Former Deadspin Editor Offers Misleading Account Of Site's Implosion Over 'Stick To Sports' Mandate

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Leroy N. Soetoro

Nov 13, 2019, 4:24:23 PM11/13/19

Barry Petchesky is the former editor of Deadspin who was fired after
organizing a protest against the owner’s request that writers at the site
“stick to sports.” Today, Petchesky has a piece in the NY Times which
offers his take on what happened at Deadspin. Unfortunately, he doesn’t
describe the implosion very honestly.

Two weeks ago, I was fired as acting editor in chief of Deadspin, where
I’d worked since 2009. The entire staff resigned, following me out the
door after we had refused a new company mandate to “stick to sports.” Jim
Spanfeller, installed as chief executive of G/O Media by the private
equity firm that bought the company seven months ago, called me into his
office, pointed to some offending stories on our home page and had me
escorted from the building.

Well, that’s partly true but also entirely misleading. As I pointed out
last month, Petchesky and the writers at Deadspin were asked to “stick to
sports” on a Monday and responded by making Tuesday’s front page a
collection of stories that had nothing to do with sports. Here’s a

After this internal rebellion, Petchesky was fired. It had something to do
with the non-sports stories but also something to do with the site giving
a clear middle-finger to management. But in his NY Times piece, Petchesky
doesn’t mention the internal revolt and goes on to mischaracterize what
the owners had asked him to do, suggesting they wanted Deadspin to avoid
all mentions of politics on the site:

We refused to “stick to sports,” because we know that sports is
everything, and everything is sports: It’s the N.B.A. kowtowing to its
Chinese business interests; it’s pro sports leagues attempting to become
shadow justice systems for publicity reasons; it’s the opioid epidemic
roiling N.F.L. locker rooms at least as hard as anywhere in Appalachia,
even as the league refuses to relax its marijuana policy; it’s racist fan
chants chasing black players off the pitch in Italian soccer matches; it’s
Washington Nationals catcher Kurt Suzuki wearing a “Make America Great
Again” cap at the White House. (These last two stories occurred in the
past week and so were not covered on Deadspin; the “stick to sports”
diktat forced the outlet to ignore the biggest sports stories in the

Reporting sports with integrity requires knowing that there’s no way to
wall off the games from the world outside. To anyone who knows anything
about sports or cares about the world outside the arena, the notion that
sports should or even can be covered merely by box scores and transaction
wires is absurd.

Again, what the owners specifically said was that writers could write
about anything so long as there was some connection to sports:

In a statement sent after this blog was originally published, Maidment
said “we believe that Deadspin reporters and editors should go after every
conceivable story, as long as it has something to do with sports. We are
sorry that some on the Deadspin staff don’t agree with that editorial
direction and refuse to work within that incredibly broad mandate.”

What the owners didn’t want was stuff like the piece about the Covington
Catholic kids or more pieces like, “IMPORTANT: I Would Not Bone A
Vampire.” That was apparently too much to ask.

Maybe the owners would have been better off letting the writers goof-off
occasionally as a cost of doing business. But that’s really all this was
about. The writers wanted to act like they owned the site and quickly
found out they didn’t. Petchesky can try to make this into some grand
moment in the history of journalism but it’s not. And the fact that he
won’t tell readers what really happened is a hint that it’s not entirely
favorable to his perspective.

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