Saturday, August 16, 2008


I’m now officially fascinated by the blogger phenomenon. Not the people that actually write stuff, posting their opinions, experiences, social commentary for others to read. Rather those that choose to comment on what those who actually write stuff write. Comment is probably the wrong word in many instances. Belittle, malign, skewer, accost. These come closer.

Sure there’s the whole line of reasoning about anonymity allowing one’s mean streak to come out. It seems that 9 times out of 10 the meanies don’t use their real names so I suppose this is part of it.

But where is all the anger coming from? And why so much anger over things that are so seemingly silly and meaningless?

I wrote a piece for Salon recently about how I can be a real jerk because sports fans irritate me. As a former athlete, it sometimes seems as though the armchair fan demonstrates little true understanding of the travails of professional and Olympic level athletes when said fans sit in their living rooms, screaming at the television about some athlete or other choking or letting the team down. Or how it's worth it to compete in the Olympics with a broken ankle, not a big deal really.

To me, it comes across a little bit like: I could’ve done better. Or: I could've done that.

I realize I’m most definitely projecting here. I guess I’m a bit sensitive and defensive of the athletes.

Anyway, I write this silly little piece that is intended to be kind of a joke – a little bit snarky, a little bit confessional. A little bit just to encourage deep down honest awe for the athletes who sacrifice their lives for gold.

There were over 300 comments back in less than a day. Many of these people I think might like to take my head off if they had the chance. I’m expecting a mail bomb any minute now.

My favorite variety of comment was in the realm of: you’re just a loser gymnast who never made it, you have no right to comment. Now you’re a wanna be athlete turned sucky writer. You need mental help because you can't get over your failures as a gymnast.

In parsing this statement, I find quite a few points I’d like to challenge. And don’t get me wrong. My dissection is not some coldhearted, unemotional response. These comments stung. But if I try to be rational, I find the following faulty:

1) I 100% acknowledge that I was not a gymnast on par with Liukin or Johnson. I don’t even have to acknowledge it. I didn’t go to the Olympics. I didn’t win a medal. I know this. I don’t deserve to hold their hand grips. But that doesn’t make me a loser either. I don’t consider the Olympics the only measure of having succeeded in one’s sport of choice. If not going to the Olympics were THE measure of loser-dom, we’d all pretty much be losers.

2) I have some insight into the training regimens of high level athletes regardless of whether I went to the Olympics or not.

3) I’m an adult with an education that has nothing to do with the fact that I was an athlete. I can be a writer just like anyone else. I wouldn’t call myself a writer yet. I’m not sure what the line is when you cross over and are officially a writer. I suppose its when you make your living at it full time. Which I do not. I’m not a writer any more than my kids who like to draw are artists. But I’d like to be one day.

4) If I’m not qualified to offer insight into the world of gymnastics training having trained 40 hours a week for almost 10 years as a child, how are you, Mr. Blogger, qualified to tell me I need mental help? Are you a psychiatrist?

I recognize that the things I wrote were perhaps a tad provocative. Perhaps a tad self-indulgent. Admittedly I was sharing something shameful about myself, I thought with a bit of embarrassment and humor. I guess I was wrong.

But I’m astounded at why it made people SO angry. Get mad about the Americans still dying in Iraq not to mention the Iraqis, get mad about the earth heating up and killing our future grandchildren, get mad about the fact that too many children don’t have enough to eat in this, one of the wealthiest nations in the world.

Don’t use up all your energetic vitriol on some loser former gymnast who thinks she’s a writer and needs to be institutionalized for being a narcissistic egomaniacal, delusional asshole.


expateek said...

I was wondering where and when you'd come up for air! I was feeling for you, imagining you lying in a dark room with a wet washcloth on your head for a couple of days. (Probably not an available option, given your busy life with career and kids, but whatever...)

The raw emotion and hostility of the commentary was astonishing to me too. After seeing all the responses, I started cruising around the net looking at commentary (rather than just original articles), which I'd never done before, and ... what a different world!

You do wonder about whether these people actually have a day job, or whether they're just inside their computers all day long. That being said, many are very good writers themselves, with interesting points of view... and it's good that they have an outlet. (Thank God, really, otherwise I think we'd have a lot more people "going postal" for real!)

In fact, that was the first time I'd ever posted a comment anywhere. I'm not sure why I posted... I guess I'm just always hoping for a kinder, gentler world, and as an ex-perfectionist, I can understand your point of view.

But in my Pollyanna-ish way, I usually believe that most people mean well, they just express themselves awkwardly sometimes. (Or incredibly obnoxiously on the internet, as we've just witnessed, but there you are.)

Fortunately, we can ignore and forget most of this stuff. I hope you won't take all of that negative crap to heart. You are a good writer with a unique perspective on life and sport, and I hope you continue sharing your opinion on Salon and in your blog.

Take it easy, Sport.

Anonymous said...

My critique is not so much that you were too provocative, but that you were too clueless. You do seem a bit to be stumbling around without context. You were getting fricasseed on Salon. But it's more for the content of your writing than for the controversial nature. That blog comments are new to you, just shows a lack of awareness. Heck this phenomonon has been around since the 80s and ARPANET. For a cutting edge marketer, you should have a little more awareness of the dynamics of the net. And for an aspiring writer of insights, a little more insight into people and things and stuff.

P.s. Your current comment restrictions on this blog are rather...restrictive. ;-)

Jennifer Sey said...

