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Grantland: First Impressions

After much fanfare Bill Simmons’Internet land grant was unveiled. Questions before the launch abounded. Answers after it remain in short supply. Perceived contradictions remain contradictions. Left open-ended by the architect, the focus remains unclear.

Simmons has stressed the site will be a forum for “mostly young, mostly up and comers.“ Yet, the site’s self-proclaimed “starting rotation” is Simmons and Klosterman, neither young nor by any means up and coming. The site’s list of editors, contributors and promised celebrity guests adheres to the same age-bracket, sensibility and genre as it’s creator. The site led off with writers, “mostly middle-aged, mostly established.”

The title “Grantland” seems to contradict the promised content. Grantland Rice wrote elegant, romantic prose that bordered on poetry. He fused sports with high culture. For all their intellectual capability, Simmons and Klosterman have forged careers antithetical to high culture, dissecting and fetishizing bad movies and reality TV. If Grantland Rice were alive, it’s hard to see him penning a 5,000-word paean on Kiss, 90210 or Internet porn.

Grantland will work. It has marquee names with partizans. It has ample talent in “the bullpen.” It’s pulsating with cross-promotional ESPN blood (and cash). The site will exist as long as the great mouse decrees it. What we don’t know is why we need Grantland or what it is meant to contribute to the greater Internet conversation (or intersecting monologues). Simmons doesn’t really help us understand.

Simmons offers no mission statement or for the site, beyond that it will “blend sports and pop culture” and “evolve.” He wants to “find writers he liked” but doesn’t articulate the trait he’s looking for. He wants to aim for quality over quantity (who doesn’t?). He wants “to take advantage of a little extra creative leeway,” but sheds no insight into how much he has or what that entails.

We have no baseline for contextualizing Grantland. Because Simmons has been guarded, we don’t know what he is creating, why he’s creating it or even the extent to which he is the creator. The work is left to stand for itself and, at least on first impression, feels a bit disparate.

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