4. Being a Fan and a Reporter
RCS: You mentioned the fan perspective, so we have to say: It's no secret that you are a lifetime supporter of Tennessee football. In writing On Rocky Top, you were often forced to walk a fine line between reporter and fan. Sometimes, like when you got to run through the "T," those roles overlapped.
Where do you stand now, some eight months after going back to being a full-time fan?
Travis: What really interested me about this book wasn't writing a completely inside look at a team. That's been done quite a few times. What I wanted to capture was this question: what would it be like as a fan to have an all-access path to your favorite team?
I don't think it's been done before. So I felt an obligation not just to tell what happens, but to capture what it feels like for other fans. Now that doesn't mean that I'm not reporting on the entirety of the season, but I'm not doing it as a disinterested observer, there's a lot of passion involved.
The reality is full access attacks fandom. Because it makes you realize how absurd it is to care so much about the guys wearing "your" uniform colors. But that's only if you logically analyze fandom, which is illogical to begin with. So I wrestle with that throughout the book, will being so close kill the fan inside me? But I think that's true across the board, logic is the enemy of sports in general.
I wanted to do a show, still do, where I follow an intramural basketball league for a season with the same intensity that ESPN covers the NBA. I want guys in suits sitting on the sideline debating who is taking shots, who is starting, whether players really like each other. I want to interview players at half time, coaches. I want to do the whole thing. All deadpan. I think it would be outstanding. Because when you get right down to it, there's a great heaping of sports absurdity that never gets mocked. At least not enough.
I'd like to be the telecast's version of Stephen A. Smith. Only I'd be the angry white guy. I think ESPN has become so all encompassing and takes itself so seriously that a show that did this would be extraordinary.
Clay Travis, rushes up to 5'5 195 pound white guy in rec specs, “Johnny, how could you make that pass? What were you thinking?"
And you know what Johnny would do; he would answer just like athletes do. Which would prove the point, we're all playing roles now based on what we've seen on television before. But I still think it would be hysterical for those of us who have been down the rabbit hole.
Hell, I'm 30, the same age as ESPN, I've never lived in a world where ESPN didn't exist.