Grantland, In Memoriam

I have another great post about Celtics opening night that I was going to share with you all this afternoon, before the Cs suit up against Amir Johnson’s old team, the Toronto Raptors.

Instead, I’m going to treat you to 700 words of sheer anger. Disbelief. Depression.

ESPN has cancelled Grantland, effective immediately. Two days after the NBA season started. Not even halfway through the football season. This is even worse than when ESPN decided to fire Bill Simmons a week after the NBA playoffs began.

It’s also, however, unsurprising. The way ESPN has conducted itself over the past 5 years has become increasingly reprehensible. As they have inked multi-billion dollar contracts with major sports leagues, namely the NFL and NBA, they have also moved increasingly into the pocket of their partners. They suspended Grantland founder and popular sports personality Bill Simmons for three weeks last fall – for suggesting that Goodell lied, point blank, about having never seen the tape of Ray Rice knocking out his now-wife in a casino elevator. Why did ESPN suspend Simmons for exercising his right to free speech and correctly calling Goodell out? There’s not really a viable explanation other than… the NFL asking them to.

Then, they became the NFL’s purveyor of misinformation in the DeflateGate saga, repeatedly misreporting things and, afterwards, refusing to correct them (ESPN’s legal analysts still staunchly claim that NFL has no chance of losing its appeal). There wasn’t even at attempt to be objective. As a Patriots fan, I was outraged, but as a writer and lover of journalism, I was just depressed. ESPN is the Worldwide Leader, and we can no longer trust the “Worldwide Leader” to actually bring us competent sports news.

The only remaining shred of respectability I had for ESPN was directed entirely at their site, Grantland – founded by the now-exiled Bill Simmons – a haven for long-form journalism on sports and pop culture. It had the best collection of sports writers in the country, and a very respectable group of pop-culture writers, many of whom who have been picked up by newspapers across the States. The writers have changed a bit over the years, yet I still read Grantland every day.

And now, without warning, Grantland is gone. The writers, whose contracts will be honored by ESPN, are jobless. They no longer have a place to put forth their voice. And while it is hard to see my twitter feed filled with Grantland writers reminiscing and wishing each other well, the real losers here are us. Where do I go for sports coverage now?

The brilliance of Grantland is that it actually remained a site dedicated to educated opinions. In a world where “news” essentially consists of “click bait based on SEO formulas,” it was the last bastion of journalistic integrity in the sporting world. Bottom line, the talent collected at Grantland was unique and the product it put forth was unmatched. There are dozens of other sports-opinion websites out there, just not filled with the kind of writers that were up and down the Grantland lineup. And sure, the talent that started there was starting to dissipate. The writers were getting job offers. So apparently, ESPN was faced with a question: try to re-stock the talent bins at the most popular sports blog website in the country, or just fold the whole thing and forget about it. They chose the latter, and everybody loses.

It was always reassuring to pop “grantland.com” into my URL bar (it came up as soon as I hit “g”), and get my day in sports opinion. There will, undoubtedly, be a phoenix of journalistic integrity that eventually rises from the ashes. It might take some time, but these voices can’t be silenced. Let’s hope Bill and HBO are psyched on the idea of starting a new sports blog; that might be our only hope.

Until then, we’ve been robbed of our best resource. The sports world will suffer greatly until Grantland can be replaced. Above all, the “worldwide leader” has proven once again that it is tone deaf and on the decline. Now it is up to those who are left wondering what happened to pick themselves back up, move forward, and create something newer and even better.

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