04 November 2015

The Inspiration Of Grantland

The Inspiration of Grantland

On October 30, 2015, ESPN officially shut down Grantland.com. While not completely unexpected with their firing of Bill Simmons in May, the move still shocked many, even with Grantland staffers moving on in the months following the Sports Guy’s departure. This move on ESPN’s part was a bummer for me because Grantland was the standard bearer of internet excellence for the longest time in my mind.

I’m not here to get into the schematics of why Grantland is no more. Nothing about page views, how much revenue the site was or wasn’t generating, nothing about the Simmons/John Skipper feud, or about how Simmons may have worked behind the scenes to cause his creation’s demise. I just want to spend some time on how Grantland got me to where I am today.

I didn’t know who Bill Simmons or Grantland was a few years ago. The mid-2007 to late-2011 period in my life was rather a blur, due to poor life decisions and excessive drinking. At the time, I would have called it dedicating myself to fulfilling my dream of being a rapper signed to a major label. But even my musical output during that time could tell you that was not the case.

My earliest memory of Simmons was reading his coverage of The Decision in 2010. I had been Googling where LeBron James would sign and ran across his pieces before and after the kid from Akron, OH took his talents to South Beach. Remembering this for some reason, I ran across Simmons’ piece on Eddie Murphy, followed by digging into his Grantland archives, and then ultimately Grantland itself.

Soon, I was spending any free time I had checking out Grantland and, in typical fashion for me; I decided I wanted to give a Grantland type site a try. I asked Anthony and Thomas if they were interested in creating such a website, they agreed, and we decided to name it after the silly play on words that we had anointed ourselves, Tricycle Offense.

I feel like I’m repeating myself though, as I already explained Tricycle Offense’s origin shortly after we launched. Three years ago, I was optimistic that the site would just grow into nice little monster, with everyone who joined up writing (or podcasting) about topics they cared about and we’d all have something that we’d be proud of. Something we could point at and say, we built that.

Despite my best efforts at times (I can’t say I was working hard on it all the time, I got married in 2013 and we had our daughter in 2014), it pains me to say that we failed.

This is normally where I’d try to explain my definition of failure and how we accomplished a lot along the way, but I can’t do it. I look at the front page and I just see a bunch of empty words. Jacob Slater, Errick Greenlee, Justin Umstead, and Chris Slater have been turning in quality work over the past few months. Thomas and I have been writing Talking Out The Dead since the second half of The Walking Dead Season 4, but that’s only for a few months out of the year. But everything else has been reposted podcasts or podcasts that I got behind on posting 2 years ago.

Anthony became manager of the store he’s been working at for years. Thomas’ job has him working nights now. They both recently went back to school to finish their undergraduate degrees. And while I continue to maintain and write for the site, my output has never truly picked back up from when I stepped away from writing to complete my mixtape and album in late 2012. So the site sits, hoping to be updated once or twice a week even though there’s no one there to read it.

This is sounding similar to my column about my struggle running my own website but I just hate how the site has very little to show for itself. We turned Thomas’ Big Push columns into an eBook but we haven’t even had time to finish the thing to put it out. Anthony is working on turning Talking Out The Dead into an eBook as well but he has much more important things going on right now, so we’re unsure if we’ll ever have that done, since we continue to write new columns weekly as the show progresses.

And we haven’t sat down to record a Trike Adventures episode since before Breaking Bad ended.

All of my gripes with the site aside, Grantland showed me for the first time that you could really truly post stories exclusively to the internet. I naively thought that all the good stuff that made it to the internet was already on paper somewhere or that Kevin Smith’s early blogs were the best reading material to be had outside of news pieces.

Grantland proved me wrong and not just when it came to sports. Rembert Browne’s piece on Burning Man made me want to go at some point in time. His whole summer of 2014 was detailed in his Rembert Explains America series that was phenomenal as well. Andy Greenwald’s television reviews were never run of the mill and determined what show I would give my precious time. Alex Pappademas’ recaps of Keeping Up The Kardashians would save me the trouble of (stupidly) binge watching marathons on E! Steven Hyden brought knowledge of all musical genres to every music review he touched. Molly Lambert is just hilarious and I love her. I still swear David Shoemaker got column ideas from me for a while. And Grantland introduced me to Chuck Klosterman and Charles P. Pierce (shut up).

As for sports, last names only: Lowe, Barnwell, Titus, Goldsberry, and Simmons.

I rarely checked out The BS Report and only because he was silent for roughly 5 months is why I’m listening to The Bill Simmons Podcast now. I lived for Simmons’ columns though. Large chunks of my work day would be spent reading his mailbags or (gasp!) his latest column. I still have it on my to-do list to watch that Eagles documentary. And the day he released the Action Hero Championship Belt column? I should have called off sick.

I’ve tried to pattern my writing after Simmons and what the Grantland staff was doing. I just wanted my latest piece to be as good as one of Simmons’ pieces from the year before. I think you notice it a lot in my early Tricycle columns, my imitating Simmons’ voice with my own. As more Grantland podcasts popped up, I wanted to add more to Tricycle’s fold. And even a year or so after its launch, the Grantland Channel birthed the Tricycle Offense channel on YouTube.

