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 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.