ESPN's Bill Simmons Apologizes: 'We Definitely Screwed Up...Blame Me'
After sparking a firestorm of controversy by publishing a story titled "Dr. V's Magical Putter" on Wednesday, Jan. 15, on his website Grantland.com, Bill Simmons faced the backlash head on. "I didn’t ask the biggest and most important question before we ran it -- that’s my fault and only my fault," admitted the ESPN sports columnist and Grantland editor-in-chief, as part of a 2,720-word apology that was posted on the site on Monday.
"'How could you guys run that?'" was the question everyone was asking after the controversial story hit the Web, Simmons said as he sifted through dozens of outraged emails from readers. "I don’t remember the exact moment when I realized that we definitely screwed up.... I am apologizing on our behalf right now. My condolences to Dr. V’s friends and family for any pain our mistakes may have caused. I spent my weekend alternating between feeling miserable, hating myself and wondering what we could have done differently," he admitted.
The story in question centered around Essay Anne Vanderbilt, known to friends as Dr. V., an inventor who built a "scientifically superior" golf club.
In the course of reporting the story, writer Caleb Hannan revealed that Vanderbilt was transgender, and the way in which that was handled in the piece sparked the scandal and led him to be accused of being bigoted and having a distorted view of what it is to be transgender. Vanderbilt tragically committed suicide on Oct. 18, 2013, after she accused Hannan of "hate crime" in an email.
All of these issues were addressed openly by Simmons in his response on Monday, which he concluded by saying: "We want to keep taking risks. That’s one of the reasons why we created Grantland. Every mistake we’ve made, we’ve learned from it.
"Caleb’s biggest mistake? Outing Dr. V to one of her investors (Phil Kinney) while she was still alive," he said, admitting that there was a "collective ignorance about the issues facing the transgender community in general. Someone familiar with the transgender community should have read Caleb’s final draft. This never occurred to us," said Simmons.
In addition to the editor-in-chief's lengthy apology, Grantland also posted a response by Christina Kahrl titled What Grantland Got Wrong. Kahrl covers baseball for ESPN.com and is also on the board of directors for GLAAD, making her a fitting commentator on the issue. She said that the fact that Vanderbilt was a transsexual "wasn’t merely irrelevant to the story, it wasn’t his [Hannan's] information to share." Kahrl goes on to state that: "I'm trans -- so what?"
When reached for comment by The Hollywood Reporter, Simmons responded via an ESPN spokesperson, stating "extremely respectfully" that he had "put all of his thoughts on the topic in today's piece he wrote."
On Sunday ESPN released its own official statement, in which it expressed its "deepest condolences" to Vanderbilt's family and friends: "We will use the constructive feedback to continue our ongoing dialogue on these important and sensitive topics. Ours is a company that values the LGBT community internally and in our storytelling, and we will all learn from this."
Simmons has experienced a meteoric rise in the world of sports journalism, and THR exclusively revealed last month that he is joining Connor Schell as an executive producer on the upcoming sports drama Million Dollar Arm, starring Jon Hamm.
In the film, Hamm joins Bill Paxton and Lake Bell in the true story of a sports agent who tried to recruit two teenage cricket players from India into Major League Baseball.
Previously, Simmons and Schell worked on ESPN Films' acclaimed 30 for 30 documentary series.