ESPN announced that it was shutting down Grantland, the website founded by former ESPN star Bill Simmons, which mixed literary sports writing with wider coverage of politics and culture.
In a press release, ESPN said the site was suspended immediately, with no plans to revive it.
“After careful consideration, we have decided to direct our time and energy going forward to projects that we believe will have a broader and more significant impact across our enterprise,’’ the statement read. Grantland distinguished itself with quality writing, smart ideas, original thinking and fun. We are grateful to those who made it so.”
Simmons, who built an enormous online audience as a preeminent columnist at ESPN in the 2000s, was instrumental in some of ESPN’s best ideas and innovations in recent years, including a popular podcast and the superb 30 for 30 film series.
Simmons built such immense capital within the Disney-owned company he eventually gained oversight of his own offshoot website, which included a staff separate from ESPN.com.
Grantland launched in June 2011 and, with the hiring of established writers such as Charlie Pierce, Wesley Morris, Jonah Keri and the discovery and nurturing of rising talent quickly became a go-to resource for deep, insightful and often humorous long-form writing.
But Simmons’s relationship with ESPN management became increasingly contentious through the years, and in September 2014 he was suspended for three weeks for calling NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a liar on his podcast and daring the network to punish him for saying so.
On May 8, he was in essence fired by the network, with ESPN president John Skipper informing the New York Times that Simmons’s contract would not be renewed. Simmons learned the news on Twitter.
ESPN acknowledged Simmons’s work at Grantland in Friday’s statement:
“Bill Simmons was passionately committed to the site and proved to be an outstanding editor with a real eye for talent,’’ it read. “Thanks to all the other writers, editors and staff who worked very hard to create content with an identifiable sensibility and consistent intelligence and quality.”
Simmons has not responded to an e-mail seeking comment, but he did share his thoughts with his 4.7 million twitter followers on Friday afternoon:
“I loved everyone I worked with at G and loved what we built. Watching good/kind/talented people get treated so callously = simply appalling.”
In the aftermath of his departure – he is now working on high-profile television and digital projects at HBO and recently resumed his podcast — several ESPN staffers moved on. Morris left for the New York Times as a critic-at-large, while Rembert Browne joined New York magazine. Dan Fierman, Grantland’s editorial director who co-founded the site with Simmons, departed for MTV News. Four valued members of Simmons’s Grantland editorial/writing staff — Sean Fennessey, Juliet Litman, Mallory Rubin, and Chris Ryan – resigned from Grantland to join him on a still undisclosed venture.
An ESPN source said the exodus of talent was a factor but not the sole reason in Friday’s decision, and the ultimate call to shut down Grantland came relatively recently. Grantland has a remaining staff of approximately 40 employees. All writers will have the remainder of their contracts hon