Simmons' tirades put glorious Grantland at risk

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By PATRICK LEARY
College Contributor Network

Monday morning, I walked into the Marquette University Student Government office for my shift at the front desk. Just ten minutes in, my friend Thomas made a comment that caught me off guard.

"The only job I would abandon law school for would be to work at Grantland," he said.

Thomas and I both share an immense fondness for Grantland, ESPN's satellite project founded by editor-in-chief and 'America's Sports Guy' Bill Simmons in 2011. That fondness is what worries me so much about Simmons' recent strife with the Worldwide Leader.

In September, Simmons was suspended for three weeks for making highly critical comments toward Roger Goodell and then essentially begging ESPN to suspend him for it. His bosses were happy to oblige. And in those 21 days, Grantland admittedly read like it was playing without a full deck. Simmons is Grantland's Reggie Jackson, the straw that stirs its drink, and the website felt a bit hollow without the BS Report and his snarky NFL picks columns.

Then, just two weeks after returning from his suspension, Simmons went on a tirade on Twitter last Thursday against one half of the most popular show on ESPN Radio, Mike Golic. His rant was harsh, albeit justified. Golic had criticized Simmons for drawing an analogy between LeBron James' first four games in Cleveland and Albert Pujols' tenure in Los Angeles on Colin Cowherd's show the day before. Simmons had qualified the comparison by calling it a stretch, but when Golic and his partner Mike Greenberg played the clip, Simmons' disclaimer was removed.

Golic, a noted Cleveland sports homer, called Simmons' comment "one of the most ridiculous statements I've heard four games into a season in my life in any sport" and said Simmons "grabbed a headline."

Simmons responded on Twitter, saying "What Mike and Mike did today was absolute garbage. I would say I lost respect for that show, but I never had it." He followed that with, "Have the balls to call me to discuss it on the show. Don't pull it out of context just because you need fodder for a segment. Pathetic."

For the most part, Simmons seems to be in the right here. For ESPN Radio to, as he put it, "play the moral authority card" against one of their own contradicts values of a positive business culture. But this also represents the second major time Simmons has spoken out against ESPN programming on Twitter. In March 2013, ESPN suspended Simmons from Twitter after he criticized the infamous verbal spat between Skip Bayless and Richard Sherman on ESPN's flagship debate program, First Take.

While Simmons mostly seems to be coming from the ethical high ground in these instances, his battle with his bosses, coupled with the impending end of his current contract in 2015, puts ESPN's greatest journalistic achievement, Grantland, at risk of extinction.

This risk doesn't just affect the cult following the website had amassed in its three years of existence; it also jeopardizes the employment of the many talented writers Grantland boasts. The website has simultaneously launched the careers of several young writers as well as bringing established veteran writers into the consciousness of the Internet generation.

Take Shea Serrano for example. Serrano is a middle school teacher and assistant football coach in Houston, who has developed a reputation at Grantland for being downright hilarious with pretty much everything he does. Serrano writes about everything from the best (worst) Texans' quarterbacks of all-time to the decline of R&B since 1994. Serrano's best work comes when he writes about the players on his football team, whom he gives nicknames like 'The Ferrari' and 'The Great Wall,' in a column he calls Tuesday Night Lights.

Grantland also brings in fantastic veteran writers to add quality to the writing stock. Writers like Charles Pierce, a frequent Esquire contributor who writes deep dives into sports' most compelling stories and Wesley Morris, an ace movie reviewer who won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize at The Boston Globe, take Grantland to depths that most websites cannot approach.

But in addition to being its fearless, brazen leader, Simmons is also Grantland's lynchpin. As his three week suspension showed, Grantland cannot exist in its elite realm without the Sports Guy at the helm to drive traffic and generate dollars. If Simmons leaves ESPN, Grantland will likely collapse into the mythical graveyard of failed websites.

And that would be shame, because for people like Thomas and I, Grantland has given us something to aspire to.


Patrick Leary is a senior at Marquette University. He thinks Felix Hernandez is the best pitcher on God's green earth. Follow him on Twitter: @patrickkleary
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