Players: Dan Steinberg, Washington Post's sports blogger; Bram Weinstein, ESPN anchor; and Michael Wilbon, ESPN sports commentator and former Post columnist
The Opening Serve: In ESPN the Magazine's D.C. issue, Michael Wilbon called the nation's capital a "terrible" sports town, arguing, "Politics makes sports here No. 2. I’m from Chicago, the place that produced the most recent president of the United States. Sports is still No. 1 there. They’ll never, ever make the mistake of thinking that politics or something else is No. 1." Steinberg did not like that and wrote in a Post blog post, "I’ll never understand why he seems to go out of his way to antagonize the fans and readers who helped turn him into a national star. Is D.C. the greatest sports town in the world? Clearly not. Is it worthy of repeated trashing? I don’t see why that would be the case." Weinstein, who also contributed to the D.C. issue, responded to a tweet from Steinberg by calling Wilbon a "carpetbagger":
@dcsportsbog guess he will find his sports passion in Phoenix. Once a carpetbagger, always a carpetbagger. No passion my ass— Bram Weinstein (@BramESPN) October 2, 2012
The Return Volley: Wilbon used Facebook to take on Steinberg and Weinstein. He calls D.C. a wonderful place to live and "a pretty good sports town...but not great." And it's okay that he's getting flak about the comment, Wilbon said, "but it's annoying as hell that a couple of colleagues, Dan Steinberg of The Post and Bram Weinstein of ESPN, felt the need to whine like little babies because I didn't speak a company line that agrees with their hypersensitive feelings." Not only are they being whiners, their position suggests "the job of a columnist--and that's what I was for 20 years at The Post--is to simply tell readers/viewers/listeners what they want to hear and make excuses for local readers regardless of the reality of a situation. I'd like to think Bram can see the value of saying something that isn't cheerleading, or making what's seen as a critical observation ... but maybe he can't. Maybe he's afraid to offend his homies ... which is part of the problem with mainstream media now."
The Backhand Return: Wilbon's sharp language prompted Steinberg and Weinstein to pull out their guns, too. Steinberg was disappointed that Wilbon seemed to backtrack on his "terrible" comment into "pretty good," a comment that was "a bland and innocuous observation that would have caused exactly zero interest had he used it in his magazine discourse," he wrote in a blog post. And Wilbon thinks Steinberg comments make him a bad columnist? Steinberg sarcastically agrees. "[A] proper local sports columnist should stake out provocative opinions, construct exaggerated arguments, and maybe even say things he doesn’t really believe just to make sexier copy, even if he then backtracks a few days later in a less public forum. But I don’t have that in me. Sorry."
Weinstein apologized in a blog post for calling Wilbon a "carpetbagger" but is only a bit less sarcastic than Steinberg in his Wilbon critique: "Why is Washington DC a 'terrible' sports town? Because Michael Wilbon said so. Done. End of story. That's it. You heard it here first."
The Overhead Smash: Wilbon retaliated on his Facebook with a low dig at their careers: "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."
The Court Walk-Off: Wilbon apologized last night, but not without noting that Steinberg's original post was personal : "I realize I got too angry in my response to what I feel is a personal attack on me." Weinstein decided it's "no longer a discourse I'd like to be part of." And Steinberg decided today it was all for nothing: Wilbon told ESPN radio on Wednesday that the comment had been a misquote and he had said D.C. was "middle of the pack," not bottom.
So in other words, forget all the pixels we all wasted on this. The end.— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) October 5, 2012
What they say they're fighting about: Whether or not D.C. is a good sports town.
What they're really fighting about: Who you're allowed to trash talk in sports. Steinberg and Weinstein thought Wilbon was just wrong about D.C. being a bad sports town, but Steinberg also didn't think fans were a proper target for mean sports comments, as he wrote in his backhand return post. He did, apparently, think it was okay to attack a popular sports commentator like Wilbon. Wilbon followed suit, avoiding inflammatory comments about fans and instead mostly pouncing on his fellow sports commentators.
Who's winning: When you spend too much time arguing about sports, everybody loses.