Late last night, the New York Times Magazine released a disappointingly vanilla piece on ESPN’s Bill Simmons and his upcoming website, Grantland. But while we don’t learn anything new about Simmons’ website or Simmons himself, we do get a small peek into his state of mind right before he takes the biggest professional gamble of his life. Already, he sounds tired.
Simmons kept author Jonathan Mahler at arm’s length, only talking to him at Lakers and Dodgers games, and not letting him see his house or his wife. This is not a departure from Simmons’ usual approach to dealing with outside inquiries into the Sports Guy’s World: his readers get glances at his life, but only through his columns. When you write in the personal and stream-of-consciousness way Bill Simmons does, it’s important to maintain creative control over this World.
So, the only real info we get comes near the end, when Simmons talks about some of the apprehensions he has about Grantland. And he does have apprehensions. Like about the name.
He worries that it sounds pretentious, he told me, but the higher-ups at ESPN “loved it, and they’ve been so supportive of the site. You’ve got to pick your battles.”
Also, about his increased responsibility.
Simmons sounded as if he was having some regrets about Grantland. ‘It hasn’t been as much as fun as I had thought,’ he told me. ‘I’m not sure I would do it again.’ Too much of his time was being spent in the office, dealing with administrative tasks, which was encroaching on his column.”
The most telling part of the piece, though, is not anything Simmons says about himself. It’s what he says about a colleague.
As Simmons strolls through the Staples Center with his entourage and Mahler, he spots the perennially-shouting Stephen A. Smith, an ESPN personality that has, over the years, come to embody everything that is wrong with blowhardy sports guys. Simmons says this.
“We have to do a better job protecting our talent,” Simmons said as Smith passed by, not noticing Simmons. “He’s a guy who should be writing more. We let him become too big a yakker.”
Similarly, it sounds like Simmons has anxieties about his career getting away from him. He’ll no longer have as much time to do what he’s best known for, which is writing 2500 words on things that he feels like writing about. He’s also no longer just in charge of himself: the success of this website will have big implications on the lives of the very talented, mostly younger journalists on Grantland’s masthead. As the launch date for Grantland gets closer, it sounds like the Sports Guy’s World is filled with more anxiety than he’s used to.