Walfish: Nobody's right in Wilbon controversy
October 7, 2012
Let me begin by saying I have lived the last 14 years of my life just 15 minutes outside of Washington, D.C., in a city called Rockville, Md. I do not root for any Washington sports teams outside of the Nationals, and I think the D.C. media writes too damn much about the Redskins and not enough about some of the other teams in the area.
So when Medill alum Michael Wilbon said in a recent issue of ESPN The Magazine that Washington was not the best sports town in the United States, I agreed with him. When Dan Steinberg, a Washington Post columnist, answered by saying Wilbon rags on the area too much, I respected that opinion.
But when Bram Weinstein jumped in by calling Wilbon a "carpetbagger," I drew the line. For the ESPN personality to resort to such a low insult by saying Wilbon, who has lived in the D.C. area for more than 30 years, is an outsider is despicable.
For added context, I want to add that I am very familiar with all three parties of this debate. I grew up reading Wilbon's columns in The Washington Post and I thoroughly enjoy reading some of Steinberg's commentary on his "DC Sports Blog" online. I remember when Weinstein was a radio host on ESPN 980, which was known as Sportstalk 980 at the time.
Back to the issue: Why did this whole situation get out of hand and leave three reputable sports reporters with black eyes? The answer is pride.
Wilbon has every right to defend himself over Weinstein's hit below the belt. He has every right to answer back to Steinberg's claims in a respectful and civil manner. I believe he did do that by talking about the job of a columnist and the issue with the mainstream media. His points were spot on – a columnist should not write what his readers want to hear, but the truth. Have I mentioned how much I love Jim Phillips and the entire Northwestern athletic department?
Getting back on point, the big issue came up when Steinberg said, "Of course, Wilbon chose to cover up his embarrassment at so quickly retreating from the 'terrible' description by taking repeated shots at Bram Weinstein and me, which is cool. I get it. Changing the subject is a perfectly appropriate way to divert attention, and one I’ve frequently used." This escalated the argument to a whole new level, one described as "nuclear" by The Huffington Post.
Wilbon went off on Steinberg. His criticism of Steinberg was uncalled for, and he sprinted past the line when he said, "You and your tag-team partner, Bram Weinstein, seem to think I'm under some obligation to run my opinions past you, like you're my editors … or even qualified to be that. Anytime, anyplace you want to post and compare resumes or career highlights I'm more than happy to engage. Until then, I'll form my own opinions, popular or not, without seeking your permission."
Both sides quickly apologized to one another Thursday night, which was the right thing to do. However, the damage was already done. A simple argument about where Washington D.C. fit in the rankings of best sports town in America turned into a hostile questioning of people's character and credentials. That's not right, and all three people know better than to stoop to this level.
Gameday editor Josh Walfish is a Medill junior. He can be reached at email@example.com.