A Farewell to Purely For Sport

There’s this dime-sized indent of chipped paint 6 inches above the wall outlet in my family’s pale yellow dining room. I’m annoyed. Not at the chipped paint, but at myself. I know my friends and I created it, but I’ve long forgotten how and when. That makes me feel old.

I’m annoyed because I forgot about the chip until now.  I only noticed it because I’m looking around the room, anywhere but at the computer where the right words have been failing to materialize for some time. The small hole is a detail beyond my memory. I once wrote a speech about appreciating the details. It’s frustrating. It feels circular, like I’m giving myself advice that I won’t take.

I am writing this at my family’s dinner table, where I’ve written so many of these posts.

This is the first time I won’t think about what I’m writing next week. Today, 160 Mondays after I started this blog on Christmas Eve of 2012, I’m ending its weekly publication.

It’s overdue, really. The quality of posts during the fall semester dipped dramatically with the returns of The Daily Orange and school. Homework assignments became re-purposed posts and my pride in the blog decayed. You don’t want to read that; I don’t want to write it.

I missed a Monday. Sitting in a computer lab at Syracuse on an October Tuesday, I felt embarrassed and disappointed. It’s the only one I’ve ever missed. I threw up a hurried post. When my parents asked why it had come a day late, I fibbed and told them a scheduled post had failed. I didn’t want that enamel of consistency to erode. In anyone’s eyes. Especially my own.

Maybe I should choose to remember Purely For Sport like this: My first breakthrough was when an ESPN the Magazine columnist tweeted out a story I’d written. Then six months later a story about attending a Clemson-Syracuse football game got 12,000 reads. I worked on projects that interested me; about the fragility of baseball exemplified in Harlem, New Hampshire’s favorite son, a friend who might play too much fantasy baseball and a 7 foot 8.5 inch basketball player.  Drake shouted me out once (1:40).

As my writing grew, I increasingly looked for events to write about. Horse races, the Hot Dog Eating Contest, a famous street-ball court, the stadium of a New England Patriots division rival, anywhere.

Everything was a potential story. I just had to go and see. Was the writing at these events any good? Not often. But I like to think it was the effort and thought that counted. That maybe someday I’d go to similar events and write about it as more than a hobby.

The choice to remember it as the string of successes would make me feel better, but it glosses over the negatives. Some posts weren’t fully developed, not to mention I didn’t seek out edits. They had bloated word counts and unfocused angles. A national writer once called something I wrote “f*cking dumb.” To make things mortifyingly worse, I’d sent it to him hoping for praise. I deserved the comment. I seem to remember hard-learned lessons the best. The quality decline in recent months is perhaps the thing I’d most like to forget.

If the best thing about a tradition is simply the fact that the tradition exists, then doesn’t it make sense to stop doing it?

Yet the decline doesn’t diminish the lessons Purely For Sport taught me before I ever had any other place to write. Yes, it also conditioned a few poor habits, but it cemented a storytelling foundation. Purely For Sport fostered creativity and interest, sustaining them until The Daily Orange and Esquire.com taught me more about rules, angles, covering events, story selection, carefully curating content. It took the energy I had — which formerly manifested on this blog — and molded me into someone who hopes to be a professional. It started me on a path to finding my own voice; it taught me to Google deep-dive research, reach out to people and be curious.

No matter the mistakes I made as collateral to publishing this blog, they were outweighed by the progress. After all, I started PFS to practice. Upon re-reading the block paragraphs and grammatical errors in the first post, it’s evident I needed a lot of it. It’s improved my writing immeasurably.

I knew it’d never break news, be bought by some media conglomerate or win awards. It was for me. But I still annoyingly shared it on Facebook every week.

I didn’t gauge a story on clicks, but when a story was widely read (for me, “widely” means 50 people), WordPress sent a notification to my phone that traffic was abnormally high. I got this feeling, a thrill, when I saw that.

Over the last three-plus years, PFS has received 25,265 visitors. If you’re reading this, it’s too late you’re a part of that number. Every choice has an opportunity cost. You’re using minutes from your life to read some words I strung together.

I know the purpose of writing is to capture moments and feelings, but it’s difficult to articulate how appreciative I am for that.

Thanks also to my father, my first editor, and my mother. My sister as well, who let me write about her when we unexpectedly had a bonding moment over fantasy football.

In that way, Purely For Sport became more than just a blog, a bridge from a childhood interest to a lifelong passion whatever ends up happening to me. It helped me reflect on life and (I hope) appreciate it a little more.

Maybe it’s not about how I choose to remember Purely For Sport. It’s about where I go with what I learned.

I can’t go anywhere though until I stop thinking about that paint chip. Soon I go from the chip to the house to my hometown.

Not to get too #deep, but this blog feels representative of my life here. I am from Strafford, New Hampshire; I am from Purely For Sport. It’s where I spent formative years. But each time I come home or write a blog post, it feels less and less like home. I enjoy visiting when I have time, the nostalgia/relaxation it brings, but I know my life is now elsewhere.

The last two weeks I wanted to post this farewell, but wrote last-minute fillers instead. I kept editing, revising, searching for the *perfect* combination of words I would never find.

I hit publish. That’s all, folks. The only thing to do is move on, do something else productive. But before I move forward, there’s one thing left: Get up from the table.

Sam Fortier is a displaced New Englander living in New York. He likes baseball, crunchy peanut butter and the sound Kanye makes in his songs, which he thinks is spelled “HAAN.” He’s not a fan of grammatical error’s. You can read him here every Monday, follow him on Twitter @Sam4TR, or email him at sam.fortier7@gmail.com. 



Year in Review: 2015’s Top Posts

Here’s a quick rundown of the top posts on Purely For Sport in 2015.

5. Bobby Bonilla, Bernie Madoff and the Happiest Day of the Year for Mets Fans (99 reads) – Every year the New York Mets pay a 52-year-old former baseball player $1.19 million, a.k.a more than half their entire roster.

4. Life After Simmons: What will become of Grantland? (117 reads): There used to be a sports newspaper called “The National.” Used to be. Now that Bill Simmons is gone from his boutique site, is Grantland doomed to a demise similar?

3. Mean Girls, Golf Clubs and Toga Times: The 18 Chances of Richie Incognito (135 reads): After a horrendous offseason for PR purposes, the NFL lifted a ban on one of its most serial offenders and baddest dudes. Read about Richie Incognito’s long, long history here.

2. Summer News (528 reads): I headed to New York City to work at Esquire. The job was largely symbolic for me because it’s the same magazine which profiled my grandfather when I was younger and inspired my love for journalism.

1. What It’s Like To Be The World’s Tallest Basketball Player (2,780 reads): Bobby Wegner, of Strafford, New Hampshire, is 7 feet 8.5 inches tall. He plays basketball.