This has probably been in the works for a while now, but ESPN has officially shut down Grantland. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Grantland, imagine if ESPN bothered to extend its branches and dish out content that was actually worth consuming. As absolutely insane as that might sound, it was very briefly the case. Thankfully, we don’t have to worry about pesky insight and coverage of topics other than football any longer; we’ll be right back to a state of Rex Ryan’s adjective usage dominating a 24-hour news cycle at the Worldwide Leader, free of any in-house alternatives that might accidentally activate our annoying frontal lobes.
Started by the entertaining Bill Simmons in 2011, Grantland offered a rare forum owned by a media titan that actually had things to say. While sports were every bit the primary focus as they are on the parent site and network, they were approached in a fresh way. The Grantland reach extended to pop culture, and it allowed for its diverse and talented staff (300 of whom now appear to be out of work for the time being) to use its own creativity to breed content rather than hewing closely to the watered-down standard we’re all so used to seeing.
Sports media gets bad name for being so jammed full of cliches and generalizations, and I think that’s fair, but Grantland at least served to offer some alternatives. As a baseball fan all of my life, I’ve taken the time to learn the ins and outs of the game on a deeper level. I’m beyond fatigued when it comes to reading fluff pieces about underdogs, short-sighted overreactions, and virtually anything that references statistics that haven’t actually been seen as valid for 30 years. If I’m going to read about the sport I’m passionate about, I want to read something that gives me knowledge, something that makes me think and entertains me. Grantland was able to give me a dose of that, something I can only routinely say for ESPN itself when Keith Law is involved. I’m going to miss Jonah Keri’s content, although I guarantee he’ll either be retained by papa or land on his feet elsewhere. I’ll readily confess that I’m not sure how this will work for all of the employees involved, especially those with higher profiles.
I’d also like to give a specific shout-out to Cheap Heat, a terrific professional wrestling podcast I discovered through Grantland. The podcast features Grantland’s own David Shoemaker (an engaging writer on the G-land site as well) and Hot 97 DJ Peter Rosenberg talking not only about what has recently happened in the wrestling world, but about memories past and whatever else naturally weaves its way into the conversation. It’s one of the more entertaining podcasts I’ve come across recently, and I hope it finds a good home even if that home isn’t still under the ESPN umbrella.
It would be very easy to dismiss my own frustration over Grantland’s doors being closed as meaningless; it’s entirely possible that all of the content I seek out or stumble upon via Grantland will be available to readers if ESPN intends to keep most of these talented folks in the fold going forward. I just don’t see that happening, though, not when the majority of what the mothership has to offer is so canned and airy.
There also happens to be a flashing, neon sign pointing directly to ESPN willingly dumbing itself down and refusing to trust us as consumers, and it crops up in the company’s brief press release concerning Grantland’s demise. The release includes the following shudder-inducing sentence:
“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.”
Disgusting! Seriously, I was really hungry until I had to relive that very sentiment. Obviously ESPN is in the business of making money, and obviously it makes sense to give the people what they want. But where, exactly, is ESPN’s true competition? If you tell me you actually watch Fox Sports One programming, I’ll be happy to administer a polygraph test or concede to your honesty while I watch you drink Crystal Pepsi and play “San Francisco Rush 2049” on your Sega Dreamcast. ESPN has the power to own and operate a collective that also has the power to bring in sports fans that demand more from their coverage.
I hope I’m wrong, and I hope the goal here is to at least mitigate the loss of Grantland by appropriating all of its talent in meaningful ways. I just don’t see how that could possibly be the case when ESPN seems to be tripping all over itself to tell us that we’re going to get the very most tepid and vanilla content possible. Is that really what we want as a population?
Advanced statistics and the blending of humor with analysis are becoming more and more prevalent across hugely popular media outlets online. There is an obvious market for what Grantland had to offer, a fan base of thoughtful and/or light-hearted men and women eager to gobble up opinions, analysis, wry humor, and satire. It isn’t enough to simply rip through the same tired (football) story in 2015. I don’t care if Tom Brady’s suspension verdict is being appealed, and I don’t care how “clutch” Andrew Luck is. Give me numbers, give me fresh perspective, make me laugh!
There is too much information out there and too many wildly talented people working in sports media today for this trend to continue forever. I really believed we were heading toward a much more delightful time in sports coverage, but this news is a pretty sizable blow to my morale. I’ll do my best to keep the faith for the time being, but we need to demand better of the products we support. If we don’t, we have to keep hearing 65% of every televised hour dedicated to tangential stories that amount to little more than an unseemly cocktail made from tabloid speculation and reality show theatrics.