I don’t remember exactly when I started reading Bill Simmons’ work but I don’t remember a time in my life that I wasn’t reading him. I followed him through his ascent to one of the most important content creators at ESPN. I bought and read his books. I listened to the B.S. Report. Each time he would publish something on ESPN.com was like Christmas. I knew it was going to be really smart and it would probably make me laugh.
So when it was reported in 2011 that he was launching his own sports/pop culture website with the backing of ESPN, I was excited beyond words. Over the next four years, Grantland did not disappoint me or its millions of readers. Then earlier this year Simmons pissed off the wrong people, publicly challenged the higher ups to discipline him and ESPN ultimately announced that it would not be renewing his contract.
I knew it was only a matter of time before one of my favorite websites died. I guess I just didn’t realize it was going to happen so soon. Last week, ESPN officially led Grantland to the guillotine and dropped the axe. The death of Grantland was only a matter of time once Bill Simmons and ESPN broke up. Grantland was Simmons’ brain child and without him at the helm no one really thought the site had a long-term future.
The past few months saw a mass exodus of talent leave the site for other projects. Writers Sean Fennessy, Juliet Litman, Mallory Rubin and Chris Ryan have joined Simmons on an unnamed project for HBO. Wesley Morris jumped ship for a gig with The New York Times. Rembert Browne left for New York magazine. Grantland’s editorial director, Dan Fierman, joined MTV. It was only a matter of time. The proverbial writing for the end of Grantland was on the wall.
It’s no big shocker that a senior ESPN source told CNN that the company was “getting out of the pop culture business,” since nearly all of the recently departed Grantland staffers worked on the pop-culture side. As for Grantland’s sportswriters, ESPN says it intends to honor their contracts and use them on other ESPN platforms. Although, it’s anyone’s guess how many of them will actually stay.
I will admit that there has been no shortage of good culture and sports writing on the internet now that it has essentially replaced print and television as the dominant source of everything we consume. With that said, no website took advantage of the internet was well as Grantland. There is simply no Grantland alternative for us fans to turn to now that it is gone.
Grantland mastered “internet writing.” Pretty much everything that was published to Grantland could not have appeared in print. The articles featured were too long or too weird for print journalism. Grantland used videos, gifs, and other graphics to enhance its work that obviously could not have appeared in print. While so many other websites do their best to imitate old forms, Grantland was uniquely great from day one. The site was closer to the spirit of a blog than a newspaper but the writing was next level stuff.
As I mentioned above, many of Grantland’s pieces were long but they never seemed long because the writers had things to say. Pumping out a tightly focused 4,000 word article is a very difficult thing to do, yet Grantland’s writers seemed to do it with ease. What made Grantland different (and better) than all other sports websites is that it explored how sports exist within our culture and society rather than just recapping games or fueling the popular sports narratives of the day.
Grantland was great because it was fun and it was fun because it was smart. The people running that site truly believed that there was too much at stake in sports, film, literature, music, and television to settle for lackluster content. It made its readers smarter and introduced us to people and things we might have otherwise never known about.
Yes, Grantland’s writers will continue writing either for ESPN or for other outlets. Sites like Deadspin will continue producing great sports journalism on topics that ESPN would never get close to covering. Content will continue to be created and everyone will be pretty much the same as they were before Grantland existed. Bill Simmons is even back now with a new podcast and different projects with HBO. The void left by the nonexistence of Grantland will somehow be filled. But nothing will ever quite be the same. Grantland was sports writing at its best and it will be missed.