Having been a proud member of Bleacher Report for nearly 18 months now, I’ve seen members come and go, watched the site change plenty of times, and witnessed amazing growth—both in the number of contributors and the quality of writing.
And as each month of my membership passed, I started noticing a familiar trend of stages a typical B/R writer goes through.
While the speed of these steps is varied, it is unusual for someone to not fall in step with the five basic stages.
That said, fellow droogs, I present the five stages of B/R Membership:
1. The Curious Observer
So you show up for the first time—perhaps on a suggestion from a friend or randomly stumbling upon an article—and take a look around. Still unsure about what the site is all about, you don’t commit to the profile picture or bio, choosing instead to scroll through some articles and the site in general.
Maybe you come across a Sweet Mo slideshow. Perhaps BabyTate’s encyclopedic knowledge impresses you. Or just maybe you like the idea that “four obsessed sports fans from the Bay Area” decided to take a leap of faith and start a company of their own.
Whatever the case, you become intrigued, and it’s on to stage two.
2. Active Participant
You settle on a picture, create your bio, and off you go, ripping off a few articles, wondering why no one is responding or commenting on them. You feel pretty foolish. Maybe even angry.
From here, different personalities create three scenarios:
a) You play nice and reply to as many articles as possible, use your picks of the day—sometimes on articles that aren’t actually your favorites, become fans to several writers, post occasional remarks on bulletin boards, and ask for feedback from other writers. You become an instant hit.
b) Misplaced anger about getting no reads causes you to take out your anger on every article you disagree with. You use all caps way too many times. You go toe to toe with legends such as Mitch, Gray Ghost, and even—gasp!—the BabyTate. You are likely called a troll a few times, and it’s a long road back to respectability.
c.) You go overboard with the bulletin spamming, even posting your links in other articles. You write articles with titles such as “A Thank You to All the Little People: Reflections on My 10th Article.” Your bio is extremely long, listing all of your accomplishments in an overstated manner. You may even believe the people at ESPN.com are recruiting you. You are received with mixed opinions.
No matter the method, you are hooked, and then it’s on to the illustrious stage three.
After about a month or so, people start to recognize your name and profile picture—sometimes positively and sometimes negatively.
Before you know it, someone shortens your name or gives you a nickname in the comment section. You are no longer just “Trent Robards.” You have become “TR” or “T-Ro.”
On the inside, you are screaming, “They like me—they really like me!”
This triggers the climax of your B/R Membership: The Obsession.
You likely take a few more looks at your “stat sheet” of articles, reads, POTDs, etc. You set some mental goals to improve those numbers. You start writing multiple articles at once, churning out pieces at a rate of one or two per day.
Perhaps you change your profile picture to one that better suits you, your bio is changed and made more specific, and your “fan” numbers grow with each day. To generate even more fans, you fan request several other writers, hoping they return the favor.
You take your work to Facebook, linking your articles for all of your closest “friends” on FB to check out. Your Twitter updates are sports-related or shameless links to your newest articles.
You start becoming critical of the community leaders and think you can do a better job. Maybe you even inquire about replacing someone or becoming a co-community leader.
You buy the official Bleacher Report t-shirt, which is quite comfortable, by the way. (Why the entire t-shirt industry does not use the “Beefy T-Shirt” brand is beyond me, but that argument is for another day.)
A solid rapport with fellow members builds, and you start to feel connected to the site and other writers, even trading non-B/R emails occasionally. Some even venture to meet in person while tailgating.
After giving it much thought, you create a catchy tagline for your articles or pen a signature comment.
You stay up way too late writing, you neglect housework and sometimes your actual job, or you skip class to write a retort to an article to which you took offense.
Soon enough, your work gets linked to a major website—and your family gets all excited.
It’s all so great, but the energy used is too much, and that all brings us to stage four.
4. The Burnout
Let’s be real here, we all reach the burnout stage for various reasons. But whatever the cause—a job change, the birth of a baby, a wedding, exams, sleep deprivation, etc.—your B/R production takes a major hit.
For some, the burnout lasts mere days or weeks. Jameson Fleming, for example, was burned out for about 30 minutes. But he might be a robot.
For the humans, however, it takes a bit longer.
BabyTate—after months of college football and basketball analysis—is in burnout stage as I write this. Andrew McNair has put his writing on pause to concentrate on his schoolwork.
GeorgiaDawg and Gray Ghost went on sabbatical after football season—hopefully to return soon. Many college hoops writers are now only hitting the site every so often.
The key, though, is the glorious return—like the prodigal son coming back home, except you aren’t penniless, and your jealous brother doesn’t secretly resent you.
And now we come to the final stage, the culminating product of all your hard work.
5. The Veteran
As always, there are exceptions, but members typically fall somewhere into these four areas, and many can manage more than one role at once:
a) The Savvy Vet
These members have been around for a minute or two, so they know the drill. They write and comment regularly, have the respect of other writers, and you can usually find their work linked to other sites.
In addition to the names I’ve already mentioned, there are many others—far too many to name, actually—who qualify as savvy vets.
b) The Specialist
These guys and gals know their strengths and their audience.
Generally speaking, some writers stay with one sport and/or style. Some are more specific and focus mainly on just one team, such as Frank Ahrens and West Virginia football, Leroy Watson and Memphis basketball, or David Wunderlich with Florida football.
Some go way over our heads on a regular basis, like Ryan Alberti, who mixes sports with philosophy, poetry, metaphysics, religion/eschatology—and, of course, YouTube clips of his favorite music.
c) The Editor
Plain and simple, the editors are the offensive linemen of B/R. These contributors work constantly to improve the work of B/R’s writers, and they rarely get credit.
Some are interning, some just don’t like writing, a few like to mess with people’s titles and feel the subsequent power rush, but most are simply great at taking one person’s writing and making it even better.
Mosang Miles, take a bow.
d) The Dropout
Unfortunately, not everyone can make it to the other side.
Whether it’s building their own website, making time for another addition to the family, or simply losing the love of writing, the occasional writer will not see the Open Source Sports Network pearly gates.
And for these, we pour out our metaphorical 40 ounces of prose.
A special cyber-RIP goes out to Lisa Horne, one of B/R’s finest.
To conclude this far-too-lengthy diatribe, I must use the words of one of America’s greatest writers. No, not John Steinbeck—my personal favorite writer, whose face serves as my profile picture.
I’m going back to the 19th century for this one, because Walt Whitman may have just had Bleacher Report in mind when he wrote: "That you are here—that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse."
That the powerful play of life and sports goes on—and that you may contribute an article.
And as the fictional Mr. Keating from Dead Poets Society once asked his students:
“What will your verse be?”