When I move away from making my personal site into a lifestyle site for the nerdy, it was Grantland I turned to, out of slight depression. I can’t recall what I read that day but I knew that the any future iteration of my site would have columns. And if I was writing columns there, there would be columns for Tricycle Offense.

I wrote 1500 words of my first book yesterday. I’m doing the National Novel Writing Month challenge again and while that’s as far as I gotten, I really feel like I’m actually going somewhere. And that can be credited to a better work ethic, down time at the office, or a dedicated focus on the book, but I’m going elsewhere. These past 3 years of mental flexing for Tricycle Offense and now bhyphen.com has made me a better writer. While I wouldn’t say I’ve put in my 10,000 hours yet, I know a significant portion of my time has gone to putting word on (virtual) paper.

Over the past few months, once Simmons was fired, Grantland didn’t feel the same. I thought the columns had gotten shorter, the topics cornier; it felt like Bill was gone. I considered writing a column about how terrible I thought Grantland had gotten but thought better of it, mostly out of respect. I also realized I would be writing for the sole purpose of generating a few more clicks for Tricycle Offense and I didn’t want those at Grantland’s expense either.

I had hoped that once Bill got started with HBO that changes would start at Grantland so that it could right itself under a new regime as Chris Connelly still had the tag of interim editor-in-chief. Sadly, he was at the helm when the final call was made. Whether you agree with Simmons or ESPN, Grantland, one of the most unique ideas to hit the web in 10 years, just simply ended.

The people who made Grantland great will go on in their careers and maybe down the road; someone will sit down to write the oral history of the rise and fall of Grantland. Hell, depending on what I have going on then, maybe I’ll do it.

What I’ve taken from all this rambling is that Grantland was special and not easily replicated. Similar to how I started Marvel Anthology and DC Anthology and just expected them to take off because they were fanfiction sites in in the early 2000s, Tricycle Offense is in the same boat.

It wasn’t until I stepped away as editor-in-chief of MA and DCA that Erik Fromme was able to nurture both into two of the more respected fanfiction sites. He had a touch and patience (and time that I wasn’t willing to give) and a vision that he saw through until he decided it was time for him to step away a few months ago. He called me because he still considered the sites mine, and wanted to let me know first. He ran both sites with our friend Clayton Tooley from 2005-ish until this year and he still felt like he had to tell me first. I told him he had done more than enough and it was time for him to use his free time to focus back on his own writing, something the sites had prevented him from doing with the constant coding, editing, and maintaining the dibs list. But I still promise to right that final column about MA and DCA, so let me get back on track.

My previous point is… that instead of me looking at Tricycle Offense as a failure, I should be proud of what the site has accomplished.

We have some great pieces on the site still.

Thomas wrote a book!

We’re home to an eclectic amount of podcasts.

Talking Out The Dead takes the idea of an episode review and spins it on its head, something I haven’t seen elsewhere.

Jacob has done some phenomenal film reviews and doesn’t get enough credit for his work, especially when I leave his pieces sitting unposted for days sometimes.

Errick’s Lightning Rounds are some the coolest train-of-thought work I’ve seen and we’re the only site that has them other than his personal social media.

Justin wrote not just 1 but 4 books based off an idea he had for a Trike column! He’s quit his job in order to put all his energy into releasing these books because of this site! Well, I’m sure there’s more to it than that but I still consider that a win.

Tricycle Offense will never be Grantland, I know this now. But right now, I don’t think any other site can offer the quality that we can. We may be operating at a slow pace but I have never and still will not, put anything on this site that I don’t think is up to snuff.

Tricycle Offense is alive. And I wasn’t going to write that line x amount of words ago. Talking about Grantland and MA and DCA and how far we come has made me realize that even if we never release Thomas’ book or get consistent traffic or even credit for a David Shoemaker column (kidding… I think), Tricycle Offense is still something to be proud of.

That is the reason it’s a shame Grantland is gone now because I don’t know if someone else can get what I was able to get from that site anywhere else. I can only hope that someone runs across something on here or on my site and thinks, “I want to do that too.”

The inspiration of Grantland (and Bill Simmons) inspires me every single time I go to write. And I thank both of them for it. Because when it comes time for me put my final words down, I’ll know that I did them proud. And I’m pretty positive my work will inspire someone else, and I quote, “to get off their keister and start doing the work.”

Kelen Conley. Writer. Rapper. Podcaster. Inspirer. I like it.

Somebody hit my theme music.

4 comments:

  1. What the hell was Grantland anyways?

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  2. It was a sports and pop culture site that was backed by ESPN. Heavy focus on long form writing

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  3. I enjoyed the read. I will miss Grantland. I wouldn't call myself a religious reader, surprisingly. They never failed to impress me. I just never had the time, truly, to always dig head-long into the long-form work they were doing.

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