There are an exorbitant number of publications and media platforms available to the 21st-century sports fan who wishes to follow the current events of the sports world. While media sources like ESPN and Sports Illustrated dominate the scene, sports journalism has grown so vast that each fan must find their niche — writers they like, publications they follow — in order to remain grounded in the flurry of articles published following every sporting event. Sports and pop-culture blog Grantland was one that stood apart.
Grantland represented the highest echelon of sports journalism. Known for its lengthy articles, extensive use of sports analytics and unconventional statistics, it lured readers in with its unique approach. Reading a Grantland article made you think. It challenged the way that we think about sports. Every feature was a controversial essay in which a writer would make a bold claim and discuss the evidence to substantiate it. While you could not go to Grantland’s website to check last week’s Yankees game score or the latest injury update on Jamaal Charles, you could find a well-researched piece about a controversial event or idea in the sports world that took a 25-minute chunk out of your day.
Since its creation in 2011, many sports fans have gravitated toward Grantland. Fans’ interests have become more complex, and they quickly become bored of every publication proclaiming that “Kobe is not the great player he once was” or “Are the Patriots cheaters?” But on Oct. 30, 2015, Grantland was no more. A huge void is left in the sports world, and it feels as if it all happened so quickly.
It is important to understand how this happened. Grantland is owned by ESPN, which is owned by Disney. Successful and controversial sports analyst Bill Simmons started Grantland in 2011, but left ESPN in May 2015 after he was unable to agree to a contract. At the time, ESPN claimed to be fully committed to maintaining Grantland, as it was generally understood that the blog had developed a zealous following.
ESPN announced Grantland’s shutdown with a statement that read, “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.” Many have interpreted these words, doused in ambiguity, to mean that Grantland was not deemed profitable enough. Simmons’ criticisms of ESPN since departing are also unlikely to have helped Grantland’s case with the media giant.
Since the announcement, Simmons has tweeted, “I loved everyone I worked with at G and loved what we built. Watching good/kind/ talented people get treated so callously = simply appalling.” Simmons is referring to the 300 employees that ESPN intends to lay off, in addition to the Grantland writers, some of whom found out about the blog’s sudden demise via Twitter. While many Grantland writers are being absorbed into other ESPN projects, Simmons has reportedly already convinced others to join him on a soon-to-be announced new project.
After Simmons departed, Chris Connelly took over as the interim editor-in-chief at Grantland. After months of requests, he finally agreed to an interview with Sports Illustrated on Nov. 2, just three days after Grantland was shut down. When asked if he would have taken the job knowing that the blog would only survive five months more, he responded, “Yes, I would have … because my friends asked me. Marie and John asked me.” Connelly is referring to ESPN President John Skipper and ESPN Executive Vice President Marie Donoghue. Further into the interview, it became clear that Connelly did not have a strong commitment to Grantland. He goes to great lengths to praise Skipper and his decisions to tank the blog while failing to recognize Simmons’ achievements as its founder. Unlike the committed writers at Grantland, the blog served as a career stepping stone for Connelly, whose job security remains unaffected.
Gone are the days when Grantland could be Simmons’ outlet to call Roger Goodell a liar after the video was released of Ray Rice punching his wife and dragging her out of an elevator. Fortunately, Simmons will be hosting a sports show on HBO in 2016.
Grantland’s website now reads, “It was a good run.” The blog archives are still available online, and I strongly encourage those who have not enjoyed its genius before to scroll through some of its beloved articles. Hopefully it is not long until a band of ambitious, young writers pursue a project like Grantland, and the sports world can once again have access to quality, thought-provoking sports discussion.