What Grantland Meant to Me

30
Oct

It’s a sad day for quality sports content as ESPN made the decision to “suspend” publishing immediately on Grantland. The full ESPN statement is below:

Effective immediately we are suspending the publication of Grantland.  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.

Grantland distinguished itself with quality writing, smart ideas, original thinking and fun.  We are grateful to those who made it so.  Bill Simmons was passionately committed to the site and proved to be an outstanding editor with a real eye for talent.  Thanks to all the other writers, editors and staff who worked very hard to create content with an identifiable sensibility and consistent intelligence and quality. We also extend our thanks to Chris Connelly who stepped in to help us maintain the site these past five months as he returns to his prior role.

Despite this change, the legacy of smart long-form sports story-telling and innovative short form video content will continue, finding a home on many of our other ESPN platforms.

I’m not a classically trained journalist or writer by any means, if you can’t already tell. I’m a guy (I guess I shouldn’t keep saying kid) that sputtered through his early years of post-high school education without any idea of what he wanted to do. I’ve always loved sports and reading truly analytical—both statistical and otherwise—views on tactics, decisions, trades, free agency, and any number of controversies involving sports.

When Grantland launched in 2011, I was a young 23, still in the thick of getting my college degree in philosophy of all things. I had been reading Bill Simmons for several years and was in the red portion of a Goldsberry heat map of what many assume is Simmons’ wheelhouse demographic. I listened religiously to his podcasts and was overjoyed that he was starting his own website under the ESPN banner. I consumed everything I could on the site, though I admittedly stuck to Simmons over the other talented writers that were at Grantland from the start.

In a bit of lucky coincidence, I began to blog about sports around the same time my favorite writer took hold at Grantland, Zach Lowe. I did all of this in a weird homage to Grantland, to Simmons, and eventually to all of the fantastic writers that filled the site with exceptional content. The blog I started was called The Front Office and was hosted for free under WordPress. I shamelessly followed Simmons’ example and latched onto Twitter under the name @FrontOfficeGuy. If you remember, Simmons was once @SportsGuy.

My very first, terrible, grammatically incorrect post is no longer hosted, unfortunately. I’m not sure how I let that happen, but here it was in its entirety.

Just started this blog this week. I will be going through all the major 3 (sometimes 4) leagues and writing about trades, signings, drops, drafts, hirings and firings. If you’ve ever wondered who the mysterious people who own or manage your favorite teams are, I will be talking about all of them eventually. Any requests for posts or if you just want to be the first few people to jump on new posts, follow on twitter @FrontOfficeGuy. There is a link to the right to follow right from here! There will be guest contributors eventually and their twitter names will be up when they post. Hope you enjoy the blog and you come back for more!

-Colby Rogers (@FrontOfficeGuy)

I always planned to model my site and my writing after Grantland.

One of my happiest days since starting to blog, and after the switch to a “real” website that is now called Other League, was when Grantland cited my page listing coach contractss. My favorite site came to me for information and told everyone where they found it. It never lead to an avalanche of new readers or even viewers, roughly 500 click-throughs since the article was written, but I’m thankful to this day for the cite by Jason Concepcion in his article about the New York Knicks hiring Derek Fisher.

It wasn’t about the numbers to me, much like how it wasn’t about the numbers to the readers and writers of Grantland.

The National

Twitter exploded today in support of Grantland and made constant comparisons to The National. I’ll be honest, I understood the context from the tweets, but I had no idea what the thing was. The National Sports Daily was to an earlier generation what Grantland will forever be to me. An innovative take on journalism that spurred countless people to waste their days writing about sports.

In finding out what The National was, I shouldn’t have been surprised that one of the best pieces on it was featured on Grantland. A discussion of what it was by the man who started it and what it meant to so many of sports biggest writers. It inspired many. That’s what Grantland will be remembered for by my generation. Not just the quality, but the force behind it.

There were few sites that gave such in-depth but readable analysis of the smallest minutiae about the game, both on and off the playing surface, whatever it may have been. From GIFs of the smallest defensive move in the NBA or the huge rise of data visualization pioneered partly by Goldsberry to cross-cultural references about how hard a baseball player swings.

Robert Mays tweeted a beautiful story that goes more to Simmons than it does the site, but Simmons was the site at the beginning, and his touch permeated it even after his unceremonious exit. It was always about the content to Simmons. He pushed for the site to be more profitable I’m sure. He may have been successful in some ways, I’m not privy to that sort of information. But first and foremost, he want to cultivate a staff of intelligent, fun, and driven writers. No one can say he didn’t succeed in that.

I have no idea what the future holds for me as a professional. I’m certainly not on a traditional journalism track. But I also haven’t closed that possibility from happening. Other League will continue to strive toward the quality that was set forth by Grantland. I’ll continue to be inspired by the style of the content of the single sports site that I have checked religiously every day for the last four years.

Maybe we’re all making too much of this. It didn’t come as a huge surprise that ESPN scuttled the site after things fell apart with Simmons. Grantland lost its vanguard in the board room and there were rumors of its lack of financial viability for years. ESPN is a corporation with money on its mind first and foremost and who can begrudge them that. There are multiple versions of the reasons for the lack of financial success, if it’s true, but the marriage was simply doomed from the start.

Simmons claims the site never got the real push from the main ESPN page that it needed to stick in the public consciousness. ESPN would likely claim there just isn’t a big enough market for long form sports writing anymore. This is the age of Twitter. Both are probably right and both are probably wrong, there’s always more to it.

Again, maybe we’re all making too much of this. The writers either have jobs at ESPN or will bounce back. Many of the best sports personalities will grace the homepage of ESPN prominently for the duration of their tenure or will find other gainful employment on the many fantastic sports sites and publications around the web. I’d love to take them all in here, but that’s not realistic. Obviously. The names that Simmons made us so familiar with are going to become some of the most sought after writers. I’ll go out of my way to find the writing of Zach Lowe, Kirk Goldsberry, Bill Barnwell, Robert Mays, Jonah Keri, Ben Lindbergh, and several others.

But maybe, just maybe, this is a big deal. The fact that this type of site wasn’t financially successful is sad. Not necessarily in a grumpy old man way. But just in a desire for quality content way. I might never be able to go to a single site and get every bit of content I want for the entire day outside “actual” news. Where can I go and read an article about the WWE—which I’m weirdly into again—as well as great breakdowns of the Premier League, NHL, NBA, NFL, and MLB to go along with movie reviews, tv show reviews, and fantastic other pop culture articles.

It’s not the end of content this good. It’s not as big of a deal as it seems in my cultivated Twitter universe that was supremely obsessed with the subject today. But selfishly, it’s the end of my favorite single website on the internet. It’s the end of the reason I log on to this site as often as I can despite countless reasons to focus my attention elsewhere and attempt to put out the best and most reasoned sports analysis I am capable of. It’s not the end for me, but I wish it wasn’t the end for Grantland either.

About the author: Colby Rogers

Colby is the Editor-in-Chief, Founder and Lead Contributor to Other League. Also a law student focusing on Labor & Employment law and intersections with law and sports. You can find him on Twitter via @Colby_OL.