by Matt Nicholas
You can’t keep a good website down, and so we’re happy to announce that after an extended period of dormancy The Modern Spectator is back! While the site is under new stewardship, rest assured that Austin is still prominently involved—now, though, in more of an emeritus role.
When thinking about how to properly announce the return of TMS, my initial, and rather sardonic, response was: because what the world needs now is another sports blog written by overeducated dilettantes. But as I surveyed the other sports blogs and sites, I noticed that the motto at the bottom of our site (“The Modern Spectator takes a broad look at our culture by focusing on the games we watch and play”) offers a perspective that Grantland, Deadspin, Bleacher Report and the others don’t really offer. Those sports blogs exist within the sports bubble and rarely, if ever, turn their gaze outward from sports and toward the larger culture.
And so this relaunch of TMS, is also a radical rebirth, one that hews closely to the original TMS. Central to that ethos is an emphasis on the noun in the title: spectator. The focus is on watching, on the event being watched as well as on the act of watching. Although spectatorship implies passivity, here we think of watching as act of engagement and, at times, of disengagement.
Other sites feature experts who propound on highly specialized matters and statistical formulations (WARP, DVOA, and PER) that offer better evaluative and analytical insight. But in so doing, such writers move from spectators to experts. But here you’ll find no experts, since it is our belief that distance (paradoxically) offers the clearest vantage point.
If you’ll permit me a mild digression…Just about everyone I know who follows sports has taken a hiatus from watching and following sports at some point, usually in their late adolescence. Mine occurred between the ages of 17-19 (at the height of my adolescent disaffection), meaning my sports memory has about a two-year gap in it. Grossed out by the athletic culture in my high school and by a professional sports culture rife with shameless self-promotion and greed-mongering, I decided that I would prefer not to follow sports anymore. I didn’t really miss it, either—at least, I didn’t think I did.
What brought me back was Michael Jordan’s return to the Chicago Bulls in 1995, which, as you might imagine, was an especially huge deal in Chicago (where I was a freshman in college). My roommate Vince was a devoted Bulls fan, and we watched the game in our room with a bunch of people from our floor. My dormmates were surprised that the kid who dressed kind of funny and had perplexing taste in music knew anything about basketball let alone that he harbored a fond nostalgia for the leaner years of Bulls basketball, when Jordan’s supporting cast consisted of Orlando Woolridge (RIP) and fellow DePaulian Dave Corzine. Watching that game against the Pacers and talking about basketball with a roomful of people I didn’t know very well, I remember thinking how enjoyable it was to watch sports again. (And how weird it was to see Michael Jordan wearing the #45—he looked like a shrunken power forward.) In casting aside sports for their excess, I had also forgotten their pleasures, such as the joy of unscripted drama and the community that gathers around to watch them.
But things were different. In my return to the sporting world (or at least to watching it), I was no longer as invested as I was prior to my sports-watching hiatus. I still rooted for my favorite teams, but it wasn’t the same. As enjoyable as it was to watch sports again, it was difficult to pretend that there weren’t distressing elements to sporting culture—the very things that had driven me away in the first place. So while watching a sporting event regained its fascinating and enthralling quality, I also felt repulsed, at times, by the surrounding culture and challenged to reconcile those disparate reactions.
And so in bringing back TMS, we hope to offer perspectives that range from fascination to repulsion and all points in between. Our aim is to provide our readers with thoughtful reflections on the world of sport that encourage us to think about how the games we watch and the way we watch them tell us something about ourselves.
At any rate, this is all just a long way of saying we’re happy to be back and look forward to offering the same caliber of writing that you’ve come to expect from TMS. And if you’re joining us for the first time, feel free to look through the archives, where you’ll some really good stuff and a time warp back to the late aughts.