White Cover Magazine
I feel obliged to write something about Grantland.
I’ve spent so much time there over the past four years, it would be irresponsible for me not to. I’ve been a fanboi of Bill Simmons for so long now, dating back to some time around when he started for Page 2, that it would be downright shitty for me to ignore Friday’s ripple – that this mostly wonderful, ultimately experimental, sometimes ridiculous (really, the gossip columns?) website would be shut down. ESPN called it a suspension. It’s not. Grantland was expelled.
And it’s sad, I think. But it’s mostly sad for the staff, the writers left behind – the ones who weren’t plucked by Simmons for his HBO project, the ones who didn’t graduate to freer, loosely titled positions with the New York Times or New York Magazine, the ones who stayed below while the ship’s third-class carriages filled with water these past few months. Seriously, the post-Simmons Grantland was very often like reading an imitation of the real one – it was Community without Dan Harmon, Friends after Joey hooked up with Rachel.
I won’t blame Chris Connelly for that, but I will blame ESPN. They look awful and have for some time, not really for how they let Grantland whither or for how they canned Simmons, but their reputation as the worldwide leader in anything is now nothing more than a powerful slogan on a poster. If anything, ESPN’s regime has shown a complete misunderstanding of what creative even is. Their fraidy-cat approach to anything lovable and organic, even when it’s their own stuff, has made them ‘the NFL’ of the media business – and they probably have no idea why that’s an insult.
ESPN is now the machine. Grantland was the red coat in a black-and-white film.
And because of that, body count aside, I’m going another way with my euology here: this isn’t tragic or sad. It’s actually perfect.
Really, it’s a great thing that Grantland is gone – because it’s now a real martyr for itself, a beyond-the-grave middle finger to the apparatus that tried to own it.
Because if Grantland was forced to continue lobotomized, as it’s seemed sometimes for the past few months, or if it relented and was blended into the rest of the interchangeable vanilla stuff aired from Bristol… well, THAT would have been the tragedy.
Grantland as a willing subservient to ESPN? I’d rather read what happens to Atticus Finch in Go Set a Watchman. Both are against the iconic form of the content and characters we’ve come to trust, even revere. What would Arrested Development have been if it was the most-watched show on television, if it was stretched out over seven seasons? What would the Cubs be if they’d won a World Series this year, or if Bartman hadn’t intercepted Moises Alou in 2003?
I know, it’s sort of a stupid argument. Because ideally, Cubs fans would rather be champions than be loveable losers.
But Grantland was born in a flame. It lived in the eye of the storm. Eventually, the walls had to cave and the monotone had to win.
But we need that to remind us of what we miss, or what we really want. I’ve read a bunch from people – on Twitter or wherever – bemoaning Friday’s news as the death of long-form journalism, which I think is a tremendously idiotic thing to say or think. Don’t confuse the medium with the mannequin. Since when has long-form journalism been popular? Since when is it supposed to be popular? Since when has any journalism?
How often is art actually profitable?
And how can long-form be dead when there’s obviously such an appetite for it? It doesn’t have to be the most-read or the fastest food; if it was, it wouldn’t be cool.
Rock and roll wouldn’t rock without Christian mothers trying to kick KISS out of Detroit.
Grantland could only exist when it was the alternative to a very boring, predictable norm. And when ESPN tried to convert it, conform it, harvest it, leech it, and capitalize on it, without Simmons guarding the front gate, like the Starks leaving Winterfell for the Boltons, it had to burn.
This is all a compliment, by the way. The site lived for four years is now eternal – to steal from Game of Thrones again, “What is dead may never die.” There’s a relief in that sort of wild abandon, that too fast to live, too young to die thing. Everyone and everything dies, whether you get a few years or hundreds. And either way, you’ll wish you had more time, even if you had plenty. And James Dean’s on all the t-shirts.
ESPN killed Grantland, but it can’t kill its ghost.
You can’t kill what was already dead.