full court press

The most hated blogger in America

The secret to Chris Chase — and possibly USA Today's — success
December 13, 2012

USA Today senior sports blog editor Chris Chase‘s posts, covering the lighter side of sports culture, are typical fare; aggregated news with opinion and commentary. Yet they have acquired a rampant following, generating millions of pageviews and thousands of comments — most of which are about Chase himself rather than a given post. There are Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, at least two Tumblrs, and countless discussion forums dedicated to Chase. Only problem is, they’re all resoundingly negative.

Chris Chase may be the most hated blogger in America.

Chase, now 31, was an elementary school teacher when he started his sports blog in 2004.

“After working with third graders all day, my mind had turned to mush,” he says. The blog made for a nice diversion. By 2008, Yahoo was looking for temporary bloggers to cover the Beijing Olympics. Chase, then a swim coach who followed the sport closely anyway, “promised wall-to-wall Phelps coverage.” The blog was a success, and Chase’s temporary gig became permanent. In 2010, it became full time. Now he’s blogging for USA Today, as the newspaper with the second-highest print circulation in America continues to bulk up its digital-only offerings.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why Chase is so popularly unpopular. Chase himself doesn’t know. Sports fans are passionate, both in their love of and hatred for certain teams. As Deadspin’s Drew Magary pointed out in an article filled with some of his most vicious hate mail, they are not shy about expressing their opinions. One Bears fan even gave Magary the ultimate insult: “It’s so God-awful that it makes want to go out and read a Chris Chase ‘article’ and we all know he’s absolutely an abysmal ‘writer’.”

The hatred of Chase goes even beyond the sports world norm. My best guess is it’s a special combination of sports fans’ passionate relationships with their favorite teams and athletes, many of which Chase criticizes as part of his job; Yahoo’s huge reach and audience; the slightly-less-than-savvy Internet user who typically reads the site; and what people tend to expect from a sportswriter (accounts of games, breathless praise of athletic performances) versus what Chase actually writes about (Tim Tebow’s muscles, Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder’s new yacht).

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“I think the hate started almost immediately,” Chase says, recalling an early article that cast doubt on the true age of Chinese gymnasts in the 2008 games. It garnered almost 6,000 comments. “Most of them were anti-me,” Chase says.

Once the comment section hatred got rolling, it didn’t stop. “Chris Chase is the Nickelback of sports writers. He is this polarizing force of terribleness that no one can get rid of,” wrote one Chase anti-fan. “That’s better than being the indie band no one’s ever heard of,” Chase replies, although: “I wish they had gone with something less obvious than Nickelback.”

The comparison is apt. Like Nickelback, it seems that no matter what Chase writes, it will be ripped to shreds. Some commenters post within seconds of the article going up. Chase wonders how many of his anti-fans sit at their computers watching their RSS feeds and waiting for his updates.

It makes sense, really. They’re devoted sports fans, and they’ve made hating Chris Chase into another sport. They even play on holidays — on Thanksgiving last year, Chase wrote about Detroit Lions defensive end Ndamukong Suh’s ejection for stomping on an opponent’s arm. Chase posted and went to eat Thanksgiving dinner with his family, during which he received emails from haters who hoped he choked on his turkey.

If the constant outpouring of truly vitriolic attacks—on everything from his writing to his looks, from commenters wishing that he’ll lose his job to commenters hoping he and his entire family will die and rot in hell—bothers Chase, he doesn’t show it. After four years of this, he’s able to take it all in stride (something he admits his mother has had a harder time doing). “As long as my bosses are happy with what is being produced, I tend not to care,” he says. Commenters have accused him of trolling them, writing things solely designed to inflame them and bump up pageviews. Chase denies this. “I don’t write for reaction,” he says, but … “I know that if I write a post about Ben Roethlisberger and reference his sordid past, his fans are gonna come out of the woodwork.”

And Chase does take a few precautions to protect himself and his family from the haters. He keeps his Facebook account as private as possible. He password-protected his wedding website “just in case.” He avoids mentioning family or his personal life in his writing — Chase has chosen to put himself up for criticism; his loved ones did not. His friends, on the other hand (yes, haters, he has friends!) tend to enjoy scanning through comments on his articles, often sending Chase “the best ones.”

And to one of his haters’ biggest arguments that his stories are “inconsequential,” Chase points out that it’s his job to create that kind of “shareable, buzzy content,” — which is often what gets his employer the most hits. The article about Christina Aguilera’s national anthem mistake during the 2011 Super Bowl got 15 times as many comments as the coverage of the game itself. Yahoo’s most-shared and most-commented article on the London Olympics wasn’t about any of the events, but the taxes American medalists owe on their winnings.

Chase’s critics aren’t easy to track down for comment. Attempts to reach Bryant Burciaga, Web editor of the University of Colorado Denver’s student paper, the Advocate, were unsuccessful. Of the Advocate‘s five most popular articles, two of them are about Chris Chase, who says the fact that anyone cares enough about his work one way or the other to write an article makes him happy. Burciaga wrote the most recent, “Chris Chase Fired!,” about Chase’s departure from Yahoo, and is one of the few to attach his real name to criticism of Chase (none of the Facebook communities, Twitter accounts, or Tumblrs I found had creator names or emails attached). Burciaga wrote:

After getting knee deep in the pile of cow manure Chase spits out for the week, you come to realize that everyone has a point. This man, cannot, for the life of him, write.

Yet Burciaga is guilty of the same careless reporting of which he has accused Chase. For Chase was not fired from Yahoo — he left the site after the 2012 Olympics for USA Today.

And Chase has his haters to thank for his new job. He’s pretty sure their engagement with his work was part of what made him an attractive hire. Those 5,500 people on Facebook who like the “Fire Chris Chase!” page keep coming back, don’t they? For all the grief Chase gets, he’s still thrilled to be able to share his opinions so many readers. In the beginning, he remembers being excited when his blog got 16 hits in a day. At Yahoo, he had millions. At USA Today, he says, “the hope is that some of the haters have followed.”

And maybe a few fans, too.

Sara Morrison is a former assistant editor at CJR. Follow her on Twitter @saramorrison.