Sad news: Grantland is no longer.
The biggest disappointment of my day so far is not being able to visit the Grantland website and see what stories are waiting for me this morning.
That’s because parent company ESPN pulled the plug on the sports/culture site on Friday, months after it parted ways with founder Bill Simmons. A long-time and fruitful relationship between ESPN and Simmons broke when ESPN suspended him last year over comments about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. (Simmons called him a liar.)
Over the summer, Simmons and ESPN parted ways and now Simmons is headed to HBO for a show to premiere in the spring, while also doing his popular podcasts today.
The Grantland site, which lasted for four years, had to my mind some of the best sports and culture writing on the Internet today. Wesley Morris, a Pulitzer Prize winner while the film critic at the Boston Globe, is simply the best culture writer in country. He saw the writing on the wall a few months ago, leaving Grantland for The New York Times.
But there were a host of others to note: NFL writer Bill Barnwell, TV critic Andy Greenwald, NBA writer Zach Lowe and too many others to mention. They are all so talented that I’m sure we’ll see them in other outlets. But it’s still sad that the dream of Grantland is no longer.
And, sadly, ending the site was the right thing for ESPN to do.
ESPN and Grantland was a doomed marriage.
I’m sorry to see Grantland go but it didn’t fit the new ESPN brand, especially when Simmons was no longer apart of ESPN and Grantland. He was the link between the two. Grantland followed Simmons’ lead, which meant it was smart, witty, insightful, enthusiastic and irreverent.
Grant land didn’t exactly stop being that when Simmons left but ESPN, sadly, no longer represents all the things that made Grantland great. ESPN is now the brand of hot takes, in which two sides argue inanely over subjects like, “Why isn’t LeBron James clutch?” (despite winning two NBA titles) or “Why is Tim Tebow starting somewhere?” (because he can’t play the NFL quarterback position). It’s the network of Skip Bayless and Stephen A Smith, of Chris Berman and Ray Lewis. Mike & Mike. The network of being louder than anyone else without offending the sports leagues that pay its bills. It’s both Donald Trump and Jeb Bush.
Of course, there are exceptions. ESPN the Magazine has terrific writers and there are special talents like Scott Van Pelt and Michelle Beadle on air. College GameDay is a go-to Saturday morning show.
But the long-form culture and sports writing that made Grantland the best in the industry is not what ESPN stands for anymore. ESPN just couldn’t make Grantland fit into its own structure, something even Simmons lamented. He claimed ESPN never supported Grantland and I’ll bet that’s because ESPN, as a brand, didn’t know what to do with it. It didn’t have brand permission.
So, for now, I’ll just have to listen to Simmons’ podcasts while waiting for his appearance on HBO, reading Morris in NYT and hoping to see Grantland’s other very talented writers pop up elsewhere.
But ESPN had little choice. Its brand doesn’t mean the things that would have supported Grantland.