Bill Simmons launches new site with help from Tom Izzo

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Bill Simmons is back. The Sports Guy’s post-Grantland project, The Ringer, launched today. Although the site has had a social media presence for a few weeks (and Simmons’ now-eponymous podcast returned before that), action really got underway this morning, when Simmons publicly announced a number of the new website’s hires, and continued this afternoon, when he released the site’s first email newsletter.

The newsletter is The Ringer’s first substantive textual offering. It begins with a Simmons monologue on the name-selecting process for the new project, followed by a timely NCAA tournament article that leads with a nice picture of Tom Izzo and Denzel Valentine. (Bold prediction contained therein: “Sparty is going to be a tough out.”)

After that comes a Game of Thrones season preview, because this is the internet, after all, and the newsletter closes with a list of the three best-dressed people on Billions, which I just used Google to learn is another television show.

If The Ringer is reminding you of Grantland, that could be because of the substantial overlap in the two sites’ subject areas– basketball and premium-network television– and staff– including Katie Baker, Jason Concepcion (@netw3rk), and Brian Curtis. Tracking the similarities between The Ringer and Grantland will be both easy and less interesting than noting the differences, which are what could show us what, if anything, Simmons learned from his last venture.

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We’ll check back in once things have been up and running for a little while. In the meantime, here’s hoping BS can bring the following Grantland alums back into the fold: Brian Phillips, Rembert Browne, Mark Titus, Louisa Thomas, Charles Pierce, Chuck Klosterman, and Norm Macdonald.

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Writing about writing about writing: Grantland

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This is probably the end of probably the best weekly NFL column of the past two years

yrNo, I’m not talking about any of the various aborted (but sure to return!) attempts at weekly football columns on this site. I’m talking about Alex Pappademas’ “I Suck at Football” column, which ran on Grantland’s sports blog, The Triangle, on a weekly basis during the 2012 and 2013 NFL seasons.

I still remember reading Pappademas’ first column in the then-unnamed series. On September 24, 2012, he published the first post, entitled “Nuclear Physics, Bloody Marys, and Bengals: A First Trip to a Sports Bar.” On Monday of this week, he posted what’s likely– though unconfirmed– to be the final entry: “I Suck at Football, Week 18: The Barrel-of-Fun Room.”

The column’s basic tenets emerge in the inaugural article:

On Sunday my friend Richard Feynman took me out to drink and watch football at 10 in the morning. My friend Richard Feynman’s name isn’t really Richard Feynman, but I’ve decided to give every real person in my I Suck At Liking Football journal the name of a famous theoretical physicist, because this sport is still basically quantum mechanics to me. So on Sunday Richard Feynman’s wife took their son to choir practice and (metaphors!) Richard Feynman and I went to football-church, in a sports bar on Vermont Avenue.

Not only did Pappademas not have a favorite football team, he hardly understood the sport itself, or even how to be a fan of it (as evidenced by the originally named “I Suck At Liking Football journal”). By the end of the opening offering, he has picked a favorite team– the Cincinnati Bengals– and begun to deal with the unfamiliar challenges of existing in a sports bar, Ye Rustic, at 10:00 am on a Sunday.

“I Suck at Football” is a crude name for an elegant collection of writing. Every week offered an unpredictable mix of unanticipated portions of life and football. For you, the beauty of this is that, if you’re hearing about this column for the first time, you haven’t missed out: these articles aren’t game really recaps, and you probably didn’t watch the Bengals that week anyway.

Somewhere along the line, I can’t find where now, Pappademas appeared to suggest that this journal would be a two-season affair, and this week’s post has an air of finality to it:

I sat awake by the fire and realized my emotions didn’t really exist. They were just something my brain happened to be doing at that moment. Brain-weather. I was the one deciding to let them consume me. And I should have known that, because watching bad Bengals football taught me that lesson over and over. I felt frustration, anger, disappointment — and then I could stop feeling it, because it was just a TV show, and whether Dalton threw three interceptions or 300 changed nothing about my life outside Ye Rustic.

Thanks to the website redesign Grantland undertook sometime in the past twenty-four hours, there isn’t an easy way to view this series in one place. For now, your best bet may be to cycle through Pappademas’ full-site author archive, which contains a bunch of other stuff too. It’s worth the effort.

