Grantland is dead. Really.
ESPN, the supposed worldwide leader in sports, confirmed the news in a short and terse statement last Friday and thereby ruined the afternoon of plenty.
After careful consideration, we have decided to direct our time and energy going forward to projects that we believe will have a broader and more significant impact across our enterprise.
Grantland distinguished itself with quality writing, smart ideas, original thinking and fun. We are grateful to those who made it so. Bill Simmons was passionately committed to the site and proved to be an outstanding editor with a real eye for talent. Thanks to all the other writers, editors and staff who worked very hard to create content with an identifiable sensibility and consistent intelligence and quality. We also extend our thanks to Chris Connelly who stepped in to help us maintain the site these past five months as he returns to his prior role.
Despite this change, the legacy of smart long-form sports story-telling and innovative short form video content will continue, finding a home on many of our other ESPN platforms.
We all should have seen it coming, and really we probably did: we knew the site was doomed ever since ESPN president John Skipper parted ways with Bill Simmons in May. But cutting the cord on the offspring a mere six months after its father? That, I didn’t see come. And I’m hurt and sad.
There are many things to say, but let’s start here.
Because yep, that happened. Launched in 2011 to much fanfare, Grantland had going for itself the fact that it was backed up by Simmons. By then, the Sportszzz Guy had grown into one of the bigger and better sports writers around and he had had the clout to persuade the ESPN higher-ups, the same one who have now done the unthinkable, to fund what would become Grantland. (It was also the only way for ESPN to keep Simmons from leaving.)
More importantly, Simmons realized that the site couldn’t be a vanity project, that he needed talented people and talented writers to make it work. Forget an old feud and get ESQPolitics’ guy Charlie Pierce? Check. Get Chuck Klosterman? #MyGuy. Hire Pulitzer Prize-winner Wesley Morris away from the Boston Globe? Sure thing, and not just because Morris worked in Simmons’s beloved Boston.
Grantland scored two interviews with Obama, because it was great and influential/good people worked there.
Next thing to say?
Really, all of us did. Grantland had a soul and it asked its writers to try their darn hardest because it knew its readers could keep up. For that, it was celebrated. The site wasn’t quite pure or classic journalism, more a mixture of blogging and writing. For that too, it was celebrated—because for the most part in 2015, journalism, at least that which revolves around sports and pop culture, has morphed into something like writing and blogging.
Grantland tried and because of this, it also failed. Not all that often, but so badly and so regrettably when it did. The site has become infamous for its Dr. V feature, a story about a magic putter that contributed (at the very least) to the death of a transgender woman.
That this feature was published is a failure across the board and has to be part of the site’s legacy—along with the rest, of course.
Because on its average day Grantland didn’t fail; it shined. And boy did Grantland shine and soar so high at times. Grantland went to Ferguson. Grantland told you about the music inside Royce White’s head and the two sides of Floyd Mayweather Jr. It introduced you to a Florida Man unlike any other and reminded you that David Simon doesn’t care what you think of his TV shows. Grantland had the Tuesday Night Lights series and also the best/worst sports column series ever. Grantland, part of the Disney-owned ESPN empire and very much American, explained there was a college basketball dynasty in some place called Canada. It also explained Israel with a soccer game.
And that’s just the longform. Grantland had a soul and, on a daily basis, Grantland managed to at turns humanize, relativize, and other -ivize’s whenever and whatever was needed. No online entity was better at using GIFs, videos, graphics, podcasts and photos to create a compelling content and narrative. It’s only sports and it doesn’t have to always be serious—Grantland understood that.
Unfortunately, ESPN didn’t and folded the site, because it didn’t make enough money for the costs it BLABLABLA. It’s sad, but it’s always about the money. The damn, damn money.
In 2015 more than ever, it’s always about the money. Even for the filthy rich giant that is ESPN. It’s always about the money and because the work that Grantland did was expensive, and its audience had unfortunately become too small to justify its existence and costs, it died.
Grantland’s fans would have forked over some money, but we were never asked to.
Journalism is hurting these days, yes. Content has become easier and cheaper than ever to produce at the same time that ad revenue has dwindled. The population has never assumed the costs of journalism but that’s especially true in our time—because everything feels that much more expensive on the Internet where the readers/customers never pay for the work that they read and that certainly demands the same time and money to produce as they always have.
So ESPN cut the cord.
Working at Grantland, or finding a way to get one post published there, would have been the highlight of my still-but-not-nearly-as-young-as-I-would-like-it-to-be career.
Also making me sad? I remember sitting in a large auditorium some time in my third year at Ryerson’s J-School; our profs were telling us about the fourth-year internship. They were saying, yada yada, that "Anywhere is good, just figure out which side you want of journalism," yada yada, "U.S. too," yada. "Wait, U.S.?" I said. Yeah, we could go to the States for the internship—though, "Euh, you know, it can be tricky," yada yada, "Ours is for six weeks and, euh, in the United States they typically are longer." They had a bit about finding a place to stay at in the U.S., papers to fill out and file, etc. etc.
I decided not to apply for the Grantland internship. Meh.
But, you know, whatever, it will never happen now.
Of course, maybe it wasn’t quite just about the money. As Deadspin’s Greg Howard has reported, ESPN’s decision may have been just as much about sticking it to Simmons—who, oh by the way, was probably not as innocent as he says in all of this—than it was about cutting costs.
It was a childish playground fight that ESPN (shrewdly) clouded amid concerns over costs. Because if there’s one thing that everyone understands, it’s money.
What we don’t understand is that the millions Grantland would have needed to survive instead have gone to the Skip Bayless's and Stephen A. Smith’s of the world.
Or maybe that’s not quite right. I know, one is a website and the other two make TV. I know, I know. But it’s not so much that Grantland deserved the money; it’s that Bayless and Smith have built an empire on asinine arguments, instantaneous outrage and a good dose of misogyny—and they’re being rewarded and paid for it.
Welcome to the new normal, where ESPN has destroyed Grantland and, one day, will rebuild something in its place. It’ll be different, maybe even good.
But it won’t be Grantland.