Wed. Jan 19th, 2022

When I was a senior in high school, I wrote for my school paper. It was called The Surveyor. They needed a sports editor, and since I loved sports and writing, it was a position that I was glad to accept. Along with editing duties, I had to come with my own articles. I spent every day after school in the computer lab arranging the latest issue and doing work browsing the internet. As I searched for inspiration, my usual first site of the day was a new one, just starting to find its groove. Grantland started in 2011, and I was essentially a fan from day one. The founder, Bill Simmons, was one of my favorite sports writers and his new site offered a slew of voices the chance to go beyond score recaps and highlights, instead encouraging a deeper thinking about our mediums of entertainment.

It grabbed some, but not everyone. Long-form journalism just doesn’t do it for others, but it was something that I read daily and a strong source of inspiration for me to pursue a career in writing. It still feels strange to write about it and speak about it in the past tense.

ESPN suspended the publication of Grantland on Oct. 30, which is a delicate way of saying they shut down the website. The writing was on the wall for some time, but that didn’t make the news any less jarring. While the site was the brain-child of Bill Simmons, it was owned and operated by ESPN. Without many advertisements and little in the way of revenue, Grantland wasn’t a money-maker priority for ESPN. It was more of an extension of the style of Simmons, who left the company in May. With Simmons’ creative direction no longer a part of the company and a lack of incoming revenue, Grantland’s end was a matter of time.

Still, I was surprised at a personal level, and as reaction rolled in, I learned that I was not alone. Many writers were caught off guard, like Michael Baumann who apparently learned of the news on Twitter. For a site so highly regarded among the fans that it did manage to capture, the shutdown of Grantland, announced in a seven sentence press release, felt cold.

When something you enjoy is taken away so abruptly, it’s natural to question things. Why the cruel shutdown? Why couldn’t it reach a wider audience? Why not continue such a great thing? But many of these questions have easy answers. Unsatisfying, but easy answers. The more difficult answers come when you try to identify what it is that Grantland was.

To myself and many others, it was a special place that embraced the human element that is so dearly lacking from countless news sources. So many of the talented writers like Charles Pierce, Rembert Brown, Katie Baker, and Wesley Morris (to name a few) all gave their articles touch of personality while still managing to present their ideas with careful consideration of our cultural landscape. More than anything, they were not afraid to take a step back from our mediums of entertainment and examine them as influences and symptoms of our condition in the world.

Of course, Grantland at its core was a sports website, and the extensive detail from writers like Zach Lowe and Kirk Goldsberry made the website shine in that regard. But for as much as the collection of writers had to say, in many ways the site was at its best when it allowed voices to be heard. One of the best series to run on Grantland was undoubtedly their Oral Histories. Using interviews and quotations from those involved, they examined sporting events that transcended their duration, like the 2004 brawl between the Indiana Pacers and Detroit Pistons, and the earthquake that preceded the 1989 World Series. They gave some context to such historic events as well as detailed eyewitness accounts. Any website could summarize these moments in the rhetorical framework of the sport, but without an injection of humanity they become lost in the ever growing record books.

For Grantland, these moments mean something greater. Grantland gave the box score life, and turned them into indelible pictures that will endure longer in the minds of its audience than any numbers or highlight footage can.

The hardest answer to accept then, is that a lot of people don’t want things like Grantland. Shane Ryan, another former writer for the site, wrote in an article for Paste Magazine, “Where, in the vast system, are the special things? The odd things? Where are the people who diverge from the bland company mindset? If we’re not striving to give those voices a small space, then what story are we telling ourselves about the future? Where’s the soul?”

In the case of Grantland, there is no place for such things. Another unsatisfying answer. It’s a sad reality that, in our age of media, there isn’t a place for those willing to think. It’s sad that ESPN has no interest in funding something worthwhile despite being one of the few places with the resources to do it. It’s sad that such tremendous efforts must give way to Vines and a 24 hours a day of recycled narratives and empty rhetoric. The entire situation is just sad.

So what was Grantland? That remains to be seen. What legacy grows out of a website that operated for just four years will be hard to discern, at least initially. Perhaps it will live on through Bill Simmons, who will get a show on HBO in 2016, or any of the other wondrous writers who made a name for themselves there.

But for now, the perpetually unsatisfying answer is that it’s over. The other day, I caught myself clicking on the Grantland tab on my browser. Realizing that the link would only take me to their archives (which I strongly encourage you to seek out and read), I removed the bookmark from my toolbar. It’s still there, buried deep among my other bookmarks and even deeper in my mind, awaiting a return fueled by nostalgia and intellectual curiosity. I know that I’ll be back, just not first thing tomorrow. I’m still getting used to that part.

Chris Landry is a fourth year student majoring in English with a minor in journalism. He can be reached at CL784324@wcupa.edu. His Twitter handle is @Landry_dubc.

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