Jan. 6, 2012


In Defense of Atlanta


By Sean Ryan

CollegeBaseballInsider.com Co-Founder

sean@collegebaseballinsider.com @collbaseball


As you may have heard, Rob Parker of ESPNNewYork.com wrote a piece Friday that trashed the city of Atlanta and its fans, arguing that the Atlanta Falcons didn’t deserve to beat the New York Giants on Sunday because, “Without question, Atlanta is the worst sports town in America.”


As one of the founders of a college baseball website, you might wonder why I’d post something about Parker’s piece.


As a native of Atlanta, and because I help run a website and can post something, I felt the need to respond to Parker and ESPN.


First, a couple of admissions.


After majoring in journalism and spending five years editing and covering sports for a daily paper, two years as a business journalist and nine years working with media as a public relations guy, I’m fully aware of the role of a columnist. I understand that sometimes, columns are written to stir the pot, especially in an all-consuming, information-driven society.


Eyeballs, hits, Tweets and Facebook posts create buzz, which is exactly what ESPN and its online properties strive for – and by and large where ESPN has excelled. In fact, I’m guilty of taking the bait by writing this, no doubt spurring some of you to actually give Parker and ESPN what they want: more buzz.


You should also know that I’m not necessarily an Atlanta apologist. What Parker writes has some truth to it in spots.


Was it frustrating the Braves didn’t sell out playoff baseball games? Sure. (I should note I shelled out $60 to a scalper to attend a sold-out playoff game between the Pirates and Braves in 1991.) Is it disappointing the Hawks don’t draw as well as they might deserve? Sure. (I should note I watched the Hawks mostly win at the Omni during the late ’80s and early ’90s and cried when Bird outdueled the “Human Highlight Film” in 1988.) Is it tough the city lost two hockey teams? I guess, but hockey’s not my thing. And how about the Falcons? Parker says his column isn’t about football but promptly rips Falcons fans – even editing out disparaging remarks about “peach-picking” after the firestorm erupted Friday. (I should note that I got scammed on tickets but still made it to the Packers-Falcons playoff game last year when the Atlanta organization worked with us to purchase real tickets.)


But calling Atlanta the worst sports down in America is many things: insulting, sophomoric, moronic and just plain wrong. And honestly, I am surprised that a column like this even saw the light of day, even in this day and age.


In his piece and accompanying video rant, Parker calls out Atlanta because of its attendance. Some simple research of ESPN.com would show that in 2011, the Falcons home attendance by capacity was better than that of their Sunday opponent, the New York Giants. It’s also better than the Jets, for that matter. And the Falcons play in an aging Dome, not a sparkling, brand new stadium.


He writes that the Braves’ fan base should have had more fire and pushed for first-year manager Fredi Gonzalez to be canned after an epic collapse. What, like Boston, where more than a collapse led to a splendid skipper’s dismissal? Personally, I think that was a big mistake. Jets fans, watch out: Parker might soon call you out if Rex Ryan isn’t shown the door after three straight losses to end the season to miss the playoffs. And Giants fans, Tom Coughlin would have been gone, despite the “fresh Super Bowl in their memories after the 2007 season” if the G-men missed the playoffs and Parker got his way.


And Atlantans, according to Parker, didn’t flock to the Omni enough in the ’80s to see Dominique Wilkins, the aforementioned Human Highlight Film. Starting in 1986-87 and stretching to 1989-90, the Hawks averaged 14,333 (87.5 percent of the Omni’s capacity) using statistics from the Association of Professional Basketball Research. The Knicks averaged 15,866 (or 80 percent of Madison Square Garden’s capacity) over that same time frame.


I’m actually surprised that Parker didn’t chastise us over our soccer team, the Atlanta Chiefs, because we couldn’t land Pele.


I won’t get into the hilarious stereotypes Parker zings us Atlanta folks with; maybe he was trying to one-up Stephen Bloom and his hometown bashing of Iowa.


I’d rather call on Parker to seriously consider his statement, worst sports town in America.


Atlanta routinely hosts PGA events, and by extension, supports the greatest golfing tournament there is in The Masters. Atlanta hosts a NASCAR event – yes, it used to be two. Atlanta hosts the SEC football championship and college basketball tournaments. Atlanta and the Georgia Dome draw strong crowds for the Georgia high school football state championships. Atlanta hosts the Peachtree Road Race, which up until 2007 was the largest 10K in the world. Atlanta is home to the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association (ALTA), which is the largest tennis-based community organization in the world. Atlanta is home to rabid Georgia Bulldogs and Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets fans, albeit Dawgs fans are more rabid – for my college baseball fans, Georgia and Tech attracted 28,836 fans to Turner Field in 2004, at the time the second-largest crowd to ever watch a college baseball fan.


And finally, five words: to the city of...Atlanta.


Those were the immortal words of Juan Antonio Samaranch on Sept. 18, 1990, when Atlanta, the worst sports town in America, was awarded the 1996 Summer Olympics.


Those five words don’t come easy – just ask New York about the 2012 Summer Games.


They are about as tough as the four words we all hate to utter, words Parker (and ESPN) should write, Tweet or Facebook: I made a mistake.