‘The people who touch us’

On a warm July night in New Orleans I sat on my bed and tried to decide what I wanted my message to be for my students on our last day of school. You see I had just spent six weeks teaching them about five paragraph essays, hook sentences, slave rebellions, and the Civil Rights Movement, but that’s not what I wanted them to remember. Rather I wanted to leave them knowing how grateful I was to have spent my summer with them. All those times I yelled at them and got my red pen out was all out of love, not hate. I wanted them to know that I treasured each and every one of them. So the next morning after breakfast I walked into the classroom and wrote a few words on the board that by this point I had memorized. “Everyday I am reminded that our life’s journey is really about the people who touch us.”

Stuart Scott said these words just a year before I wrote them on that white board. Although I had grown up going to sleep to the sound of Stu’s voice and waking up to it the next morning thanks to Sportscenter re-runs, I never dreamed that he would have the impact on me that he had a decade later.

When I was much younger I used to get my mom’s video camera and set it up in front of the TV screen for all of the big games. I’d harass my brother into being my color commentary man, and for the next four quarters I would do my best job running the imaginary show. Yeah, Stu wasn’t a play-by-play guy, but he could entertain with the best of them. So I stole his catch phrases, using “cool as the other side of the pillow” or “you ain’t got to go home, but you’ve got to get the heck out of here” every chance I could get. Stu was the gold standard for sports broadcasting.

The memories of Stu opening a broadcast in style or dropping a new catch phrase are still in the back of my mind, but the words he said and the life he lived have become etched into my soul. In those final days he urged us to stop worrying about what’s for dinner, the newest pair of shoes, or how cold it is outside. Stu might have been dying physically, but he was begging us to wake up mentally. He told us to live, to love, to fight like hell, and at the very core: to wake up.  To hug your grandma, to call that friend, to do the chores, and to truly live. This is what my students, myself, and everyone needs to be reminded of. We get caught up so easily that we take life for granted, and Stu reminds us that we should never go a day, an hour, or a minute, without living life to the fullest. He told those who were fighting cancer or fighting other issues that they wouldn’t be defined by their disease, instead they would be defined by the way they fought. You’ll hear plenty of messages in your life, few will be more powerful than that. Stu was the gold standard for how to live.

It’s been a year now since Stu left us. I remember lying in the floor in my den watching the tribute videos and crying. It’s our reaction as humans, to cry. We all were hurting so badly for him and his family. I knew that my dad would wake me up for school the next morning, but Stu’s voice wouldn’t be there. We knew we felt a hole.

But Stu didn’t want us to live this way, and we won’t. Today, tomorrow, and forever, we will love, live, and fight like hell for the people who touch us.

-DA

Grantland, Oh Grantland

We live in a material world. We buy things from Amazon twice a week that we know we don’t need. We ask for the full-set of Seinfeld for Christmas, even though we know we can catch the re-runs on TBS. We buy a t-shirt at every concert we go to. We have to show the world who we are through these items. Are you really a fan without a shirt or poster to prove it? It’s not always this case, though. Some of these items penetrate our material culture and attach to us like family.  A favorite album, smell, t-shirt, or coffee cup. We grow fond of them, past the point of just having them to have them. They fit, they’re comfortable, they become a part of us. When these things are missing from our lives we feel a pain–we fear–for we have lived our lives with these things and now they’re gone. You can’t find that Springsteen record, the aroma of grandma’s eggs, the Michigan football hoodie, or that Ocracoke Island mug.

Grantland died last week. It was one of these things that penetrated the material culture and was a part of me. It felt like a best friend. I know, you’re smirking at the screen. A best friend. Really? A website felt like a best friend? What is the world coming to these days? Here’s the thing: I’ve got a few best friends. They are always there for me, they get me, and they help make me a better individual. I love them, and I would do anything for them. For those of us who read Grantland daily, we all seem to be reporting the same feeling. Numerous people, both those who worked and read Grantland, have said postmortem that they feel a piece of them is missing. It’s like they lost their best friend. I’m right there with you.

Grantland was always there for me. It recapped every episode of True Detective, told me who the most valuable NBA players were and why their contracts were horrendous, profiled the up-and-coming bands, and still managed to produce some of the most hard-hitting journalism of the decade. Every aspect of my interests could be found on the site. It didn’t shy away from talking politics, in fact the folks over at Grantland interviewed the president twice. It didn’t shy away from taking on the man. Simmons got suspended for it. Grantland always threw the left hook and was willing to face the consequences. It said what you were thinking. It was the voice of reason among the ridiculousness of other folks at the network like Skip Bayless and Stephen A. Smith. It pushed boundaries.

Grantland got me. The Second Banana bracket is the greatest creation in this world behind pretzel balls. The long-form piece on Ferguson was moving. The Nicki Minaj bar mitzvah breakdown was tear-jerkingly funny. The weekly MLB power rankings were both insightful and fun. The oral history of the Malice at the Palace was one of the best thirty-minute reads I’ve ever come across. The Simmons mailbag was a weekly must-read. Any half-decent idea I’ve ever come up with Grantland did. And every half-decent idea I’ve ever not come up with Grantland did, as well. How many times did I find myself in a classroom half-listening to a professor talk and deeply entrenched into a Simmons’ column? Sorry, mom.

Grantland made me a better person. Listen. It’s hard to define a “good” person. A lot of people think Donald Trump is a good guy, and I happen to wholeheartedly disagree. It’s a tricky business, defining other people’s worth. To me, a “good” person loves others, creates a welcoming environment, and is undyingly passionate for something. I try everyday to get better at the first two. I’m a human, and I fail each and everyday. But it’s my goal to love others and to be welcoming to others. Grantland helped me fulfill that third notion of “goodness.” It fueled my passion for writing and told me I could make it. Simmons didn’t hire the best-of-the-best when he started Grantland. He didn’t hire Bob Ryan from the Globe or steal critics from The New Yorker. He hired Rembert Browne out of grad-school at NYU. He hired the kid who had a passion. He hired the girl who needed a shot. Grantland gave people chances. It was the dream for so many of us young writers. I wanted to be a writer before Grantland, and I want to be a writer post-Grantland too. However, my ability, my creativity, and my willingness to believe in myself and my ideas have changed drastically in between those five years of its existence. In those years I read countless pieces that helped me gain my style, influenced my creativity, and put a stronghold on my passion for writing. I imitated Simmons run-on sentences and 5,000 words stories and found that wasn’t me. I dug into numbers and logic like Barnwell and Keri and found that wasn’t me. I read the quirkiness and passion of Brown, Greenwald and Ryan, and found that wasn’t me. But somewhere in between I found my style. However bad it is, I found it. Rather, Grantland found it.

Yes, I’ll listen to Simmons’ podcast and watch his new show, Yes, I’ll read everything Rembert Browne publishes at NY Mag and everything Wesley Morris writes for the Times. Yes, I’ll watch Jonah Keri on Baseball Tonight and listen to Zach Lowe’s podcast wherever he ends up. Yes, I’ll read Andy Greenwald, Robert Mays, Bill Barnwell, and Mallory Rubin wherever they go. But it’s a shame they’ll never be together anymore. When I look back at Grantland years from now, I will smile fondly. They did it right.

Other pieces about the death of Grantland worth a read:

http://www.newrepublic.com/article/123312/eulogy-grantland

http://www.si.com/thecauldron/2015/11/01/espn-grantland-ceases-publication-bill-simmons-john-skipper

http://www.thenation.com/article/goodbye-grantland-espns-home-for-actual-sports-journalism/

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/10/rip-grantland/413443/