Should Deadspin Bust Guys Like Brett Favre?
It’s not often that I open up the new issue of GQ and see a profile of a friend of mine — especially when said friend is pictured on a toilet, holding a reporter’s notebook and surveillance equipment. The subject is Churchville’s own A.J. Daulerio, editor of the sports website Deadspin.com, and the title — “The Worldwide Leader in Dong Shots” — is a play on two of his favorite subjects: ESPN and photos of famous penises. I’m (sort of) proud to say that if it wasn’t for my buddy A.J., you’d never know that Brett Favre allegedly sent a pic of his package to a buxom Jets sideline reporter.
[SIGNUP]I first met A.J. through a mutual friend who thought we’d get along like Butch and Sundance, thanks mostly to our similarly warped senses of humor (a lifetime ago, A.J. wrote for a website called The Black Table and produced a hilarious series of raunchy beer reviews that may have marked the first time Stella Artois was rated “boner”). A few years later, he was hired by Philadelphia magazine as this website’s first blogger, cranking out a daily stream of funny, gossipy tidbits that, in my opinion, proved to the brass here that original content for this “Internet” thing was worth investing in.
In 2008, A.J. left to run Deadspin, and without exaggeration, the way we view sports hasn’t been the same since. A few examples of stories that Deadspin either broke or blew up: Jets coach Rex Ryan’s foot fetish; the uncensored power-point presentation from the Duke University student who dished about her student-athlete conquests; the Erin Andrews peeping tom video; photos of Texas Rangers slugger Josh Hamilton falling off the wagon with coeds at a bar; and of course, the Favre photos and voicemails to Jenn Sterger, which A.J. describes in the GQ piece as “like Monica Lewinsky’s dress for Drudge.”
Of course, none of those stories are about what happens on the playing field. Much of what Deadspin digs up is of the tabloid variety: sex, drugs, players and broadcasters behaving badly when the cameras are off or the games are over. There’s a certain ruthlessness to the website that turns off a lot of folks — even Will Leitch, A.J.’s friend and the guy he replaced as Deadspin’s editor, has issues with how far A.J. will push a story. Deadspin reported that football analyst Sean Salisbury had showed cell-phone pics of his member to an ESPN co-worker (seriously, what is up with all this penis self-portraiture?). Salisbury eventually fessed up, but says the attention was “devastating.” GQ paints a grim picture of the toll that Deadspin is taking on my buddy — drinking benders that stretch for nearly two weeks, self-doubt, therapy. I wondered what A.J. thought of the profile. And whether he needed an intervention.
As it turns out, A.J. thinks the writer, Gabriel Sherman, hit the mark. “I think he gave a pretty accurate representation of the month or two of what it was like to work at Deadspin, post-Favre,” he says. “I’m usually not that much of a booze bag, but that was a hectic, festive part of my life and I was doing my best to both celebrate and self-medicate.” Perhaps the only stretch, he says, is the notion that Deadspin is pushing him to the verge of a breakdown. Monitoring his moral compass isn’t the problem; it’s the non-stop demands of running a website that demands to be fed 24 hours a day that have impacted him the most. As long as his iPhone has juice, he’s never away from the office.
In the end, the GQ piece suggests that while A.J. is a dogged reporter, he’s using his talents for evil. It’s a subject we’ve discussed over the years, and like Leitch, there are some stories A.J. has posted that I couldn’t. I asked if he cares about that perception. “I don’t, really,” A.J. says. “The thing about this job is that I feel like I’m doing it well. Sometimes the truth is perceived as evil and that’s ultimately what I’m trying to put out there. But I don’t sit at home at night twirling my awful mustache and contemplating whose life I’m going to ruin or anything like that. We just go after some stories that many people have a tough time justifying either personally or professionally.”
For more debate on whether A.J. is advancing or destroying sports journalism — and for a good look at that moustache — check out HBO’s Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel on February 15 for a story by fellow Philly native Andrea Kremer. Sometimes, I’m not sure which side of that argument I stand on. I’m just glad my buddy doesn’t really seem to be one step away from rehab. And I don’t feel sorry for the next guy whose schlong ends up on Deadspin. Quarterbacks, ESPN anchors — you’ve been warned.