I was a regular listener of the “Jay Mariotti Show” on WMVP before he had a falling out with management and was abruptly taken off the air in December of 2004. I called in a number of times, won a few contests and enjoyed the show when Jay wasn’t talking down to his co-host, Marc Silverman. One day, Mariotti explained, perhaps without even knowing it, why he is such an angry, miserable man. Jay announced that he was never a fan of any sports team. You may ask, “that’s it? that explains all?” I think it does.
Jay Mariotti was born and raised in Pittsburgh, a teen in the 1970s. Think about that for a second: He was a teenager in 1970s Pittsburgh. Was there a better time to be a young man in Pittsburgh? The Steelers were the kings of the NFL. The Pirates were always competitive, winning two World Series in the decade. And yet, Mariotti stated emphatically he was never a fan. Though that seems impossible, he was quite convincing that he never had a rooting interest in any one team. A lot of words come to mind about this state of affairs, but the one that rings most true is tragic. Too be surrounded by all of that greatness, all of that winning, and yet not be excited by it, not feel connected to it, not be a part of it, simply tragic. This explains why Mariotti never relates to current fans of sports, he doesn’t understand what it is to be a fan. He is still disconnected from the emotion, the passion that makes sport so intoxicating to the rest of us. It is also why he holds the majority of fans in such contempt he just doesn’t get it. This lack of fandom for Jay also explains why he comes off as so angry most of the time, why he always sees the worst in sport, as opposed to any of its positive attributes. By never being a fan, never feeling that passion, yet covering sport for a living must be a horrible existence. Mariotti constantly refers to sport as a “cesspool” or similar words. Is it any wonder that he feels this way? He is working at a job that he doesn’t particularly like. Day after day, year after year, Jay must watch games that others are enjoying, living and dying with and he doesn’t understand what it means to feel that excitement. The vast majority of people in a sports arena experience euphoria, Jay sulks. Every day he exposes himself to the “cesspool” and writes about it. Is it any wonder that so much of what he writes is terribly negative?
What’s more, is it a mystery that he doesn’t seem to have many friends in his profession? He has an obvious dislike for his fellow Sun-Times columnist, Rick Telander. He and Rick Morrisey have an ongoing feud. Most telling, however, was the lack of support he received when Ozzie Gullien, manager of the Chicago White Sox, referred to him as a “fag.” The sports world rightfully chastised Ozzie for using such a slur, but the secret came out that Jay never went to the clubhouse or locker room of the teams that he covered. The vast majority of columnist supported Ozzie’s sentiments, that Jay was a coward and a fraud, just not the language he used. The division is more acute when almost to a person, sportswriters mention at some point in their career the teams they supported. Sportswriters got into the profession because they were fans first. On some level, they get what sport is all about. Mariotti is an outsider to them as well as the ordinary fan. So, the next time you get upset at a Mariotti column, remember that he was never a fan. Remember that he is covering something that he is disgusted by every time he looks at it. Remember that he is an isolated, lonely figure, working at a job like Willie Loman, being worn down every day by a task he hates. Simply tragic.