Simmons has 2.6 million followers on Twitter. Many can't wait to tell him what an idiot he is. (The Simmons brand has a strong ripple effect: Even his wife, known as the Sports Gal, has 25,000 followers, despite not having tweeted in almost a year.) Sports Twitter is a mire of stupidity, homophobia, and violent threats.
Simmons uses Twitter almost exclusively to promote and link to Grantland material.
Bill Simmons' Top 10 Go-To Writing Moves
On a Friday in January, Simmons and his Grantland staff scheduled a celebration: drinks at a glamorous hotel,
Before the site launched, he decided Grantland wouldn't run slideshows, which draw big traffic but are dumb,
He built Grantland around long-form articles, the opposite of Twitter's enforced brevity,
Unlike almost every other site, Grantland doesn't pick fights.
His thoughts about vengefulness took on a different meaning only a few hours later, when the shit-stirrer was now in a shitstorm of his own. Two days earlier, the site had published a story, "Dr. V's Magical Putter," about Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, a female physicist who had invented a new, possibly superior golf putter. When writer Caleb Hannan investigated her background, he learned Vanderbilt was a transgender woman. Despite having agreed to her demand that he not write about her life, Hannan told Vanderbilt that he'd discovered the secret she clearly wanted to keep private, and he outed her to an investor. In the third-to-last paragraph of the story, Hannan revealed that Vanderbilt had committed suicide. It was a fascinating story, but also cruel and irresponsible.
The initial reaction was favorable: other writers called it "a great read," and "mesmerizing," as they shared the link on Twitter. Richard Deitsch, a reporter at Sports Illustrated, said Hannan's article "might be the best I've read this month," an opinion he regretted four days later, after the article had been widely condemned.
Unlike the controversy over Joe Johnson, there were genuine stakes in play.
On that Friday night, Simmons dismissed the furor — just more "mean-spiritedness on the Internet."
The story's misjudgment was not the result of malice. The Grantland staff is more diverse, in gender and race, than most publications ("God forbid we ever get credit for that," he grumbles),
But Simmons also didn't fully understand why people despised the article. "Crazy" and "hysterical" responses on Twitter had made him "embarrassed for mankind," and he didn't agree with me that Grantland never should have mentioned the fact that Vanderbilt was a transgender woman.
Simmons wrote a lengthy apology for the "Dr. V" story, which Grantland posted the next Monday.
And ESPN ombudsman Robert Lipsyte, an accomplished 76-year old writer, added his own column, in which he called the article "inexcusable" in its "unawareness and arrogance." He described Simmons as "a talented, overextended 44 year old" with "considerable vision and celebrity." Lipsyte did not intend "celebrity" as a compliment.