A Fighter Abroad (via Grantland)

On December 10, 1810, in a muddy field around 25 miles from London, a fight took place that was so dramatic, controversial, and ferocious that it continues to haunt the imagination of boxing more than 200 years later. One of the fighters was the greatest champion of his age, a bareknuckle boxer so tough he reportedly trained by punching the bark off trees. The other was a freed slave, an illiterate African-American who had made the voyage across the Atlantic to seek glory in the ring. Rumors about the match had circulated for weeks, transfixing England. Thousands of fans braved a pounding rain to watch the bout. Some of the first professional sportswriters were on hand to record it.

It was the greatest fight of its era. But its significance went beyond that. Even at the time, it seemed to be about more than boxing, more than sport itself. More than anything, the contest between a white English champion and a black American upstart seemed to be about an urgent question of identity: whether character could be determined in the boxing ring, whether sport could confirm a set of virtues by which a nation defined itself.

The fight cemented a set of stock characters — the fast-talking, ultra-talented, self-destructive black athlete; the Great White Hope; the canny coach who’s half devoted to his pupil and half exploiting him — that have echoed down the centuries.1 In fact, so much about the fight feels familiar today, from the role of race to the role of the media, that if you had to name a date, you could make a good case that December 10, 1810, was the moment sport as we know it began. … Read More

(via Grantland)

The Two-Fisted, One-Eyed Misadventures Of Sportswriting’s Last Badass (via Deadspin)

George Kimball hung upside down some 70 feet in the cold Manhattan air, still in need of a cigarette. Well, the doctors had said smoking would kill him, hadn’t they? The previous autumn, they had found an inoperable cancerous tumor the size of a golf ball in his throat and given him six months to live. Five months had passed. He’d finished his latest round of chemotherapy, and now George, 62 years old and recently retired from the Boston Herald, was at the Manhattan Center Grand Ballroom in 2006, to cover a night of boxing for a website called The Sweet Science.

He’d never set foot in the place before. He didn’t even know what floor he was on when he went for a smoke between fights. There was a long line at the elevator so he went looking for a backstage exit and stepped out into the winter night, onto a tiny platform seven stories over the sidewalk. And then, as George would later tell the story, he plunged into darkness.

His leg caught between the fire ladder and the wall. He knew right away it was broken. He dangled from the fire escape like a bat—except bats can let go. He tried calling for help but his voice was too weak from the cancer treatments; he could barely whisper. Also, he wanted that fucking cigarette. A security guard, ducking out for his own smoke, found him, and it took another 20 minutes before the paramedics could get George on his feet. They wanted him to go to the hospital for X-rays but George talked them out of it. His wife was a doctor, he explained, and with all the chemo, he had more than enough painkillers at home.

He went back to his seat to watch the last two fights. Afterward, he hobbled to a drug store and bought a knee brace, an ice pack, a large quantity of bandages, and a lighter to replace the Zippo he lost in the fall. Two days later George would go to a hospital to set his broken leg. But that night, he went home. His wife Marge cleaned the scrapes on George’s arms, and he took a big hit of OxyContin. Then he filed his story on the fight. … Read More

(via Deadspin)

Writing about writing about writing: Grantland

Even before Clay Travis’ new site came online this summer, 2011 already had seen the unveiling of an even bigger sports blog. The Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, brought his ESPN Page 2 act above board and began directing an ESPN.com side project called Grantland, named for Vanderbilt University graduate and early 1900s sportswriter Grantland Rice.

In May, the New York Times declared Simmons “the most prominent sportswriter in America.” I remember being pretty surprised to read those words, and then thinking, well, maybe that’s right. Sports Illustrated Rick Reilly would’ve had something to say about that a few years ago. Mitch Albom probably is part of a generation being supplanted– or at least his hair is. Simmons had seized the internet and the kids’ attention thereby. He had a popular web column and podcast, and a bestselling book. The NYT declaration probably was correct, but it was strange to read it in print for the first time.

Grantland would find Simmons in a new role, or more accurately, an additional role. ESPN wanted him to keep up with his podcast and column, migrating that content to the new site. In addition, he was to serve as editor in chief.

Keep reading…