On Grantland, Collective, and Influence

Since about 1:45 pm on Friday, October 30th, 2015, I’ve been cycling through a handful of emotions. Grantland is shutting down, which shouldn’t be a surprise, but when any family member passes (and yes, I’m labeling Grantland as a member of my family), it doesn’t matter how much time you’ve been given to prepare, the realization that they’re actually gone is still a very sharp, icy breath without the pleasant mint to follow.

To be clear, I know that no one has actually died, and that many of the writers are still employed by ESPN for the time being. I understand that only a handful of people have actually lost their jobs. Writers like Zach Lowe, Holly Anderson, Andrew Sharp, Shea Serrano, and many, many more… they aren’t going anywhere. We will see them again. My sadness is born out of the absence of their collectiveness.

Because that’s what Grantland was: a beautiful, unrivaled collection.

I’m writing because Grantland is making me write, and for two different reasons. I consider myself a fiction writer first and foremost. Caleb Sarvis, sports fan, has always just been a characteristic of mine. I’ve always been aware that sports journalism existed, but it had always been just that. Journalism. Grantland transcended that label, and enlightened me of the creative space a journalist could occupy. Bench Points exists because of that enlightenment. I’m writing because of that enlightenment. I’m writing to mourn the loss of a hero, of sorts.

In 2011, when Grantland launched, I was a senior at the University of North Florida, spending most of my time reading and writing short fiction. It’s what I do, it’s who I am. My peers and even my family had asked me before why I hadn’t pursued a degree in Journalism, rather than Creative Writing, and my response to them was always certainly some combination of a scoff or an eye-roll. Journalism? I was an artist. I was a creative. What interest would I have in journalism?

One of Grantland’s earliest pieces was on LeBron James after the 2011 Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks. Some call it a disappearing act, and less than a year following The Decision, a nation was relishing his “failure.” Never mind the fact that he carried a shallow roster past a storied Celtics team and a top-seeded Bulls squad led by the “MVP” into the Finals in THEIR FIRST SEASON TOGETHER. He’d failed.

As a fan of that Heat team, of the Wade-LeBron friendship, and of good basketball, I was appalled by the hot-take analysis. It was in this rage-reading that I stumbled across Grantland for the first time.

You can find a copy of that piece here, and while it didn’t appease my hurt as a fan, it appeased my hurt as a reader. It’s not my favorite article ever written, but it’s one that really opened my eyes to what sports journalism could be. One that made me excited to read more pieces about basketball, pieces in which the narrative was used effectively. Eventually I discovered Zach Lowe and he deserves the most credit for basketball becoming, unequivocally, my number one sport. I, the guy who played and watched baseball his entire life, gladly placed the crown atop basketball’s head. His work is that good.

Bill Simmons was in no way Grantland’s best writer, and I mean that as a compliment. It is probably very easy for someone of his stature, of any Editor-In-Chief to surround themselves with writers who are maybe not quite as good as he is, but he didn’t do that. He actually brought in writers who were nothing like him. Rembert Browne’s piece on Ferguson last year still resonates with me today. Andy Greenwald’s work made me rethink television as an art form, rather than a brain-zapping drug. Wesley Morris factored a good deal into my snobby taste in movies, and I am eternally grateful. Andrew Sharp’s coverage of D.C. sports helped paved the way for me to embrace and exclusively root for my hometown team, the Washington Wizards. Wizard Parties are now a necessity.

