Grantland has faced harsh scrutiny for Caleb Hannan’s controversial putter story, which outed a transgender woman against her wishes, potentially contributed to her suicide during the reporting and handled that suicide with apparent callousness. Bill Simmons, the site’s editor-in-chief, has yet to respond. He appears to have been off the Internet grid altogether.
The Sports Guy has been a no-show on Twitter since late Friday night. His last Facebook post was also on Friday. The timing, for a perhaps reasonable social media siesta, seems unusual given his Patriots played in the AFC title game yesterday. Perhaps, he just had a busy weekend.
Simmons will address Hannan’s story in a column sometime in the near future. It’s not clear how much (if any) role he played in the story’s conception and editing, beyond tweeting it to his followers last Wednesday. Though, his editor-in-chief title entails responsibility. So does his role creating the editing structure for the site.
Simmons built his career being adversarial with editors. This resolve let him transcend word counts and hackneyed conventions to revolutionize sports journalism. That mindset carried over when he formed a writers’ website. Assemble talented people. Liberate them from creative constraints. Grant them the time and autonomy to flourish. That’s a seductive utopia for any writer, but one that can be problematic.
No writer is flawless in a vacuum. Editors, however much of a buzzkill they can be, provide an essential check on idiocy. A writer will get too absorbed and tumble head first into the drink. An editor fishes him or her out. Most often that’s relatively innocuous (stopping one from rambling for an extraneous 1,000 words or killing a joke more hurtful than funny). With Hannan’s piece, it meant ensuring the life of a relatively private human being was treated with appropriate empathy and decency. That didn’t happen.
What Hannan wrote and did was deplorable. But the crucial question is how and why his piece was vetted by Grantland, published and promoted uncritically. Not just uncritically. The site’s editorial director claimed he was “incredibly proud” of it. Was the ignorance about transgender issues that pervasive while chasing a racy premise? Or, was it a breakdown with Grantland’s editing when confronted with matters more weighty than sports stats and pop culture minutiae?
It will be interesting to hear what Simmons has to say.
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