An Honest Opinion Is the Only Kind Worth SharingA columnist/commentator on any topic who doesn't occasionally piss off most of his or her audience is probably not doing a good job. Challenging conventional wisdom or more usually conventional prejudice is one of the moral justifications for the gig.
Andre Laguerre, the managing editor who turned Sports Illustrated from a coffee table magazine for 50ish Ivy League grads living in Mamaroneck and Greenwich into the national journal of sports for decades, once said "You can't get too much hate mail" and there's a lot of truth in that. Going along with the crowd equals getting lost in it.
Here comes the cosmic BUT: A columnist/commentator who consistently pisses off most of his or her audience is surely doing a lousy job. He or she is no different than the ideological apologists or homer sports guys and gals who make up, alas, the bulk of the commentariat in our fair land. He or she is deceitful, lazy and worst of all, boring as all of sociology put together.
Well, maybe that last isn't really the worst. There's also the little issue of what kind of a person sees their mission in life as making other people angry. I don't find that a very attractive lifestyle.
It's easy to make people mad, too easy. This is especially true of sports fans, who are fans in the first place because doing so puts their emotions out on the edge in an enjoyable and relatively harmless way. It is no work at all to tease and provoke people on the edge. Their buttons are in plain sight. Just lean over and push.
Of course, pushing buttons may require saying one thing today and its exact opposite a week later as events change fans' perceptions. Guess what? Fans can read and hear. They will soon perceive that the commentator doesn't believe a word of his or her own work. Anger will be replaced by disgust and then ridicule in short order. Ridicule is the last stop before they stop paying attention. The true danger for anyone in the opinion business is when the audience can guess what your opinion is before they consume it.
Being predictable was my primal fear as a sports columnist for the roughly 25 years I did it. I'm sure I was sometimes, too. But at least I had this. I don't think any reader thought I was a crank yanker. My opinions, right, wrong or dull, were what I honestly thought. It was up to the readers to take it from there as to what they thought about it. Of course I wanted them to like it, but most of all I wanted to like it. I wanted to express myself as best I could. Audience reaction was gravy.
From my increasing distance from that part of my life, I recognize that attitude as arrogance bordering on egomania. But that's what I honestly felt, and I think that kept my work honest, too. I never tried to trick anyone. I'd have been ashamed if I ever did.
One thing about the media business on all levels in the 21st century. A sense of shame seems to be a serious career handicap.