This is why I hate Twitter:
I knew better. Living in Nashville, I've become quite familiar with Clay's schtick, so I don't have an excuse - I should been smarter than to retweet that flaming pile of poo he lobbed at West Virginia's front door. But for whatever reason - time to kill when I saw his tweet right as my lunch began or a particular sensitivity to the brutal treatment of my childhood hero Major Harris - I skimmed what passes for writing over at OKTC these days and did exactly what Clay wanted me to do: passed it along.
Like many of you, I was pissed and ready to jet home at 5:00, head downstairs, throw Tupac's "Hit 'em Up" on a loop (the standard by which all dis tracks will be judged forever) and clack away my own vitriol-spewing rebuttal. I'd say a bunch of things we already know about those tired stereotypes Clay used as the backbone of his article and then go for the throat by throwing in some barbs directed at the man himself - preferably something personal.
I guess it would have been understandable (the crew over at Sportsmancave.com did a nice job on one if you're in the mood for that sort of thing) but ultimately pointless. The troll does what the troll does - tosses his grenade and revels in the damage. Scolding him for doing so or attempting to spew equal parts venom back does nothing but serve his purpose. When we're all shouting, it's the echo chamber that wins.
But then I had a few minutes to chill, realized the folly of my ways and allow that irrefutable monster called logic to take the reigns. Why bother. Instead I decided to trade in my double-barreled shotgun of righteous indignation and fire off a couple barrels of...something else. Fair warning, a bit of this is friendly fire, but bear with me.
Barrel #1. This is for us, WVU fans. Folks, we gotta do better than this. We can't go code red on someone every time they write something like this - and with the proliferation of shoddy writing out there, it's unfortunately not a rare occurrence - in fact it's likely to increase. I know we want to. I know it's infuriating, but it only perpetuates the stereotype when we absorb the venom and respond in kind.
Fact 1: people calling us ignorant rubes enrages us. Fact 2: words spoken in anger are rarely thought out or intelligent. Fact 1 + Fact 2 = reinforcing every stupid thing they think and write about us. With our own damn words.
Listen, we know we're a little different but we know we're not assholes. We also know that when an outsider shows up ready to accept us for what we are and revel the unique splendor of the Mountain State as Spencer Hall of EDSBS did back in 2011, they have a pretty damn good time. (Seriously - read that. Even if you did back in 2011 go back and ready it again - it's fantastic). When others are willing to put aside the crap and see us as we see ourselves, things go pretty well.
But not everyone has that attitude - and certainly not every writer of internet words. We have got to chill out, guys - myself included. We'll go crazy making it our mission in life to re-educate every troll who writes something like this specifically to elicit the type of response we give. As a wise man once said: "Indiana, let it go."
Now it's time for barrel #2. This one is for Mr. Travis.
As I said before, I've become pretty familiar with his M.O. He wasn't always this lazy and I used to be an avid reader. In fact, I wrote 2 of the 3 best outside contributions to his outkickthecoverage.com site last year (not my words - the words of his editor). Met him a couple years ago and damned if he doesn't seem like a pretty decent guy. There was a time I was a fan of the guy, although that time seems to be passing.
Having said that, I've been pretty disappointed in the recent trajectory of his work. Put simply he's come to represent the worst of new media. A guy with real talent who wrote great profiles of Kirk Herbstreit and Mike Slive and also did a fantastic job with his book telling the compelling story of Phil Fulmer's final year in 2008 with the Tennessee Volunteers. In a past era, he could have easily grown into a poor man’s Wright Thompson; a guy with the talent to tell a story but more importantly willing to take the time to craft it, learn it and frame it for those of us who don’t have the ability to spend hours with a subject. This is what the best sports writers (or any writers) do, and it’s something entirely within Clay’s power.
Instead he's turned into a rich man's Chuck Landon - a troll at a regional level with an eye to the national stage. He peppers his writing and speech with enough references to guys like William Faulkner and Samuel Clemens that he probably had his sights set on being a real writer once upon a time. Hell, I bet there's even a decent chance he's still workin' on that novel. But the siren song of page views and the allure of catering to the lowest common denominator has proven too much for him to resist and his site about which he once wrote this:
Like a great book, movie, or play, I want our writing to encompass the scope of life.
I want it to be funny.
I want it to be smart.
I want it to occasionally make you cry.
I want it to be better, more honest, and more independent than what you can find anywhere else.
He has instead devolved into the SEC meets TMZ. Fan tattoos, boob drafts, and the like. Things quite likely hit their nadir with his 3 part series on a cat fight video taken here in town during a horse race (you can search for it if you like, I'm not linking). Quite a waste for a guy who seems to have a good relationship with Mike Slive (he got the first question at SEC media days) and can be devilishly clever when the mood hits him.
His latest invention is a list of "dumbest fan bases" that isn't really anything other than a new spin on the old go-to trick for bloggers to gather page views. It's something I've written about before (I thought I was pretty fair - no profanity or anything - but was still Twitter blocked by Brett McMurphy for my trouble). Grab a hot poker and aim it directly at whatever exposed nerve a fan base has…apply pressure…apply more pressure….a little more……then sit back and wait for the glorious backlash. This strategy, which is probably as old as mass media, has proven particularly effective in today’s age of instantaneous communication when you don’t have to hold your ire long enough to make it home, find a stamp, find a letter and then finally write it out before finally running down a mailbox and shooting it to a recipient who may or may not even remember what you're bitching about by the time he/she gets it.
These days you can fire off that tweet or email in nanoseconds, that anger still burning fresh in your mind. Even better for the writer is the way in which the lunatic fringe of any fanbase is magnified with this method. Invariably there's an angry person who attempts to hit back in whatever way they can: death threats, saying your kids are ugly, whatever…..and the initiator can retweet that or post the email in their blog and go about painting said fan base with the same road brush that started the whole mess.
To put it in the timely parlance of Shark Week, think of a particularly dramatic diver who talks up the dangers of sharks, chums the waters, tosses in a test fish and as he watches it devoured screams "Jesus these things are dangerous they want to eat me what did I tell you was I right or what?!?!?!?"
This tactic is a lot of things, but chief among these is lazy. Clay doesn't want to do the work himself, a decent column takes a couple hours to put together. Instead he'd prefer to cobble together a collection of tired stereotypes, bloody the waters and let all of you do the work for him. He can retweet you, laugh at you and at the end of the week probably have you write a couple hundred words of a mailbag column for him.
Let's be smarter than that. Let's take it upon ourselves to end the whirling vortex of Clay's trollnado and instead devote our time and attention to folks like Andy Staples, Holly Anderson and Wright Thompson who produce damn good, thoughtful content and treat WVU and its fans more than fair when the occasion presents itself.
Don't feed the trolls.
(Quick post script: for all you WVU fans worried at the prospect of having to deal with Clay on a weekly basis given that he's supposed to take some role in the Fox Sports 1 coverage of PAC 12 and BIG 12 football, rest easy. The network put out a nearly 3 minute promo featuring a variety of personalities and they didn't even think enough of the bearded one to include him. It will be a very small role.)