"Sports for people who like to read"?
By Mitchell Kohles, '12
If the idea doesn't sound UChicago, the pitch sure does. Pete Beatty, AB’03, and Tom Gaulkin, AB’04, are helping to start The Classical, a website dedicated to smart, sophisticated sports writing. On board is a host of writers and bloggers who have written for everything from McSweeney's to SLAM, and who have story ideas that range from a piece on David Foster Wallace's relationship with tennis to an exposé on Jason Giambi's offseason entertainment.
The staff plans to launch the site in mid-October once they reach their one-year budget of $50,000—check out the sports artwork and editorial privileges offered in return for donations to their Kickstarter campaign. With only a few weeks left to reach the target (they're pushing 85 percent now), the website could offer a much-needed breather from the knee-jerk opinions and over-the-top fawning of standard fare sports journalism. Beatty, managing editor, shared some more details and showed his Chicago loyalties. Well, sort of.
How will The Classical fit into the landscape of sports journalism filled with giants like ESPN, websites like Deadspin, and unconventional upstarts like Grantland?
A friend (and fellow U of C alum) said she was glad someone was going to launch a sports website for people who read novels. That obviously doesn’t cover our whole mission statement, but it’s not a bad place to start. The Classical is a place for thoughtful, engaging, and stimulating writing about sports and beyond. There are a lot of great sites serving up sports coverage right now, but there is also an opening for a more literary-minded take on the games people play. I hope we can be a place where writers who can’t find full-time jobs in the new media environment can get great clips, make a few bucks (once we’re on our feet as a business), and do some wonderful writing. I’m hoping The Classical winds up like the sports-writing equivalent of an old-fashioned small mag—a journal of ideas, very much a Chicago idea. But, of course, on the web. And funnier than Ramparts or the New Left Review. With more skateboarding columns.
Are there any specific Chicago or UChicago stories that you plan to cover?
The Classical is going to wind up skewing very Chicago-y. I’m already lining up pieces from Moacir de Sa Pereira, AB’04, AM’05, and Edward “Whet” Moser, AB’04, and many other folks I know from the U of C. Between Nate Silver, AB’00; Christina Kahrl, AB’90; and Kim Ng, AB’90; et al, the U of C has put its fingerprints all over the sports world. I’m very much hoping The Classical can be in the same ultra-smart tradition. I am already looking for an angle to write about the American Professional Slow Pitch League’s Chicago Storm franchise, and their successor, the Chicago Nationwide Insurance team (what a boring team name!). One of our charter members, Tim Marchman, is a resident of Hyde Park and a pretty ardent White Sox fan, so the website is definitely going to have some Chicago flavoring, with an emphasis on the South Side.
What, if any, is the transition from FreeDarko to The Classical?
Bethlehem Shoals, the animating spirit behind FreeDarko, is sort of the center of the hub of how everyone from The Classical knows each other. And that’s no accident; I think for a lot of people FreeDarko as both a blog and two awesome books opened their eyes to the fact that sports can be approached in brainy and provocative ways without feeling clinical or condescending. We’re going to branch out from pro basketball into the entire kingdom of sports, but I think we will always look to FD for inspiration.
The promo video on your Kickstarter page emphasizes reader involvement. How do you hope this “conversation” will work on a micro level?
I’m hoping, as the managing editor, to recruit writers from the commenter community if I can, and not just as a gimmick. On an even more micro level, I think our content—literally what our staff chooses to write about—is going to be shaped by how people react to our initial offerings. We’ve already gotten suggestions via Twitter and the Kickstarter drive for things that are going to be a part of the site, from a skateboarding video column written by a novelist/professor, to a call for an oral history of the Continental Basketball Association’s Cedar Rapids Silver Bullets.
You offer your backers some pretty creative rewards—at least 15 people have donated enough money to request an essay on any topic. What’s the wildest request so far?
The donor who requested that we write a sonnet about Manu Ginobili and/or Jerry Jones is the clubhouse leader in oddball requests, but there’s a ways to go yet—about 20 grand left to raise still, so we may have to do even more outlandish things to get our seed money.
Sox or Cubs?
Actually, Indians, but if I’m choosing a Chicago loyalty, White Sox all the way, division rivalries notwithstanding. I’m a sucker for the disenfranchised, and the Cubs’ ineptitude is a fig leaf for their establishmentarianism.
September 17, 2011