Dear Apolytongp,
The definition of provocative is that it stimulates or incites. Because of the onslaught of 333 comments in about 1 hour, i would argue that it was in fact provocative. I just don't understand why. It just seemed like a silly little piece to me.

Further, of course I understand how the internet works and blogging blah blah. As you rightly mention, I am a marketer. It is just different when people call you names. One guy actually called me the C word. Which just seemed out of line. Out of proportion for anything I'd said. And quite frankly, sexist. The male bloggers revealed unflattering details about themselves like the fact that they are a tad pervy for enjoying women's vollyeball. Nothing. I say sports fans are a bit annoying and I'm a C---.

But thanks for your post. And by moderating the comments I'm not attempting to inhibit the dynamics of the internet. I'm just trying to block users who might use obscenities. Those are the only posts I block. And there are more than you might imagine.


Anonymous said...

1. The sign in is a pain in the ass. It's gonna limit traffic, like telling people that they have to buy Levis at 0430 on Sundays or something. Anyhow, you should let it rip. It's better artistically. The end result will be more interesting.

2. Salon ripped you for writing, for self-examination, for lack of insight. Not because you were controversial. And Salon ripped you more for writing than from being part of the gym profession (God knows most of them aren't cutting writers.)

You can be controversial. But in a more interesting way. Like Mau Mauing the Liberals by Tom Wolfe.

I wouldn't bother explaining it (and won't much more...cause I don't think you respond well to harsh coaching...) except that I sense you want to do something. Also that I thought you had these little glimpses of being interesting or even crisply interesting (more so in interviews...liked the deadpan comment on "called me fat" and re the laxatives.

3. I still don't think you get the dynamics of the net. Read Burn Rate. Check out the Flame Warriors site. Etc. Etc.

Jennifer Sey said...

Thanks for clarification on sign in thing.
I wasn't necessarily going for lots of traffic. When i started this I assumed no one would read it and it was kind of my personal diary. Doesn't bother me if it is/forever will be.

Can i ask you a question? In all sincerity, why don't you use your real name when posting? I'm truly curious.

Anonymous said...

Allows me to get away with doing a lot of things I wouldn't if I signed my regular name.

Jennifer Sey said...

I wouldn't say something that I'd be ashamed to put my name to. That's my issue with the commenters. They would claim to be outspoken but are actually cowardly.

Anonymous said...

There's more to it than that, but that's a big part of it for sure. To be a real writer, real prober of human depravity you need to dig deeper into things.

Dave said...

Hi Jen,

I read your Salon article and never thought to look at the comments. I even read it out loud to my wife, and we both enjoyed it in the spirit it was written ("you're just floating"... great line).

Reading about the reaction here was both a bit of a shock at some level, but, sadly, not a shock either.

Have you heard of Kathy Sierra? Kathy is an author in computer languages, etc. and had a blog called "Creating Passionate Users". The blog was about as non-controversial as you can get -- typically uplifting, humorous and insightful.

And yet the hurtful comments would come, for no other apparent reason than to be hurtful. Google her name or read some of the postings on it for background if you are interested. She closed down her wonderful blog after reporting she received death threats -- all around a blog whose only purpose was to talk about how to make interaction with technology a more pleasurable and engaging experience! And much of the discussion around this event was definitely touched on that she was a woman -- so don't dismiss that aspect from what you experienced.

Presumably we created civilization because we found it was better than the alternative -- but some people apparently revel in crude animal behavior, all the while using the tools of civilization. I find the justifications for their behavior to be hilariously sad.

Dave Griffin

Anonymous said...

I stumbled onto your blog via the Salon link, and I just wanted to say that your "provocative" writing gives such fresh and original perspective. I also wanted to comment in particular as to your statement where others have called into question your qualifications as a writer.

I wanted to tell you that, as a writer myself, a writer is someone who writes. Period. A bonus is to add originality, imagination and good grammar to writing, and working at it full-time does help, but is not essential. To be a writer is to love language as much as you evidently do, to write with the verve and honesty you do, to allow your words to be born into the world and take on a life of their own.

As a writer, I've met many others who gave themselves this title and wrote with far less ability than you do. Never, ever doubt that you are a writer. It is in your blood, it is in the way you express yourself. I'll be buying your book and hope to read more from you in the future.

The comments that have been hurled at you deserve no justification or response from you. To call you a loser because you didn't win an Olympic medal is ridiculous; you are as justified as Moceanu (who I really wish would write a tell-all book as well) and any other Olympian to write about your life and identity as a gymnast.

I am a Canadian ex-fencer, and no, I didn't go to the Olympics. I chose to quit before I burned out completely. It was the best thing I could have done, and I actually see myself as having gained something becasue of that decision. I pursued my higher education, travelled, published my writing. That doesn't prevent me from having put in the hours and sweat and tears and injuries that give me the license to write about my sport. And I don't give a damn if someone else disputes my credentials because I didn't win a medal. I don't think a day of competition at an Olympic venue trumps years of training and having an insider's perspective.

Your beautiful voice has as much value and intrinsic worth as any other Olympic gymnast's and needs to be heard. It is because of voices like yours that there is increased awareness, and society gets the opportunity to see gymnastics as a tough, fully-dimensional sport rather than just a parade of little girls with springy ponytails and golden medals.

Anonymous said...

Jen, I read your article on and don't feel guilty. You were bold, I respect that. In this country we have a lot of sensitive, cowardly people who can't take criticism.