A Fond Farewell
Last Friday afternoon, ESPN unceremoniously
summarily executed suspended its beloved sister website Grantland. The news came as a surprise to just about everybody who isn’t a bald penis-headed executive at ESPN, freelance writers for Grantland included, marking a final, disgruntled chapter in the sports and pop culture’s incredible run.
The news was a long time coming, giving both fans and Grantland writers enough time to prepare to move on,1 but that doesn’t make the news hurt any less. So let’s pour one out, crank up the depressing tunes, and cozy up with our favorite 5,000-word column to remember one of the greatest publications we were fortunate enough to come of age with.
Grantland was never going to be a revenue-generating behemoth like its parent company. But what’s so disheartening, beyond the loss of a publication that brought a whole new level of intelligence, levity, and empathy to how we talk about sports and pop culture, is that ESPN should be one of the few places in the world that can afford to operate a site like Grantland, if only because they can afford to run a one-of-a-kind publication at a loss. 2 With the gobs of money they print across the Disney/ABC conglomerate, ESPN should be able to offset any financial hit they take with such a site and enjoy the less financially tangible but nonetheless valuable rewards of featuring approximately 75% of the world’s best sports and pop culture writing for a small but incredibly devoted audience of readers. And what’s even more depressing is the sneaking suspicion that the site’s lack of profit was less responsible for Grantland‘s death than a toxic cycle of distrust, poor communication, and corporate sabotage from a company that continues to employ Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith.
It’s incredible to think about how much incredible writing talent was concentrated within and directed forward with Grantland, and incredibly disheartening that ESPN is breaking it up for such quotidian reasons. Bill Simmons assembled a murderers row of talent and then had the intelligence to step back and watch what blossomed when all that talent collided.
Rembert Browne. Charles Pierce. Brian Phillips. Zach Lowe. Bill Barnwell. Alex Pappademas. Molly Lambert. Bryan Curtis. Wesley Morris. Steven Hyden. I would do terrible things to be able to write like any one of these people, and even worse to be able to join a community where all of those writers could thrive and put forth the best writing possible. And that list doesn’t even scratch the surface of what Grantland offered — those were just the first ten people that came to mind when remembering some of my favorite writers that passed through Grantland‘s CMS.
It’s exciting in part to see what these writers will do in their new homes outside of the familiar structures that Grantland built in the last four years, like seeing your favorite player suddenly in a new uniform. But how can you not regret that we’ll no longer be treated to the exuberant outpouring of genius that the Grantland staff so enthusiastically gave us? Not only is a site of inspiration and insight shuttering, but after listening to so many podcasts — Pappademas & Morris, Ryan & Greenwald, Litman & Jacoby, Bill and just about everybody — what’s clear is how much love and friendship as well thrived within the outlandish assembly of talent that occurred under the broad tentpole of Grantland.
At the very least, one thing ESPN can never take away was the inspiration that Grantland provided, the ideal to always strive for something greater, a goal of expression as ambitious and compelling as the sports and cultural artifacts that Grantland celebrated. Grantland demonstrated that passion and intelligence don’t need to be silo’d, and that saying something valuable is more important than how loudly you say it.
We consider ourselves fortunate to have gotten to soak up one of the most impressive runs of any publication in our generation, one that set the bar for what we should strive for as fans, as writers, and as people.
Goodbye Grantland. You’ll be missed, but never forgotten.