ESPN Benches 'Grantland'

Pioneering online sports publisher Grantland has been suspended indefinitely by ESPN, the sports network announced Friday, in effect shuttering the site.

In an official statement about the decision, ESPN explained: “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.”

Around 40 editorial and production staffers will be affected by the closing, although some will be reassigned to continue working in other ESPN divisions.

Founded by sportswriter Bill Simmons in 2011, Grantland quickly earned a reputation for edgy, insightful reporting about sports, as well as popular culture, including TV shows and movies. It occasionally stirred controversy as well.

In 2014, it found itself subjected to a storm of criticism after the subject of one of its stories, whom it revealed to be transgender, committed suicide.

However, that paled in comparison to the controversy touched off by Simmons’ scathing criticism of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in the fall of 2014, which quickly brought him into conflict with his corporate bosses at ESPN. Rather than back down, Simmons escalated by daring his bosses to fire him in a podcast – which they later did in May of this year.

After Simmons’ contract wasn’t renewed, a number of the talented editorial staff he’d recruited followed him out the door, with some joining Simmons for his next project, a weekly series for HBO set to debut next year. The exodus prompted some observers to wonder whether Grantland could survive on its own -- doubts which now appear justified.

Grantland isn’t alone in getting the ax.

Last week, ESPN announced it was laying off about 300 employees across the company. Earlier this year, Disney CEO Bob Iger acknowledged that ESPN would probably be affected by cable subscriber losses.

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