I Asked Max Potter What He Thought of Grantland’s Letter from the Editor and…

By Maximillian Potter

What’s my reaction to this Bill Simmons letter? It makes me so fucking angry. So. Fucking. Angry. And so disheartened. Look, we all know that every journalist, present company included, have made and will make mistakes. Reading that letter I was expecting, hoping, for some context that made some kind of sense. Like, okay, well that sucks, but I get it. What would such a letter look like? No idea. What I do know is that today’s letter from Grantland’s editor-in-chief sure as shit wasn’t it.

All of the benefit of the doubt I had for the senior Grantland team that worked on this Dr. V piece is pretty much gone. And by “pretty much” I mean totally. The editor’s letter reads like a canned script for an ESPN post-game presser we’ve seen a million times:

“Hey, look, we played a good first half. I mean, people in the stands were clapping. Am I right? So that’s something. But, look, there’s no way around it: In the end, we really blew that game. If you’re gonna blame anyone, blame me. Kids make bad plays. But the buck stops with the head coach. And that’s me. Listen, we’ve learned from our mistakes. So now let’s get back on the field, our same great team, and play better next time.”

Except this wasn’t a game.

Except the writer, representing a colossal corporate/journalism brand, outed a woman. (Didn’t catch the moment in the story where the writer apologized to the subject for that.)

Outed a woman.

Except that over months—eight months!—there was a reporter, an editor, a team of . . . how did Simmons put it? “Somewhere between 13 and 15 people read the piece in all, including every senior editor but one, our two lead copy desk editors, our publisher and even ESPN.com’s editor-in-chief. All of them were blown away by the piece. Everyone thought we should run it.”

And what? That’s a good thing? Absolution in numbers?

Except that not a single one of those people thought to talk to a single expert for just the tiniest bit of Transgender 101 context. Not even after the subject—a transgender human being, a member of a community where suicide rates are through the roof—invoked the words “hate crime.”

And that’s for starters.

Hasn’t the sports journalism community—god bless them—uncovered gross negligence, malfeasance, that has, understandably so, led to coaches losing their jobs, resigning? I mean, at what point do we journalists hold ourselves to the same accountability that we expect from the institutions we cover?

And you know what—the first time I clicked on some of these Grantland stories, I came upon some nice-looking ads—I imagine the web traffic and revenue over at Grantland right about now is, wait for it . . . a killer number.

Get it, as in a dead woman. Killer.

Not funny? No kidding.

I hope that at least the Grantland machine is donating at least a portion of the ad revenue during this high-traffic period to GLAAD or a related victims-support group.

So no, this apology doesn’t do it for me. To me, all it does is lay out why words aren’t enough.

A sorry and move on, seems to me,  is for misspelling a name, messing up a fact, or even accidentally making a single major screw-up.

Do I think the writer intended for any of this to happen? No. Do I think the writer is evil, as has been said on Twitter, or that he is directly responsible for Essay Anne Vanderbilt’s suicide? No. I choose to believe the writer means well and wants to do good with his journalism. I expect—I hope—the writer will keep at it. Matter of fact, if he thinks I can be of help, we live in the same town, call me, brother, I’m here. Do I think the writer majorly screwed up all over the place? Yes. Do I think Grantland’s staff and leadership were egregiously derelict in their responsibilities to the community, the subject, the writer and to journalists everywhere and should be held accountable beyond a sorry? You bet your ass I do.

As Simmons said, yes, he and his staff failed. But it wasn’t just failing to ask the “right” questions, as he put it. It was failing to ask the most basic journalistic questions. Not just regarding the topic of transgender, but basic ethical questions like: Should we out someone and if we do what then? And then there’s this question: What’s the point of the story? What is the fucking point of this piece? To ooh and aah and have “a chill ran down my spine” moment wherein you fully expose the (dead) “fraud”?

Okay, so not that it matters—actually, I’m starting to wonder just what the fuck matters in journalism these days—but what would seem like appropriate, responsible actions for Grantland to take? How about this: Like those so many coaches who presided over systemic failure (that in this case outed a woman, and perhaps nudged that woman into killing herself)—well, it’s time for the coach, at least, to step down.

Seems to me that Christina Kahrl, who wrote this remarkable column, would make a great Grantland EIC.
In 2008, Max Potter wrote a story, Second Nature, for 5280 magazine. This is how he described that reporting and writing experience:  I spent about year embedded with the family of a ten-year-old girl who began transitioning as an eight-year-old second-grader. My reporting for the story that resulted was an incredible learning experience for me and I hope for readers. This beautiful girl and her family were wrestling with so much, not by choice, but because, my god, they had no choice. And protecting her history, shielding their daughter from being outed and the potential ridicule, was something that was with them always. Her family was aware of the incredibly high rates of suicide and harassment and depression common to the trans community. Before I began reporting the story, I agreed to requests the family made so that their daughter would not be put in undue harm’s way. They cooperated with my reporting to help change the ignorance I think coursed through that Grantland story.



  1. […] The aforementioned Potter, writing on the blog of the Washingtonian‘s Jack Limpert: […]

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