On Friday, while I was looking the other way, the bean counters at ESPN put a bullet in the head of one of my favorite websites, Grantland.com. The feeling of loss was like waking up one morning, walking out to the driveway, and discovering your car has been replaced by empty air–a set of skid marks arcing out of the drive, across the lawn, then down the street, leaving your mailbox uprooted and letters scattered over your lawn and in the hedge.
In other words I don’t know what to do. Grantland was the one site which catered to virtually all of my interests. Sean McIndoe had taken to flying his wonderful blog Down Goes Brown under their masthead, providing a humorous insight into the NHL. Brian Phillips had moved on from football’s–and by that I mean soccer’s–eclectic Run of Play to write on just about any sport from footy to tennis to college football–no, not soccer this time–to sumo. He also wrote brilliantly about film history, the return of the X-Files, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s efforts to pen fiction, and billionaire Paul Allen’s hobby of salvaging WWII battleships. David Shoemaker, aka The Masked Man, covered the absurdity of professional wrestling with a nonetheless serious self-awareness. Charles P Pierce, whom politicos will know from his work for Esquire, exposed the ugly side of sporting politics while also reminiscing about Boston institutions and legends of the game. Bryan Curtis also covered sport with insight and an acerbic wit, and Mark Harris had his thumb on the pulse of the film industry. It’s exiled editor Bill Simmons wasn’t too shabby either. As were Jonah Keri, Ben Lindbergh, Steve Hyden, Shea Serrano, and so many more. Now they are scattered across the front lawn of the internet leaving me no choice but to wander around trying to pick up each of their trails one at a time.
Chris Cilizza of the Washington Post summed up the situation nicely in his obituary for the sport/pop culture site. Borrowing ESPN producer Erik Rydholm’s metaphor that journalism is made up of three buckets:’ what’, ‘so what’, and ‘now what’, he noted that as groundbreaking as the network’s opinionated foray into ‘so what’ and ‘now what’ had been they were merely a financial drop in the bigger bucket, with the dry, factual reporting of ‘what’ being its inviolate bottomless well of revenue.
Of course the goose that laid the golden egg had also been threatened by Simmons famously calling NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a liar for his tepid rationalization of the league’s inaction with regard to the Ray Rice case. When he thumbed his nose at network higher-ups rather than express remorse after his suspension, Simmons’ role with Grantland was reduced and he soon moved on to HBO. With no sizable presence to replace him in championing Grantland’s , critical, analytical, and satirical approach the site was at the mercy of the marketers, who obviously viewed it as an albatross.
No surprise really. Free speech has long been trumped by free enterprise in America. (Pun intended although for once the comb-over king cum presidential wannabe has absolutely nothing to do with the matter)
A few readers may think I’m overreacting to the type of business decision which occurs almost every day, and can resolve the issue by adding a few more favorites to my bookmarks and paying more attention to my Twitter feed. It’s not just me–and other fans of Grantland–who has been affected however. We are talking about two or three dozen writers who have abruptly lost an important source of income, not to mention a creative outlet.
Having subsisted in rest stops or parked along the shoulder of the Information Super Highway for the past decade or so, I know just how difficult it is to make a living as a journalist or writer. Talent may not always enhance the bottom line but it does enrich lives. It’s a tragedy and a betrayal of the human spirit when it’s given an opportunity, thrives, and then is cruelly denied.