In yet another proof that “the thirst for glory is not ended by satisfying it but rather by extinguishing it” (Martin Luther), I present to you the tale of ESPN sports personality/commentator Jay Mariotti. With influence spanning from AOL’s fanhouse to ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption, Mariotti specialized as a superficial, loud-mouthed, shoot-from-the-hip talking head that sports fans seem to love. As told in a recent article by Deadspin (of all places), Mariotti was one of the few sports journalists to attain C-list celebrity status and a fat paycheck, only to lose it all when he began to believe his own hype.
Mariotti has always been a polarizing figure and rather than joining in the chorus of celebration, I see in Mariotti a parable of the universal human plight. It seems that the desires of our heart are never satisfied and the things we think will save us from our troubles actually kill and consume us.
When Jay Mariotti the writer became Jay Mariotti The Brand, there was a cosmic shift in his own self-worth, one he may have been completely oblivious to at the time, but is acutely aware of now because it’s all gone.
There’s a distinct pattern among the ESPN personalities who fall the hardest: The increased visibility is either a first (or second chance) at being the person they have always wanted to be. This is real life version of The Sims for some of these folks. When a desk-chained writer (or former professional athlete) suddenly becomes a talking head with millions of viewers, the fame is disorienting. At first it seems manageable — they deserve this reward for all the hard work and shouldn’t be judged by a handful of the mistakes they’ve made because of it. But they change. They stay out later. They have fans — younger, better-looking female fans who are smitten by success and pseudo-stardom. Those fans are intoxicating. The everyday routine becomes so mundane that it’s tough to return to it without a debilitating comedown. Marriages become less interesting, day jobs become less important, interacting with fans and facilitating The Brand becomes the glue that holds all of it in place. Before you know it, The Brand becomes you. The Brand can get away with things you were never able to get away with: excessive flirting, extravagant spending, an active nightlife, girl(s) on the side. Poof!, goes you.
So beware, sportswriters [blogger's note - everyone!]: do not be home when the devil comes calling. You could be next.