Try and compare Will Leitch, 32, to literary stalwart and fellow Smith Street regular Jonathan Lethem, and you’ll get a hearty laugh and a fake Irish accent.
“I’m but a wee humble sportswriter,” Leitch told GO Brooklyn. “I’m not sure we’d run in the same circles.”
He might wear the humility well, but the term sportswriter falls short. As the founding editor of the Web’s preeminent sports blog, Deadspin.com, Leitch is the master of a world of “Sports news without access, favor or discretion.” And with his new book, “God Save the Fan,” which appeared on shelves just last week, it might be time to drop that “wee” as well.
Leitch and his Deadspin denizens spend their days skewering the sports world with a deadly eye and sharpened tongue. While Leitch also writes for other national publications — he’s in Phoenix this week writing columns about the Super Bowl for Sporting News’s Web site — Deadspin is his home.
“So many people want my job,” Leitch said. “I feel lucky.”
His other home — where he works from — is Cobble Hill, where Leitch has lived for three and a half years (with a brief exile to the Upper West Side). For Leitch, Brooklyn “is the most beautiful place in the world in the summer” when he hits up outdoor Cobble Hill spots like Trout and Pacifico or catches a Cyclones game in Coney Island.
“The community feel reminds me of the Midwest,” said Leitch. When the thermostat plummets, he ducks into Floyd on Atlantic.
“I’m the guy in the corner with a crossword and a vodka tonic,” Leitch said. “Sometimes I write.”
But he wasn’t always in this enviable position. When the Woody Allen fan moved to New York in 1999 with a journalism degree from the University of Illinois, Leitch “would have killed to have Slate ask me to copy edit anything.” But the dot-com bubble burst, and Leitch found himself working in a doctor’s office and answering the phones for Spanish TV station Telemundo. (No, he doesn’t speak Spanish, and yes, that made things difficult.)
A fed-up Leitch, along with a few frustrated writer friends, decided, “If we weren’t going to make it, we weren’t going to make it on our own terms.”
They started BlackTable.com, a Web site where journalists could send killed stories that never made it to publication. While BlackTable didn’t take off, it gave Leitch the opportunity to launch a new sports Web site for Gawker Media.
While Gawker footed the bills, Leitch had complete editorial control. In 2005, Deadspin.com was born as a place where fans could “take charge and write our own script for the sports world. They’re our games after all.”
From the beginning, no one was safe from Deadspin’s acerbic eye, from unknown YouTube personalities to world class athletes to the famous faces that appear 24-hours-a-day on ESPN. He doesn’t just train his guns on easy targets like NFL quarterback turned convicted dogfight impresario Michael Vick, but also on those who sensationalize and sermonize about the fall of the Vicks of the sports world.
Leitch is the master of the three-ring circus, setting up the scene with short posts and photos and a light touch of absurdist humor, and then letting the community members go in for the kill. Leitch, who writes in the royal “we,” enjoys this sense of community.
“ ‘We’ is the collective,” Leitch said. “It’s the ongoing conversation we’re having.”
This populist appeal is continued in “God Save the Fan,” although the book is not just a reprinting of old blog posts. With his humorous, genuine and self-deprecating tone, Leitch hopes to keep sports fans laughing and, just as important, thinking about how, as he wrote in his introduction, the media has created a culture of “hero worship, bland game recaps and stale … soft focus features.”
Leitch has a particularly scornful eye for the media giant ESPN (which, as proudly displayed on the cover of the book, has blackballed Deadspin).
“I want fans to know it’s wrong, it’s hurting you and you’re a consumer,” said Leitch.
Leitch, who grew up in the small town of Mattoon, Ill., shies away from the kind of excess seen on TV. When asked about Brooklyn’s own sports controversy, the Atlantic Yards, he took an even-handed approach.
“Where I’m from, New York might as well be China. So it would make Brooklyn more national. You live in Brooklyn? That’s where the Nets play.” But personally, he is not in favor of “the Manhattanization of Brooklyn.”
“God Save the Fan” is not Leitch’s first book. He has written a collection of essays titled “Life as a Loser” and a novel, “Catch.” He’s currently at work on a new novel about a Nirvana-obsessed teenager, called “Come As You Are.” Not that Leitch is looking to give up his Deadspin career anytime soon.
“I just want people to see my work,” said Leitch. “And because of Deadspin, I’m able to get that.”