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ESPN’s Skipper Explains Why He Shut Down Grantland

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Say what you will about ESPN president John Skipper, but the guy knows how to come clean. Ever since ESPN announced the immediate shutdown of its revered Internet writing showcase Grantland on October 30, there has been, apart from a terse initial statement, little clarification from the network’s Bristol headquarters about why it happened, when it happened, and what it all means. Now that has changed.

“I made the decision,” Skipper says flatly. “There was no influence from [ESPN corporate parent] Disney on this. And I made sure that I divorced my feelings about Bill [Simmons] from this decision because I would never let that affect the people who are there.”

Skipper‘s decision to end Grantland was informed by the uncertainty surrounding the site‘s personnel and the resources and effort needed to keep the site thriving absent its star founder.

Throughout the 36 years of its existence, ESPN has weathered many a dramatic event—comings and goings of stars, programs, executives, and properties—but the intensity surrounding Grantland’s demise caught many at the network by surprise. Skipper admits to underestimating the effect Simmons’s exit would have, conceding it affected Grantland personnel more than he or perhaps anyone else on his management team anticipated.

“We lacked a full understanding of the bonding nature between Bill and those guys,” Skipper says now. But along with management failing to appreciate fully the bond between Simmons and his staff, it also misunderstood the Grantland culture—enough to imagine that turning the site over to Chris Connelly, brought in as a temporary Simmons replacement, would sit well with the staff.

“Chris was only going to be interim,” Skipper says. “It wasn’t his desire to be a long-term manager there. He made that clear to us. Chris is nothing but a good guy. This has been hard on him.”

In the past several months, two ESPN executives referred to the Grantland offices in Los Angeles as a media Jonestown, populated by a cult far more devoted to their leader than to just any old web site. Clearly, Connelly was marching into a difficult situation. When Skipper flew to L.A. in mid October, he made sure to give Connelly the bad news face-to-face.

“I had to fly out to Burbank on other business but felt that Chris and I are good enough friends that I wanted to talk to him in person. Chris had become an advocate for continuing it when he knew that there was a decision-making process happening. The decision was made the week before we announced it.”

Evidently, it was never an easy one. “In the weighing of a decision like this,“ Skipper says, “you look at the resources, the time, the energy necessary to do this well and balance that with the things you get from it. This was never a financial matter for us. The benefits were having a halo brand and being Bill Simmons related.”

The site was highly regarded inside and outside the media business and brought considerable prestige to the ESPN brand. Grantland, loftily named after erudite sportswriter Henry Grantland Rice, was considered a solid, sometimes-bold step into the world of sports-related journalism, becoming one of the most successful blends ever of sports with pop culture and current events and a paradise for serious writers who wanted to stretch and even experiment.

According to Skipper, there was a scenario by which Grantland would have been saved, and that was when Grantland editor Sean Fennessey was offered the top job.

“We did make Sean Fennessey an offer to become editor-in-chief,” Skipper says. “You ask, ‘If Sean had said yes, then would we have still made the same decision about the site,’ and the answer to that has to be ‘no.’ We would have kept it going. There was no way we would have made that job offer to him if we weren’t going to keep going.”

Fennessey declined to comment for this story, however, few, if any would doubt his loyalty to, and affection for, the site. But, his decision to follow his mentor Simmons off to new worlds wasn’t shocking. It was also clear to many that his decision to turn down the top job at Grantland reflected his uncertainty about ESPN’s commitment to the site. Grantland insiders were convinced Fennessey wondered if he would really have the resources needed to run the site and keep its reputation solid. He had also become aware, sources say, of rumors that ESPN wanted to cut Grantland back to just a sports site and eliminate its pop culture content.

In the weeks ahead, media insiders will watch to see how many of the former Grantland staff will find other writing duties at ESPN, migrate to HBO to re-unite with Simmons, or find work elsewhere. But the hard cold fact for now can be simply if crudely stated: Grantland is dead. Everyone needs to move forward. The noble experiment is over.

“I loved the site,” Skipper insists. “It pained me to make the decision. It was not without difficulty.”

