If you want to read a dumb, reactionary column about how statistics have ruined sports and that people who use statistics should “STFU,” by all means, go read Jason Whitlock’s latest thing over at Fox. Just know ahead of time that it is aggressively stupid, profoundly lazy and provides no insight whatsoever. Even if you hate stats and are looking for ammo in that argument, you’ll find nothing there. It says a lot about Jason Whitlock’s personal aversion to thinking hard about sports, but not much else.
But I mention it anyway because I really find myself wondering what should be done when such drivel is encountered.
The usual response I get when I link this kind of thing is that I shouldn’t have done so because I’m just giving the columnist what he wants. Attention. Page views. Traffic. And I suppose I am. But I find the notion that I should just ignore this kind of thing problematic on a number of levels.
For one thing, there’s no evidence that he is writing this as some massive troll or con in an effort to get page views anyway. Whitlock is a contrarian by nature, but there’s no knowing eye-wink here. He’s not poking the “stat geeks” here. He’s whining about them and raging against the dying of some light that only he and a small handful of other gray hairs still see. I think he believes this stuff.
Moreover, I don’t think Jason Whitlock is in desperate need of page views. He gets a lot of them already and makes a boatload of money doing what he’s doing for reasons other than this blog and others like it linking to him. He’s a big personality. He’s not some guy looking to make a name for himself by baiting me or someone else into a debate.
But it’s exactly for that reason that I have a hard time ignoring him. He shapes the opinion of a lot of people. More people than you probably realize. I understand the concept of ignoring this sort of thing — so many people tell me to leave it alone — but ignorance thrives on apathy. For years big time columnists wrote demonstrably incorrect things about baseball. It was only when people started to question them — in print — that opinion on these matters changed.
Maybe it’s different now that Whitlock’s position is by no means held by the majority of sportswriters — indeed, his own Fox-mate Ken Rosenthal wrote a great piece yesterday that serves as a better rebuke of Whitlock than anyone actually setting out to do so could have written — but I still have a hard time nodding and smiling at this kind of nonsense being passed off by someone who is supposed to be an expert about sports.
I’m not sure what the right balance is, but calling stupid things stupid has value to me. And letting stupid stuff slide doesn’t sit right with me, even if I understand the reasons for doing it.