Chatting With Sports Pickle Founder DJ Gallo About Satire and Moving on From ESPN
Editor’s note: This story originally ran on December 21, 2013.
DJ Gallo founded Sports Pickle, which is much like a sports-y version of The Onion, in 2001. He had just finished college at Towson University at that point, and he was sitting behind the computer at his boring PR job when he realized that a sports website solely devoted to humor and satire didn’t really exist.
In early 2003, Sports Illustrated wrote up a short plug for Sports Pickle, which had about 500 daily visitors and generated $25 per month in ad revenue at the time. Soon thereafter, Gallo had quit his full-time job and was contributing to ESPN, where he kept writing and producing videos — in addition to his own site — until recently.
Like all effective satire, Gallo’s lampooning of the sports world originates from thorough underlying knowledge of the subject, which is necessary in order to properly reduce it to absurdity so it can be laughed at. (And also like all effective satire, a tangentially funny aspect of it is when some of his readers don’t recognize that the stories are fake.)
Upon realizing that his near-decade run with the Worldwide Leader had come to an end, I reached out to Gallo by email to see if there were any scandalous details about the split, what’s next for him, and what he would do in various hypothetical scenarios that involved sorcery:
I noticed that you recently changed one of your Twitter handles from @DJGalloESPN to @DJGalloEtc and didn’t solicit NFL Hangover questions last week. Is there any context that you care to provide about that, and do you have any major moves in store for the Sports Pickle empire going forward?
I am no longer with ESPN.com. I know many people probably see that as a negative career development for someone who writes about sports, but in my case, ESPN.com didn’t do anything for my career. My work was buried there from the start. But I have some other opportunities now that I’m excited about and I look forward to being generally ignored at all new outlets! (Speaking of new outlets, here’s my first column for CBS. It dropped yesterday.)
As for SportsPickle, the site is doing great — back-to-back years with all-time traffic records — and I have a lot of other plans for the ELITE EMPIRE in the coming year.
How do you decide which smarky (not a real word, but it should be) sports observations go to which Twitter account?
My @sportspickle account is SP links and lots of big-game live-tweeting. The @DJGalloEtc account is links to my non-SP writing and a bit more of a personal account — for example: lots of homer tweets about things like how much the Pirates bunt or Jeff Karstens. Exciting!
And my @thatdjgallo account is a sports-free zone because I know how people like sports accounts to STICK TO SPORTS, MORAN! Based on the follower counts, most people don’t care about my hot non-sports takes or how I feel about Kris Letang’s contract.
Can you describe how you feel when your commenters (like on this recent Saban “story”) don’t intuitively realize that they’re reading satire?
There are different kinds of readers on the site. There are those who are regular readers and know exactly what they’re getting into. Then there are those who are regular readers who suddenly don’t find things quite as funny when there’s an article about their favorite team or player. “I usually like this site, but this just isn’t funny. Swing and a miss!”
And then there are people — like the commenters on that Saban story — who come across a link to a fake news article on Facebook or on a message board and take it as 100-percent true (as everything on the Internet is true and most legit news outlets have “Pickle” in the name) and go insane. I appreciate the first group of readers the most, but the latter group provides me with the most personal enjoyment.
Let’s say there were some sort of mythological remote control that you could use to manipulate the lives of others. As a Steelers fan, what path would you choose for Todd Haley?
Todd Haley is at his best when he’s not calling any plays because the Steelers are losing and Ben Roethlisberger is running the hurry-up offense by himself. That said, a lot of people don’t give Haley any credit for keeping Roethlisberger healthier — even with a subpar offensive line — because the offense dictates getting the ball out earlier so Ben (all the real media people call him just by his first name) isn’t getting hit as much. So Haley is both good and bad.
(Apologies that this is a very lukewarm sports take. I should have used the magical remote control to turn my take up to 11.)
Sticking with the theoretical magic construct, if you could go back in time and attend any sporting event, what would it be, and why?
I’d probably attend Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS and run onto the field with two outs just as Stan Belinda was throwing his fateful pitch to Francisco Cabrera, hoping that seeing a streaker race towards him would cause Barry Bonds to take a few steps in (where he was supposed to be playing), where he could then field Cabrera’s hit quicker and throw out the slowest man on Earth, Sid Bream, at home, thereby not ruining my childhood.
Even then, though, the Pirates still probably would have lost in extra innings.
So instead of that, I’d probably go to a Major League Baseball game pre-1947 and tell everyone how racist they are and that they’re a bit overdressed for a baseball game. That sounds like a fun day.
In blog years, you’ve had a really long run at this point. Is there a constant self-evaluation process that you go through to keep things fresh and compelling?
I just try to write or create things that I think I might like reading or watching. But that’s probably a terrible model going forward because I mostly hate slideshows and clickbait listicles and videos produced just to have video to sell ads. RIP me.
What writers and publications have been especially inspirational to you as you’ve sought to carve out a niche?
None. That isn’t to say there aren’t a lot of people doing good work. There are. But I don’t read anyone. Part of it is that when I first started writing, I wanted to develop my own voice and I found reading other people made that harder for me. I worried I would just parrot someone else’s voice or opinions. And now, most of what I do is producing content off of whatever the big sports news is, so news and factual information is what I stick to.
I don’t know the last time I read a sports column or opinion piece or watched something sports-related on TV that wasn’t an actual game. Plus, I consume enough sports to have my own opinions. I’m more than happy to read something enlightening on a subject I’m interested in. But watching a talking head on whether LeBron is better than Jordan? No thanks.
That said, Twitter is great for finding new and interesting voices. There are many less-than-140 character tweets that are more informative or interesting or funny than some 800 or 1,200 or 2,000-word columns found on major media sites. In fact, there are many columns on major media sites that couldn’t even be reduced into a single interesting tweet.
If somebody is just now discovering you, what articles would you most want him/her to take a gander at?
Hmmm. That’s tough. Lots of the stuff I feel the best about does the worst traffic-wise. Probably another reason my “Golly, I just write what I think I’d like to read!” approach is probably going to leave me homeless and in a ditch, huh? I guess I’d say just follow me on @SportsPickle and @DJGalloEtc and hopefully I’m not completely out of ideas and I’ll soon put up something you like.
If there’s anything that’s a safe bet, though, it might be these “honest” NFL .com headline pages I do every Monday morning during the season. I like doing them and readers enjoy reading them. Huzzah. I found one.