Whatever Happened To Sports On Earth?David Roth8/15/14 12:21pmFiled to: capital it fails us nowsports on earththe classicalrepubsportswritingjournalism124EditPromoteShare to KinjaToggle Conversation toolsGo to permalinkOriginally published at The Classical.Advertisement I looked at the front page of Sports On Earth at 12:30 am last Wednesday, about 12 hours after it was announced that the website would, if not quite disappear, at least no longer exist as it had for the previous two years. I saw 42 articles visible between the rotating deck, the header, and the list of links visible upon scrolling down the page. It was, as usual for that site, an eclectic and intelligent mix of columns and analysis and reported features on various sports/sporps topics. An even 20 of those pieces were written by people who have also written for The Classical; many of those (Colin McGowan, Aaron Gordon, Michael Pina, Sean Highkin, Noah Davis, Jack Moore, Jonathan Bernhardt) wrote for us before joining up with SoE and some others (Wendy Thurm, Matthew Kory) came over here to do a piece or two after having done more work for SoE.Advertisement Not visible on that front page are the many other Classical alums that have contributed regularly to SoE. Tomas Rios wrote and edited there and Jeb Lund was a regular columnist; both have been down with us since our earliest days. Mike Piellucci and B. David Zarley and Evan Hall and Lindsay Gibbs have all written at Sports on Earth recently, and each has written for us multiple times. There are others, and also in the interest of disclosure and completeness, there is me. I wrote for SoE for nearly a year, and was never anything less than delighted to be doing it. This connection is not necessarily causal, I should note. These writers earned those bylines and paychecks from SoE by writing as well as they do, and we were lucky to have had some of those words on this site. I steered a number of those writers to my editors at SoE both because they were so good at writing and because Sports On Earth was the website that paid for the type of writing that Classical Fam people tend to do best. I was multiply biased, because I liked my editors at SoE and because I liked the writers I was recommending, but I was never quite wrong about it. Not because I'm so smart—although, again in the interest of disclosure, I should mention that I'm both very smart and shockingly handsome—but because it was right there to see. Sports On Earth was naturally the site to which Classical writers would graduate, because it was the sort of site that we try to be. "What I thought was so cool about it is that the default audience for sports seems, by internet attitudes, to be perpetually aggrieved, entitled, and largely conservative white middle class men," Jeb Lund told me. "And it was refreshing that SoE seemed to challenge those attitudes on matters of sex, race and labor rights almost as a standard policy." It is one thing for us to try to do that here, in our lower-key, lower-wattage way; it is a different thing entirely for a site funded by MLB Advanced Media and the definitionally middlebrow Gannett newspapers to do it.Sponsored So Sports On Earth, which announced a week ago that it was laying off almost all of its staff and kinda-sorta announced that it would be freezing out its many freelance contributors for at least some while, was Our Kind Of Site. It was, to the extent that its big-ticket corporate ownership allowed and down to its colorway and editorial outlook, the grown-up, for-profit version of The Classical, and something like what The Classical would be if we'd had budget enough and pull enough to pay writers we believe in—not just the aforementioned, but world-beating SoE stalwarts like Patrick Hruby and Mike Tanier and Will Leitch and Jorge Arangure, Jr. and Howard Megdal and others—to do what we do here at a larger scale. So of course I liked it. Not only did it publish and pay so many of the writers I like the most, and give them a chance to reach readers that we can't reach, but it let them do the sort of work that only they could do, in the way only they could do it.Advertisement And it fit so well, and worked so well, that it only periodically seemed as strange as it was that a site so big and so rich was also so political, and so determinedly weird. "I always think of Tomas' hilarious, lunatic piece in which he has a fever dream notion of what it would be like to be in Russia for the Sochi madness," Will Leitch said. "The whole article is made up. It is one of the craziest things you will ever read, and it was on a site funded by Bud Selig and USA Today." It was flattering, if admittedly from the perspective of a fan, and someone who is always ready to be flattered, that it was so often our type of weird. Mostly, Sports On Earth was just fun to read, surprising and fun and smart and in the end not really much like our site, or any other. This was not how Sports On Earth was conceived—it was initially designed as a sort of platform for Joe Posnanski and a broader, artfully and empathetically establishmentarian Posnanskian vision, and then hastily remade after Posnanski bailed on the site after a few months, by Larry Burke and Steve Madden and Emma Span and Matt Brown and all the writers they brought in and turned loose, into the stranger and much more interesting and vital thing that it became. This is also sort of true of The Classical, which is now something much different, and if not better than at least differently beneficial, than the nascent thing I talked about on the phone with Shoals back in 2011. It has little to do with what we are doing or trying to do, and has not for most of our existence, but it bears mentioning: The Classical is not a moneymaking enterprise, for anyone. You can pay for a subscription to the magazine, and know that the writers for those issues will be paid some insufficient amount, and know that you will get your dollar's worth for it. But, for various reasons, our original business model—such as it was; there was always a strong "+ ? = profit" aspect to it, even before its effective nonexistence became an internal punchline—has been by the boards for a long time.