For the past year, those of you who are reading my site have been lucky enough to get to know Travis Waldron, a ThinkProgress economics reporter who’s been writing for me about sports. Today, we’re launching a major expansion of ThinkProgress’s mission, and a new job for Travis: he’ll be the senior reporter in charge of our new sports section, and in addition to my job as ThinkProgress’s critic, I’ll be editing that site as well. For those of you who don’t know Travis, he grew up in Louisville, Kentucky, and holds a BA in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Before he was at ThinkProgress, he worked as a press aide at the Health Information Center and as a staffer on Kentucky Attorney General Jack Conway’s 2010 Senate campaign. He also interned at National Journal’s Hotline and was a sports writer and political columnist at the Kentucky Kernel, the University of Kentucky’s daily student newspaper. You can, and should, follow him on Twitter.
Travis has an excellent explanation of why covering sports — and caring about sports — are important things for progressives to do. Much as I believe is true for entertainment, sports are a place where we mold national attitudes and work out anxieties about everything from the Civil Rights movement to immigration reform. And as Travis’s work over the past year has demonstrated, it’s also a key place where all sorts of economic policies, from public financing of stadiums to collective bargaining rights, are in play today.
But I also wanted to emphasize another point. Linda Holmes, in a piece about the seven ways to write about television, identified what I do as something called “ethical criticism,” which she said “is where writers address the sociological implications of how the show is made. In the reality setting, this is pretty obvious — were people subjected to terrible conditions, and so forth. But Ethical writing also tends to incorporate issues of gender, race, sexuality, politics, and so forth. Perpetuating stereotypes, representation behind and in front of the camera — this is where Ethical writing gets its strength.” I think all of this is true.
But in more than two years writing criticism and reporting on entertainment news for ThinkProgress, I’ve come to believe that these elements aren’t only important elements in helping us determine a show’s political bona fides or whether or not it’s made in a way that’s ethical for viewers and readers with high standards to consume. Understanding politics is a way of helping us understand whether a piece of art hangs together, whether it’s serious about ideas, whether it’s mired in the conventions of genre or character or capable of transcending them. And learning more about the needs of both political narratives and artistic ones can help make clear why certain ideas — like that no one ever has an abortion in movies or television — take hold in popular culture, and become resonant in American political life. It’s easy to suggest that entertainment and politics should be kept separate because entertainment is just for fun, but serious observers of arts and culture should care about politics because they help us appreciate what we’re seeing in a movie theater, on our televisions, in the pages of novels, or on gallery walls.
Similarly, I think fans of sports should care about politics, because politics help explain what we watch and cheer for. Politics and economics determine the conditions of the stadiums where we go to games, the places where sports are broadcast on television — and how the financial interests of those broadcasters determine their coverage of sports news — who gets endorsement deals, and who gets to be a star, with all the political and economic clout that comes with that position. I can’t wait to see Travis dig into these sorts of stories. I think ThinkProgress and the world of sports news will be richer for it, and I hope you’ll stick around with us as we start that work.