Grantland, the sports and pop culture website created by former ESPN writer Bill Simmons, was shut down this past Friday. When editor-in-chief Bill Simmons was ousted earlier this year, the countdown to the end of Grantland began. The site had been his brai
nchild, and ESPN was reportedly eager to cut any sort of ties with him.
Company executives stated that “[they] have decided to direct [their] time and energy going forward to projects that [they] believe will have a broader and more significant impact across [their] enterprise.” Several news outlets have also reported that ESPN no longer wants a site with content focused on pop culture.
The site, which was named for famed sportswriter Grantland Rice, launched in 2011, and was designed to create an outlet for longform journalism on sports and pop culture. Simmons and his editorial team quickly amassed one of the best collections of writing talent in the country. The site published work from Malcolm Gladwell, Chuck Klosterman and Colson Whitehead. The staff was equally impressive, with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Wesley Morris, widely-respected NBA writer and podcaster Zach Lowe and nationally-renowned film and television writers Mark Harris and Andy Greenwald. In later years, the staff added other well-known sports and culture writers like Charlie Pierce, Bryan Curtis and Jonah Keri. While those writers remained the main pillars of the site, it was Grantland’s promotion of their younger, up-and-coming writers that distinguished them. Their hands-off editing style allowed writers like Shea Serrano, Rembert Browne and Holly Anderson to publish everything from Roger Federer fanfiction to Ferguson protest accounts.
Since the announcement last Friday, there has been an outpouring of appreciation for the site from writers and editors across the country. Many saw Grantland as an example of a “writer’s website,” where writers were paid exceptionally well and were allowed an unprecedented amount of jurisdiction over their word-count and content. Indeed, Grantland allowed its writers to indulge every instinct to pontificate and expound upon any tangent they found fit. Consequently, Grantland was truly a product of its time; articles were often peppered with GIFs, embedded links, inside-joke footnotes and other markers of the age of Internet journalism.
From the beginning, Grantland cultivated a fairly narrow appeal, part of the reason for its demise. During its first week of existence, Grantland published nearly 14,000 words on The National, a defunct sports daily. The article ended with a quote from Tony Kornheiser, who described The National as “…the great and noble experiment of sports writing in America.” Its intentionality now seems clearer than ever.
Bernstein is a member of the class of 2018.