Friday, June 17, 2011

GTOG on the New Bill Simmons Website: Grant Revoked

By GTOG Staff

Let's get one thing out of the way up front: We dig Bill Simmons. He's smart, funny, passionate, and prolific. He gets paid to do something we try to squeeze in between a conference call and calculating the time we spent on a conference call.  He's also innovative and ambitious.  ESPN's 30 for 30 documentary series?  His idea.  And at the same time, to many people - especially men of a certain age - Bill Simmons is totally relatable.  He has more than earned the title, "The Sports Guy."  Does he spend way too much time writing and talking about the NBA, Boston, and Beverly Hills 90210?  Of course he does, and we admire the hell out of it.  You can't be great at this stuff if you're not inspired by your subject matter.  Simmons just covers what he loves.  In case you hadn't noticed, we're a little heavy here on the NHL, Pittsburgh, and the Bachelorette.  Sports is personal.*  But the key to great sports writing is making the reader feel like a game, a moment, or some insight into the lives of an athlete or a team, is shared.  The reader has to have some buy-in.

Living the Dream
Which brings us to Grantland.  The latest Bill Simmons project is intended to be a gift - a grant - to smart people with frivolous hobbies, a platform for guys like Simmons, Chuck Klosterman, Dave Eggers, and Malcolm Gladwell to write long form posts and really, really explore "the space."  Predictably, people are fawning all over it.   We've been visiting the site every day and there's just one problem: it's virtually unreadable. Well, not all of it. We appreciate the wall-to-wall hockey features from a guy who, admittedly, pretty much stopped following hockey until his hometown team showed up in the Finals and, in fact, almost all of Simmons' stuff is entertaining.  But thousands of words by two guys covering a cricket match, complete with digressions about their respective cricket histories and the rules of cricket?  That's not personal. That's painful.  And it's a good example of the problem with Grantland: the features are just incredibly self-indulgent.

For example: Can you guess which of these sentences are actual lead-ins to "pieces"** on Grantland.com?

"Like most 6-year-olds in the METCO-serviced suburbs of Boston, I spent the last two weeks of October 1986 with a Red Sox cap on my head."

"My grandfather used to tell a story about a wrestling show in small-town North Carolina."

"The Australian-born, Queens Park, London resident sitting next to me on our British Airways flight was putting in a good shift as an aerial tour guide, but I could tell he was getting a bit tired of the whole act."

"I remember the moment when I realized I wanted to write."

"My father had three things left on his Sports Bucket List: seeing a Stanley Cup finals game in Boston, going to the Masters, and going to the Kentucky Derby."

Trick question.  Grantland ran every one of those leads. 

My grandfather laughed too, at that exact moment, but about something else entirely.
Look, we might be in the minority here, but not only do we not care about soccer, we especially don't care about the guy you were sitting next to on the plane on the way to the soccer stadium.  We like when writers hold up a mirror to the world.  We are less interested when they hold up a mirror to themselves, then write 10,000 words about what they see.  Go to therapy, for Christ's sake.  What do you want from us?

We get what Grantland is going for.  Simmons wants "pieces" like the ones Sports Illustrated used to run in the back of the magazine.  Sports literature. But those stories were never about the writer, there was only one of them per week, and nobody was reading them on their work computer while answering an email from their boss.  Incidentally, Simmons tweeted the following message on Friday:
"Getting feedback today that certain companies are now blocking Grantland.com. HOW DARE THEY! You suck, companies who want employees to work."
Sort of a humblebrag tweet right there, but let's address the substance of it.  Of course companies are blocking Grantland.com.  Would you want your employees reading "War and Peace" at their desk every morning?

Bookmarked on work computer.
We have no doubt that Grantland (is it "Grant-LAND" or "Grant-LUHND"?) will be a success, if you measure success by how many Subway ads you can fit on one page.  And we have no doubt that we will continue to read and listen to Simmons and his podcast...you know, so long as we have time left over after reading 26,000 words written by an "up-and-coming" author about his experience at a Rugby match when he was studying abroad in 2005.

So we wish Simmons the best of luck with Grantland.com (like he needs it from us), and we hope that the site becomes an even bigger success by learning from some of its early and rather wordy mistakes.  In the meantime, if you're looking for something that goes down a little easier, a little smoother, then look no further.  You know what you're getting here.  It's all we know how to be.  So Smart.  So Steady.  So Serviceable.  GTOG.

* 15 years ago Artistry was a local sports anchor in Billings, Montana. If there is one thing in this world that is certain, it's that no one in Billings, Montana cares about the Pittsburgh Penguins. That didn't stop Artistry from leading off a sportscast with a regular season tilt between the Pens and Boston Bruins. Just so he could do the highlights. Sports is personal.

** Isn't it a touch pretentious to call these things "pieces?" Pretending your 10,000 words on J.J. Barea is like precious art is exactly the issue we're talking about here.  It would be like us referring to our podcasts as "sublime." Oh wait, we did that?

5 comments:

  1. i think you're hating. not every article is for you, but some of them are awesome. way more of them than i can read in fact.

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  2. You're right, not every article is for us and we can (and do) pick and choose what to read. I don't think we're hating though. We said we like Simmons and actually want the website to do well. It's just that right now, it seems cluttered with a decent amount of self-indulgent writing. But hey - if you say some of those articles are good, then more power to you.

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  3. I liked the Eggers "piece" on Wrigley. But yes, some of the posts are a bit much.

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  4. agreed, but these columns in the first few weeks were probably the ones these guys had saved up for years as their "signature piece". once the site has some legs under it and they're perpetually working on new content hopefully its not so self-indulgent(put perfectly)

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  5. i couldn't agree more. if i wasn't (weren't?) a 20 year old college student in germany with tons of time to kill, i doubt i would read anything on the site. but the piece on the origins of the Stanley Cup (notice the only capital letters in this post. that's respect) was pretty cool. 4 pages, but pretty cool.

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