Grantland: A Rumpus Roundup

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At the end of October, ESPN announced that Grantland, the sports and culture website it had acquired, would cease publication.

Some commentators claimed the site should have been shuttered sooner when Bill Simmons, the “voice” of Grantland, parted ways with ESPN.

Now ESPN says it might have underestimated Simmons’s cult-like following.

The site’s closure raises a number of questions. Some are practical: what happens to the archived articles?

Other questions are more abstract, like what does the closure of the site mean for future of sports journalism? Or, what does the site’s closure mean for the future of online journalism?

That such weighty questions can be ascribed to the demise of singular website speaks to how the site connected with readers. But it also had its limitations.

Sports writing enthusiasts worry that the end of Grantland means the dumbing down of sports writing. But maybe it just points to problems with ESPN business culture.

Vanity Fair pointed out some of the problems with ESPN, Grantland, and Simmons weeks before the announcement of the end of the site. Namely, failing to correctly monetize the site while also not supporting Grantland staff who saw themselves as Grantland employees rather than ESPN employees.

Part of the problem is that ESPN is an old media cable company. Simmons and Grantland were pulling the aging giant into the 21st century—mostly by simply understanding the Internet—and ESPN simply didn’t understand what it had.

The site’s demise did set off The Toast’s Nicole Cliffe to offer her views on indie media, and how indie media is funded. (In short, AdBlock is killing independent web publishers.)

The reason Grantland mattered to people was that it was not just another sport’s site. It was not just reporting statistcs. It was not just singularly focused. It was smart and concerned with broader questions beyond simply facts and figures:

Simmons focused Grantland on the “so what” and the “now what” of sports, movies, TV and pop culture more broadly. Instead of writing about the score of the Warriors-Trailblazers game, Zach Lowe, Grantland’s main NBA writer, would produce a detailed breakdown of why Steph Curry’s movement without the ball was so valuable to his team.

While the end of Grantland may or may not serve as a portent to the end of great sports writing or the end of web journalism or the end of independent media, we do know this: Simmons’s departure from ESPN has freed him to make a documentary about Andre the Giant.


Ian MacAllen's fiction has appeared in 45th Parallel Magazine, Little Fiction, Vol 1. Brooklyn, Joyland Magazine, and elsewhere and nonfiction has appeared in Chicago Review of Books, The Negatives, Electric Literature, Fiction Advocate, and elsewhere. He is the Deputy Editor of The Rumpus, holds an MA in English from Rutgers University, tweets @IanMacAllen and is online at IanMacAllen.com. More from this author →