In my quick-to-tweet, gut reaction to yesterday’s news, I tweeted our official Bench Points account and said:

At the time, I was just doing my CALEB TWEETS IN ALL CAPS TO EXPRESS EMOTION thing, but after drinking, dancing, getting a good night’s sleep and watching basketball highlights, I feel like I can offer a little more perspective on that. What ESPN did, as a business, was something they had to do, but it was a catastrophic mistake on their part. If people like me, fiction-writing high school English teachers, can utilize a platform like Bench Points to say a few words about Grantland, then there’s no limit to whatever platform writers as talented as Zach Lowe and company can use to have their work read. Jonah Keri, Bill Barnwell, Sean McIndoe. These writers will find a platform and their audience will follow them. If you do a little search on Twitter for “Grantland” and few different things pop up. Such as:

And this:

And of course, this:

There’s so much truth in that sentiment. Nobody deconstructed and analyzed sports and pop culture the way they did. Their “Grantland Staff” articles, such as this review of Yeezus, were always amazing. That’s what I’ll miss the most: the collective.

Grantland launched when I was 20 years old, and is shutting down a couple months into my 25th year. To say it was a big part of my growing up would be an understatement. They’ve been with me for a FIFTH of my existence. I was an angsty player with dreams of writing novels and screenplays. Now I’m a high school English teacher, four months away from getting married, with dreams of writing just something as good as the articles I read on Grantland.

All I can say at this point, is thank you, Bill Simmons. Thank you, Zach Lowe. Thank you, Shea Serrano, Rembert Browne, Jonathan Abrams, Katie Baker, Holly Anderson, Bill Barnwell, Amos Barshad, Danny Chau, Chris Ryan, Chris Connelly, Andy Greenwald, Kirk Goldsberry, and literally everyone else who ever participated in something Grantland related. You inspired a generation of wanna-be sports and culture writers. Even Kafka-loving, Carver-emulating, Cheever-hugging fiction guys like me.

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7 thoughts on “On Grantland, Collective, and Influence

  1. I’m not much of a twitter guy or Instagram; I peruse Facebool like most folks. But last night when I got home from work I spent 6 hours pouring through as much online content as I could find regarding the shutdown. I’m still consumed with it today. I didn’t know how to articulate why this site was so important to me as I was talking to my friends last night, I kept saying, “the writing, damn it!”, but I knew I wasn’t getting through. Thanks to this post because I now have something to reference and someone who is entirely on the same page as I. Thank you.

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  2. So well written. I share many of those feelings. I do not have a website but I do have real feelings about Grantland and those people who made it so amazing.

    I cannot say I’m shocked by ESPN decision to shut down Grantland, but it definitely saddens me. In fairness, I’m one of those statics that has stopped visiting the site as frequently and downloading as many podcasts. Still, for the better part of 4 years #Grantland has been a huge part of my day to day life. As media evolves, reading long form articles (or anything more than 140 characters) has taken a back seat. What Grantland did for me was get me excited to stop and read. I remember spending hours jumping from article to article – saving them to my reading list. The articles and podcasts were done with such passion that I couldn’t help but want to keep following the writers, no matter what they covered. That kind of passion in writing is rare and it was fun to be introduced to new things and hear/read thoughtful commentary on things I already enjoyed. The sports writing was second to none. It’s interesting that the smartest sports writing in all of ESPN took place on that site. Guys like Lowe/Barnwell/Keri an the others made me a more educated sports fan.
    I know all the writers will land on their feet – they are too talented – too passionate not to. I look forward to finding their work wherever it pops up, though I will miss it being just an icon click away on my devices. I’ll fondly flip through my Grantland coffee table books and remember the first time I read many of my favorite articles. Grantland was great, it debuted right after I graduated college and as Rembert explained, I guess stages do really go in increments of 4 years.

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  3. You’re right. From NBA Shootaround, to the Lightning Rounds after an album or trailer release, to the After-Party posts the morning after the Emmys, Oscars, or championship game, the collective was largely what made Grantland seem so special. When 7-10 insanely talented, yet distinctively voiced, writers all hop on the same blog post… I mean, damn. After every significant sports or pop culture event of the past four years, I went to Grantland within 24 hours to sort out what it all means via entertaining, informative, and thought-provoking writing.

    It’s safe to say there will be nothing quite like Grantland ever again.

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  4. Pingback: Grantland in Eulogy | Windsor Gazette

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