Bill Simmons’ new ESPN-owned website, Grantland.com, hasn’t even debuted yet, and there’s already been a serious, exceedingly well-written deconstruction of it by an anonymous (best I can tell) blogger who goes by the name of Mobutu Sese Seko. The blog post is so insidery and knowledgeable, it makes you wonder if someone at ESPN wrote it.
There’s a lot to sift through, but let’s begin here.
ESPN and Simmons exist to make each other look edgy — ESPN by having Simmons write risky and scandalous things like “I hate [sports player],” and Simmons by having ESPN’s editorial policy to blame for not writing anything more risky and scandalous than, “I hate [sports player].”
If at any moment either entity had walked away from their relationship, it would have given the lie to ESPN’s claims to print things more subversive than “SportsCenter You Can Read” and Simmons’ claims that he had any ideas to be held back in the first place. Thus the need to create something like Grantland, which allows ESPN to pretend it’s breaking new ground by printing Gawker content from 2005, while Simmons gets to play the bad-boy who replaced his short woven corporate dog leash with the open-road freedom one of those really long clicky-handled corporate dog leashes.
Over the last five years, Simmons has selectively embraced new quantitative metrics in basketball precisely because they’re so ambiguous and interdependent, nicely dovetailing with his comically facile “secret” of the game, but he’s resisted, mocked and regularly made intellectually shallow and logically indefensible arguments about statistical analysis in baseball. Any website that promises smart new sports journalism under a banner quote redolent of dog-whistle “gritty,” “Eckstein-esque” and “played the game the right way” conceptions of sports is sending mixed messages. Rice is now employed as an avatar of hidebound sports-journalist conservatism, the quote and his writing the hoary old clichés marshaled by the luddites and bigots resistant to exactly the kind of dynamism Simmons ostensibly would like to proffer. Score one for pointless ambiguity.
I haven’t paid close enough attention to Simmons to know whether this is true or not, so I can’t really speak to the author’s point. But this was such a well-written paragraph, it warranted a pull quote. This chap, whoever he is, can write. Hey man, you looking for work?
Klosterman lards meaningless observations about meaningless phenomena with cute paradoxes, trying to rationalize the impossible tension between two strawmen he’s invented, before arriving at a conclusion that antagonizes the web-traffic-spiking intelligentsia while validating and comforting the incurious … No wonder he loves Klosterman so much. Both of them riff on the same vain intellectual process but from different precincts of cultural shallowness. Both seem to subscribe to the old medieval theory of sight: the world is alit for their glance being shone upon it.
After reading that, you should read this Chuck Kloserterman dismemberment from 2003. It’s the first time I’ve seen it. Brilliant.
Allegedly it’s a serious sports website maintained by a man whose intellectual rigorousness about sports can be measured by going to the IMDB “memorable quotes” page for a movie and trying to apply it to some random category like “interceptions made by New England Patriots, 2001-2010.” Allegedly it’s a serious cultural website maintained by a man whose cultural mind looks like one of those spooky MRIs of “ecstasy brains,” with all the black dead spots, and a bit where someone burned “SWEEP THE LEG” into it with a laser scalpel. Its celebrity contributors list reads like a Who’s Who of people whose only metric for understanding the human experience is the singular preciousness of themselves or the nauseating insipidity of corporate-retreat science. Then there’s the preposterousness of the name. Bill Simmons is to Grantland Rice what Tucker Max is to Hunter Thompson.
A lot of criticism I’ve heard from media members centers around the name: Grantland.com. I can see ESPN suits in their corner offices cheering when the website’s name was hatched: “Granland Rice, 4 Horsemen!” It doesn’t feel young and edgy, which is where Simmons built his brand back in the day; it feels old, which is where some folks think the site might be headed if Tony Kornheiser were writing for it.
It’s still far too early to know what the site will become – we’ve only seen two examples of writing that will appear on Grantland. I think that could be part of the problem with everyone’s impression of the site – Simmons’ choice to release those two specific pieces early (to prove there will be females writing for the site, which is something you can’t really find in the white male-dominated blog world?) left everyone with a “meh” vibe.
I’ll reserve judgment until I see more.
Bill Simmons and Grantland [Et tu, Mr. Destructo?]