Site Apologizes for Outing Trans Woman After Suicide

'Dr. V's Magical Putter' sparks outrage
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jan 21, 2014 11:10 AM CST
The "Dr. V's Magical Putter" piece is seen in this Grantland screenshot, which has been modified to reduce negative space.   (Grantland/Newser)

(Newser) – ESPN personality Bill Simmons posted a long, soul-searching apology yesterday, in the wake of a massive Internet backlash over a piece his Grantland site ran last Wednesday that outed a woman as transgender in the wake of her suicide—a suicide that may have been linked to the reporting of that piece. If you've missed the uproar, here are the Cliff's Notes:

The original piece:

  • Writer Caleb Hannan's "Dr. V's Magical Putter" tells the story of a quirky putter and Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt, the physicist who designed it—only Hannan discovers that Vanderbilt's credentials don't check out, and that she is a trans woman.
  • "What began as a story about a brilliant woman with a new invention had turned into the tale of a troubled man who had invented a new life for himself," Hannan writes in one of the piece's more cringe-worthy paragraphs.
  • The last time they spoke, Vanderbilt lashed out at Hannan, telling him he was about to commit a "hate crime." Hannan also outs Vanderbilt to one of her investors, something for which he's been criticized extensively. The piece ends with the revelation that Vanderbilt killed herself Oct. 18.

The reaction:

  • At first, the piece was widely praised by a host of major sports writers, like Dan Le Betard, Bill Barnwell, and Richard Deitsch, who said it might be the "best I've read this month," according to the Big Lead.
  • But on Friday, a wave of criticism started popping up, castigating Hannan for his callousness. Melissa McEwan at Shakesville called it "one of the most cavalier, irresponsible pieces of journalism I have read in a very long time." You can read more reactions at The Toast.
The apology:
  • Simmons explains that his staff simply wasn't educated enough on trans issues to see the problems. "We read every incarnation of that piece through a certain lens. … Once a few people nudged us and said, Hey, read it this way instead, you transphobic dumbasses, that lens looked totally different," he writes. "We made an indefensible mistake not to solicit input from ANYONE in the trans community."
  • Grantland also ran a piece from ESPN baseball writer Christina Kahrl, a trans woman, calling Hannan's story "a permanent exhibit of what not to do, and how not to treat a fellow human being."
The reaction to the reaction:
  • Tim Marchman at Deadspin calls Simmons' apology "characteristically self-obsessed," and writes that, like Grantland itself, it's more interested in sportswriters than their subjects. He also reveals that Vanderbilt's partner, Gerri Jordan, may pursue legal action.
  • Think Progress notes the apology's troubling suggestion that the piece wouldn't have run if Vanderbilt hadn't killed herself. But it praises Simmons for a "striking" apology that "should raise the bar for editors who face similar criticisms in the future."
(Read more Bill Simmons stories.)

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