This is not another column about everything the Grantland website, its editor Bill Simmons and journalist Caleb Hannan did wrong in the writing and publishing of the piece “Dr. V’s Magical Putter.” If you are not aware of the story, in which a trans woman who invented a revolutionary golf club was outed by Hannan to an investor, and then, before the piece went to press, took her own life (a suicide mentioned at the article’s end by the author with a chillingly casual distance), read Kye Allums’s commentary posted last week at The Nation. Or you can read Christina Kahrl’s response posted after the uproar on the Grantland site. Or you can read this, this, or this. Frankly, the breadth of writing by the trans community is stunning in its passion and scope and I have nothing to add.
I do want to weigh in on another question: whether Grantland should just remove the piece from its site. In ESPN Ombudsman Robert Lipsyte’s blistering assessment of the piece, he asks that very question. Lipsyte quotes Kate Fagan, a terrific ESPN writer who is also gay. Fagan says, “I would hope Grantland would defer to the wishes of the trans community on that issue, especially since, as I understand it, the story causes so much pain. I understand Bill’s impulse to leave it online as a learning tool, but having the story stay up seems as if we are valuing Grantland’s right to learn over the trans community’s right to not feel anguished. As many members of the trans community have said on social media, ‘My life is not your teachable moment.’”
Simmons himself, in Lipsyte’s piece, says, “I feel really bad about the impact the piece had on transgender readers. I read all those anguished emails about how badly the piece made them feel, the dark places it took them to.”
I would only add that for those of us who have friends who are transgender, or have ever known someone who has attempted or succeeded in taking their own life, the piece also takes you to “dark places.” I have never read a profile piece where the subject’s suicide is tacked on at the end in such a blithe fashion. It is impossible to imagine any other story—say, about a depressed former football player or even an athlete’s struggle to come out of the closet—where their death would be treated with such callousness.
It is simply wrong for Grantland and Bill Simmons to say they are now more sensitive to these issues while still keeping the article up as is on the site. Yes, the piece now begins with a paragraph containing links to Simmons’s apology letter and Christina Kahrl’s response, but these could continue to be up at the site without the article itself.
“Dr.V’s Magical Putter” is best understood as a defective and, I would argue, dangerous product. If a company puts a defective and dangerous product on the market, and if their perfidy is discovered, they would make every effort to remove it from circulation. When we learn that there is poison aspirin on the market or an exploding Ford Pinto, we don’t shrug our shoulders and say, “Let’s keep these items in circulation. It’s a teachable moment!”