To read the full story visit Vanity Fair where it was originally published

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Warriors Fans Throw Objects At Charles Barkley On Inside the NBA Set

“Barkley yelled back at the crowd but never actually left the set.”

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TNT/Larry Brown Sports

Charles Barkley is no stranger to being the object of fans’ ire. The cities of San Antonio and Cleveland have a history of being the butt of the Round Mound of Rebound’s jokes. Thursday night in San Francisco, fans of the Warriors took things to a different level, throwing objects at Barkley on the Inside the NBA set.

The TNT studio show was broadcasting live from outside the Chase Center. The crowd chanted “Chuck, you suck!” at Barkley before the game. After Golden State clinched a birth in the NBA Finals, things got physical.

Fans threw things at the set, including a rolled-up t-shirt, which hit Charles Barkley in the back of the head. That resulted in Barkley leaving his seat and bowing up to the audience.

“Come on Chuck!” Ernie Johnson pleaded as Kenny Smith repeatedly said “Sit down Chuck.”

Barkley yelled back at the crowd but never actually left the set.

Now that the Western Conference Finals are over, TNT’s NBA schedule has concluded. That doesn’t mean Charles Barkley won’t return to San Francisco for the NBA Finals, but it is highly unlikely given the reception he has received there.

Barkley spent most of the postseason telling Golden State fans they were annoying and need to shut up and saying the city of San Francisco has “dirty ass streets”.

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Jon Miller To Call MLB Sunday Leadoff Game On Peacock

“According to a press release, Jason Benetti has a scheduling conflict.”

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Rich Eisen Show

Legendary play-by-play man Jon Miller will be returning to the national broadcast booth on Sunday. He will call the San Francisco Giants vs. Cincinnati Reds game for Peacock. He’ll be joined in the booth by Barry Larkin and Shawn Estes.

According to a press release, Jason Benetti has a scheduling conflict. Benetti, the regular play-by-play voice of Peacock’s MLB Sunday Leadoff, is also the television voice of the Chicago White Sox. NBC Sports Chicago has prioritized this weekend’s series between the White Sox and Cubs, making Benetti unavailable to the national broadcast.

Miller has been calling Giants games since 1997 and previously shared the Sunday Night Baseball booth on ESPN with hall of famer Joe Morgan.

The broadcast, called MLB Sunday Leadoff, will begin at 11 a.m. with pregame coverage hosted by Ahmed Fareed. The game broadcast begins at 11:30 a.m.

The game will take place in an exclusive two-hour broadcast window prior to the start of the rest of the league’s day of games.

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Amazon Eyeing Pat McAfee For Thursday Night Football Megacast

“No deal is done yet. A source tells McCarthy that it hinges on McAfee’s very busy schedule, but a Megacast is appealing to the former punter.’

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First it was the Mannings. Now it’s McAfee. Michael McCarthy of Front Office Sports reports that Pat McAfee could be at the center of an alternate broadcast of Thursday Night Football on Amazon in the 2022 season.

No deal is done yet. A source tells McCarthy that it hinges on McAfee’s very busy schedule, but a Megacast is appealing to the former punter.

Rumors of Amazon’s interest in McAfee began to bubble up last month. While he never directly addressed them, he did make mention on his show that he was “up to something” and insinuated that Amazon wasn’t the only company he was talking to.

McAfee has said on his show in the past that he wants to be part of an NFL broadcast. However, he is firm in that it would not be in the broadcast booth.

“I can’t call games. Not yet,” McAfee said on a show in February. “Have to be done with this show to call games. Because that’s like a 3-day, 4-day thing.” 

In addition to his daily show, McAfee is also committed to the WWE. He is on the road for Smackdown every Friday.

There is no word on exactly what a Pat McAfee-centered broadcast would look like. When reports first came out regarding discussions with McAfee, Ryan Glasspiegel of The New York Post reported that moving The Pat McAfee Show to Amazon was on the table. If that happens, it would make sense to use his entire crew on the Thursday Night Football presentation.

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