myself to only what you wrote. If I infer something from your words, whose fault is it really? Yours or mine? Perhaps we’re both at fault. You, for not communicating your feelings clearly and me for assuming too much. If the latter is more the problem, here’s your opportunity to set the record straight. How do you feel about people who are passionately interested in sports vs. say, people who are passionately interested in literature?

    It’s also been pointed out to me by a journalist I respect deeply that those in our profession should be in tune with popular culture at least to some degree. Thus a journalist should know at least the basics of what’s happening in their area and nationwide in sports, entertainment, etc even if these are topics s/he has no personal interest in. It’s actually very easy to become acquainted with these topics without doing a lot of reading. Just pick up a copy of the newspaper you yourself write for.

    Finally, you seemed to suggest that one of the reasons you wrote what you did was to allay the concerns of readers who are similarly disinterested in the Blackhawks. You wanted to make them feel better about not being fans in a city where so many are, is that right? If so, allow me to ask if there was a reason you felt this soothing was necessary. Have you encountered many non-fans who feel ashamed and marginalized because they’re not interested in hockey? Are these people scared to go to school and work because they may be asked about the game last night? Do they hide in the bathroom during their lunch hour reading Dante or Shakespeare and pray that no one discovers them to ask what they think of Niemi’s goaltending or Dustin Byfuglien’s physical style of play?

  3. Anonymous June 4, 2010

    There is an advantage to having an awareness of things beyond one’s own specific interests that goes beyond able to have a well-rounded knowlege base. For one, all physics and no play makes for a very boring Johnny! Never venturing beyond your comfort zone of interest denies the possibility of discovering something wonderful and new and beyond one’s ken.

    I read your article, Neil, and I have to agree with Anna- intended or no, you came across as patting yourself on your (superiour) back for being clueless about sports. I understand it’s not your passion, and not even a sports-mad hockey mom (c’est moi) would point a sneering finger for simply not liking any particular sport. (Personally, I think basketball is stupid and soccer boring. I digress.) But to smugly congratulate yourself for your more (self-perceived) artistic interests is to slam those who do love and take an interest in sports. You also seem to be implying that one precludes the other, and I could not disagree more strongly!

    There is purity and artistry and sheer breathtaking beauty to a puck that a chased man- skating on ice- corrals with a stick and shoots past a hulking goalie into a tiny corner of a net.

    Watching a football player display the grace of a prima ballerina as he throws himself into the air to catch a ball and somehow, magically, twists his body to remain on one side of a thin line, is to see the glory of the human body that Greek poets tried to describe and sculptors have spend lifetimes trying to reproduce.

    We are not all Philistines, Neil, those of us who love sports. There are sports fans who can happily discuss the latest exhibit at MoMA or the guest conductor at the symphony. Some of us even read (only on occasion, admittedly) Cicero. The writer. In the original.

    By dismissing- and not even bothering with- sports, you narrow your focus far more than the sports fan who paints himself in his team colors.

    Well, that might be a little extreme of a comparison, but we all know (now) that you’re a smart guy. You get the point…..right?

  4. Anna Tarkov June 4, 2010

    Epic comment Lucy, thank you. I bet you’re an amazing Mom and a wonderful woman in general.

  5. Anonymous June 5, 2010

    All of us regard certain sports with a mixture of befuddlement and annoyance. How could anyone like watching THAT? It’s just a bunch of …people driving in big circles to see who has the fastest car; lummoxes pounding on one another; elfin girls with eating disorders performing circus stunts; rich folks using an assortment of sticks to knock a ball into a distant hole, men from all over he world who are being paid huge sums of money to pretend they’re from your city and represent you in some multi-faceted contest of skill…. and so on. It’s just that Neil Steinberg’s list is longer that most.

    It’s hard, I admit, for a fan to read his repeated assertion that “sports is just the same thing happening over and over” and not find it insulting — after all, what adjectives could one possibly apply to someone who sat on his couch for hours each weekend watching “the same thing happening over and over”? — but what I think Neil is getting at, in his typical, slashing way, is that it’s OK to be indifferent to sports and that those who have and will be paying no attention whatsoever to the contest between the hired multi-national cast of men on skates wearing Chicago sweaters and the hired, multi-national cast of men on ice skates wearing Philly sweaters to see which group can most often swat a vulcanized rubber disc into a goal. I agree with that, along with the contrary proposition that it’s OK — and understandable — to care deeply.

  6. Anna Tarkov June 5, 2010

    Thanks so much for commenting @ericzorn. While everyone can surely name a sport they find peculiar and difficult to like, I think most people try not to denigrate the hobbies and interests of others, especially not publicly. There’s a big difference between privately saying to a friend that you have no idea how anyone could so intensely like and writing a column in a major newspaper saying the same. If one must do the latter though, I think one should at the very least respond to those that disagree, the way you often do on your Tribune blog.

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