Two of the three high-profile ESPN vanity sites have uncertain futures – Grantland and The Undefeated. While Nate Silver still mans the 538 masthead, Grantland and The Undefeated are facing significant questions about their longterm leadership.
The two sites face vastly different circumstances in this time of precariousness. On the one hand, Grantland has built a very good foundation over the last few years with a number of very talented writers on board. However, they are without a permanent direction at the moment with Bill Simmons on his way to HBO and Chris Connelly in charge on an interim basis. It’s fair to wonder whether the loyalty of Simmons’ former flock lies with him or with ESPN. Regardless, ESPN President John Skipper has publicly affirmed his commitment to ensuring Grantland is still a success.
The Undefeated faces a similar leadership void, although it came about in a much more turbulent manner. It’s been several weeks now since Jason Whitlock was axed from the site that was built for him to run and Leon Carter has been named interim editor-in-chief. But The Undefeated doesn’t have what Grantland has working for it – namely, any foundation whatsoever given the site hasn’t even launched yet. Regardless, ESPN President John Skipper has publicly affirmed his commitment to ensuring The Undefeated is still a success.
That public commitment from Skipper is important because he’s personally invested in the success of Grantland and The Undefeated. And already we’re seeing signs that the investment from ESPN in The Undefeated may be expanding in the post-Whitlock era.
Late last week Deadspin’s Greg Howard reported that longtime columnist Howard Bryant was Skipper’s new top choice to be the public face of the venture. Bryant seemed to confirm that development on his Twitter page and also did something else – listed Jemele Hill, LZ Granderson, Michael Smith, and Bomani Jones as future Undefeated contributors.
— Full Dissident (@hbryant42) July 25, 2015
Needless to say, getting those individuals on board The Undefeated would be huge for ESPN and would be a real statement of intent for the site’s future. Whitlock’s vision of the site was more or less very Whitlock-centered (even being built on motivational quotes from one Jason Whitlock). The Undefeated was 100% Whitlock, supported by his friends who shared similar viewpoints like Mike Wise and many young writers without a lot of name recognition.
The Undefeated takes on a totally different meaning and purpose if it then becomes a place where many of ESPN’s top African American voices can contribute their diverse perspectives to. That involvement and buy-in from some of ESPN’s most prominent personalities is going to be more valuable to The Undefeated in the long run than almost anything else.
This is illuminated in the key point from Howard’s report at Deadspin, and he’s proven to be as plugged in to the behind-the-scenes happenings at The Undefeated than anybody:
“We’re told, though, that there’s real excitement among ESPN minorities. One of Whitlock’s biggest obstacles as EIC was that he had so alienated blacks and women throughout his career that ESPNers who otherwise might have been interested in a site like the one he was tasked with launching flatly refused to work with and for him. With him out of the way, though, the site is once again attractive.”
ESPN hasn’t confirmed the involvement of Smith, Jones, Hill, and Granderson, but it’s apparent that more prominent ESPNers are interested in writing for The Undefeated than ever before now that the site has moved on from its former leader.
And in case you were wondering, The Undefeated’s launch site is still live and still advertising a Summer 2015 launch.