The feud between Deadspin and ESPN is well documented. The intense rivalry started when ESPN sources led Deadspin editor AJ Daulerio to sit on a tip about Steve Phillips’ scandalous behavior. Eventually, Daulerio missed breaking the story and blamed ESPN for misleading him. Thus began the ESPN Horndoggery Dossier. Ever since, ESPN and Deadspin haven’t exactly been on the best of terms.
So, perhaps it was a surprise to hear that one of Deadspin’s top writers, Tommy Craggs, was offered a position by ESPN. Well, an offer to write at the “yes, it’s really an ESPN website, but you’re not supposed to know about it” Grantland, headed up, of course, by Bill Simmons. Craggs is definitely one of the most talented, notable writers on Deadspin (and in the blogosphere), and was a solid, if not surprising choice, to be involved in the new Simmons/ESPN project. However, in true Deadspin fashion, Craggs’ offer was met with hesitancy after this article, destroying ESPN’s PR Blog and the name dropping of Page 2 editor Lynn Hoppes. It was over the top, but also brilliantly written — Deadspin and Craggs at their best, but probably not something that made ESPN execs jump to bring him aboard Grantland.
There was an update to the story last night. ESPN exec John Walsh (portrayed as the grand poobah of journalistic integrity in Those Guys Have All The Fun, he must LOVE Deadspin) wanted to meet with Craggs and “express his misgivings in person.” Naturally, that meeting involved a pink gorilla telegram sent by Daulerio to sing the SportsCenter theme. Deadspin’s videos aren’t embeddable (pretty ironic, if you ask me, seeing as how they tear apart MLB for the same thing), so you have to check this link to see it and read the whole story. No, I don’t have the artistic ability to do a f%$#ing drawing, either. Here’s a quote from the article though:
Instead, I called up a singing telegram service in NYC to drop off a hand-delivered note. The woman on the phone took my order over the phone and repeated back to me the important pieces of information to pass along to her performer: “Essex House. 11:30. Albino man. Pink gorilla singing SportsCenter theme song. Two balloons. Got it,”...
Maybe we’ll never know if Craggs would have been offered a job or not (the pink gorilla and the Hoppes article tells me no), but according to Daulerio he withdrew from interest in the Grantland project because of the long leash still attached to Bristol.
By the way, Jeff from New York actually asked Walsh about the pink gorilla in an ESPN chat this morning:
Jeff (New York)
Did you like the pink Gorilla?
I prefer the rock band Albino Gorilla from the early ’70s.
Some may find the pink gorilla episode to be the best example of comedic brilliance since Richard Pryor started doing standup. Others may find the pink gorilla episode to be just another example of the egoistic pissing contest that has developed between ESPN and Deadspin. Like most things in life, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle. I find the whole Grantland/Craggs job offer/pink gorilla story to be more bizarre than hilarious. Deadspin and ESPN clearly need each other to succeed as who they are. The pink gorilla is another example of that.
This Deadspin vs ESPN introduction is really a long way of getting at where the real meat of the story is: what is going on with Bill Simmons and Grantland? This huge New York Times magazine profile on Simmons says this about Grantland…
Given their dynamic, it’s hard not to wonder how the relationship between Simmons and ESPN will play out at Grantland. The site will be a separate publication, with Simmons in editorial control. Ultimately, though, it’s owned by ESPN, and the parent company has already made its presence known, choosing the site’s name, which Simmons is less than enthusiastic about. 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.”
As much as it will appear to try and distance itself from Bristol, will Grantland be as ESPN as Mike and Mike, just with a more edgy look? The network picked the name of the site after all. The key factor is this: it was Walsh that ultimately had to sit down with Craggs to “express his misgivings,” according to Deadspin. John Walsh’s involvement in Grantland tells you all you need to know about ESPN’s true stake in the startup website. Given what Simmons has previously said about Bristol culture, his questioning in the NYT (“I’m not sure I would do it again”), and the pink gorilla … Grantland looks like it may end up in some sort of editorial tug-of-war quagmire. Will it be ESPN? Will it be Simmons? Will it be both? Or, maybe even neither? Grantland needs to get it figured out before it launches June 8.