It’s weird thinking of myself as an online personality.
I’ve been writing this blog for about two and a half years now, so you’d think I’d be a little more used to it by now. I write these posts about my family, my sports allegiances, my beliefs about parenting, my views of the world around me and, the truth is, nothing much happens afterwards. I get the chance to process my feelings and let people in on the “secret” of what thoughts are swirling around in my head and that’s usually the end of it.
I don’t usually feel like I’m making a huge difference in the world with my fledgling little site. For one thing, I don’t exactly have the highest number of regular readers. People don’t recognize me on the street or ask me for my autograph or beg to take selfies with me. For another, so many of my posts are so small-scale, so individual, so specific to my family and my experiences. I’m hardly writing manifestos about how people should live or describing proper parenting techniques or even reviewing children’s books or toys. I’m telling stories about playing with my son and connecting with others and, occasionally, about sports.
Before you think that I’m complaining about not reaching very many people or that I’m feeling anything negative about this site, let me be very clear: I really enjoy this blog. I like being able to share stories with other people about my family. I enjoy exchanging ideas about parenting and relating to other people. I feel guilty when I see that an extended period of time has gone by without a new post because I feel a responsibility to the people who follow the blog regularly. I’m still surprised – pleasantly, of course – when people tell me that they read my posts and I jump at the chance to find out which posts struck their fancy and why.
The reason I mentioned being an online personality is that the internet has a weird way of helping people feel connected to those who put their thoughts and their experiences out there for public consumption. For instance, I listen to a number of different podcasts during my commutes to and from work and home visits. I’ve been listening to some of them for years and, over time, I’ve “gotten to know” the hosts. I’ve never met any of them but, after hearing them talk about their families and their work in the course of the podcasts, I find myself feeling like I know them. I feel like I could invite them to my house to watch football (you know, if I had time to sit at home and watch football) and it wouldn’t be weird at all because I’ve already gotten to know them.1 I’m happy when I hear about their successes and I feel sad when I hear that they are going through hard times.
It feels like these internet personalities, whom I’ve never met, are my friends.
On Friday afternoon, ESPN released a statement that it was suspending publication of the sports and popular culture website, Grantland. Grantland was started in 2011 by Bill Simmons, a sports writer who had been employed by ESPN at the time. Over the last four years, its writers covered sports in a slightly different way than conventional beat reporters and commentators. Grantland made statistics more accessible and expanded on the human sides of the athletes. The contributors put out quality content in multiple forms, including written articles, audio podcasts and videos. They approached stories in unique ways and no topic was off-limits. The site wasn’t always perfect but it was always thought-provoking and entertaining.
Some of these contributors fit into the category I was describing earlier, the group of Internet personalities that I’ve grown to love. It’s that relationship, odd and one-sided as it may be, that spurred this post. Some of these writers and podcasters will reportedly be staying on with ESPN in other capacities, which I’m happy about because it means those people won’t immediately be out of a job and, selfishly, because it also means I get to keep reading their content that has drawn me to them for the past four years. But there’s still that nagging feeling like I’m losing something.
I realize that this is ridiculous in a lot of ways. Nothing is really changing for me. My job is the same, my family is the same, my commute is the same. I’m still going to listen to podcasts and follow my Chicago teams and read about sports if I have a spare minute or two. For all intents and purposes, the only way my life is really affected by any of this is that I’ll have a slightly smaller selection of podcasts to choose from. The people who are most affected by ESPN’s decision – the Grantland staff – have never met me and have much more pressing matters to attend to than worrying about how I’m going to learn about the most efficient NBA shooters or the reasons why the Mets faltered against the Royals in the World Series.
They actually need to figure out how they’re going to continue making a living.
Like I said, the Grantland staff don’t know me. We’ve never met in person, never Skyped, never had any real interaction to speak of.2 And still, I feel sad. I don’t know these people and they don’t know me. But they are my friends, just the same, and I hope that they all find a new place where they are able to speak their minds and express themselves in the ways that attracted me to them in the first place.
The internet is a less fun place without them.
Many many thanks to Jonah Keri, Robert Mays, Bill Barnwell, Katie Baker, Zach Lowe, Rembert Browne, Rany Jazayerli, Alex Pappademas and everyone else from Grantland for the cumulative hours of entertainment and procrastination that you provided. And, of course, thank you, as well, to Bill Simmons, who brought all of you together to begin with.
1. Never mind the fact that it would likely be really uncomfortable for them…↩
2. Katie Baker and Jonah Keri replied to me once or twice on Twitter, but I think that’s about it.↩