Because I once lived there, my editor has asked me to respond to this Guardian essay about Spokane that’s going around. It doesn't take more than a few words, really: What the fuck?
If you haven’t seen it yet, the piece paints a picture of a city struggling so hard to cope with its own misery that it’s desperately clinging on to a successful college basketball team as the only way to keep everyone who lives there from lying down in the middle of I-90.
OK, so, the author doesn’t actually write those words, but come on:
As the men’s basketball head coach at Gonzaga University, [Mark] Few is an extremely tough man to pin down. I bumped into the world-famous art dealer Larry Gagosian at the Hemingway Bar in Paris not long after that, and even he had time for a couple of words. But in the deeply conservative, largely rural, college-basketball-obsessed town of Spokane, Coach Few is the famous equivalent of about nine Larry Gagosians. He is always getting approached in Spokane’s restaurants, stores, parking lots, even churches. As the coach of the Gonzaga men’s basketball team, he is the central – perhaps the only – source of hope for a struggling city.
(LOL, “I bumped into the world-famous art dealer…”)
First, there are the factual issues with the piece, which local reporters are already debunking:
We're not even the most dangerous city in WA. Heroin overdoses higher on the westside. But apparently we're some nightmare city? https://t.co/yTQpwWnKeS
— Rachel Alexander (@rachelwalexande) March 14, 2017
Then, there’s the “Actually, Spokane doesn't suck!” argument:
But most puzzling to me is the piece’s obvious and ham-handed logical fallacy.
The janitor who makes up the 17% of people living below the poverty line, returning to home in north Spokane late at night to catch the Zags isn’t thinking about the “mirror neurons” that are firing or the common social currency he is establishing. He isn’t thinking about the economic possibilities of a strong sports team, Few’s $1.37m per year salary, or the soaring number of applications to Gonzaga after they made it to the Elite Eight. He’s excited that his team is ranked to be national champions this year, that his team is in its best form in the school’s history.
It’s not five college boys on the floor at any given time; it’s an entire city. My dad drops his fork to pump his arms as Williams-Goss sinks a buzzer beater. Stickers get affixed to busses, pennants go up in windows. For a moment, to be from Spokane is a privilege, and even if you’re from a desperate town you become, if only for a short while, a winner.
So, Spokane's enthusiasm for college basketball can be traced back to its economic misery? Hmm.
Perhaps next time Cody Delistraty is stateside, he can come to Seattle. Somehow, despite the booming economy here, people are still turning to sports to blunt the crushing meaninglessness of life. Huh! Here's hoping Delistraty can help us figure out what that's all about.