Up a flight of stairs, half a block up from the junction of Telegraph and Broadway, sits a small startup trying to change the way people interact with sports. A handful of staff gather at a communal table in a minimalist room under a soaring mural created by an Oakland graffiti artist.

The simple summary of Grit Media could be that it finds, creates and distributes stories that go well beyond the the stats, scores, and highlights found in traditional sports media. Stories about courage, charity or discrimination. But there is a larger aim, too: to change the way people view sports as culture.

Grit Media launched their website on January 20th. On their site, their Facebook page and their Twitter feed, you can find, like and share stories they’ve found — for example, an ESPN piece on Marshawn Lynch‘s childhood in West Oakland.

Then there’s exceptional original content , such as this video piece on the challenges faced by Ed Washington, the new coach for Castlemont, and for his athletes. It’s a piece full of insight and incredible courage.

The ability of sports to pull people out of challenging situations is something AJ Chan, founder of Grit Media, is extremely familiar with. At age 11, Chan threw himself into football after the death of his father. “Football became a really powerful thing for me as far as identity and purpose,” he said.

Chan also realized that college was expensive, and football was his best way to get a scholarship. “I ran the numbers in my head and realized the percentage of people who get full academic scholarships are way less than the people who get full athletic scholarships.”

Grit Media may be a company dedicated to sports, but it’s also dedicated to getting people interested in health and fitness through immersive, inspirational stories.

“Health and fitness is not sexy, and it’s something that IMG_8034 (2)we all try to do but we can never stay on with,” said Chan.

With this in mind, Chan wanted to get people more immersed in sports as a method for personal growth. Thinking about how best to accomplish that, he turned to media, a passion of his since growing up in Oakland, a child of Chinese immigrants via Trinidad and Tobago. “I was never really Chinese and Asian, but never really white and American. I was stuck in the middle. [Non-fiction] media was always this really compelling thing for me. I would consume a lot of content and use that as my guide to living in America.”

Sports, meanwhile, was a great equalizer. “It was something that transcended race, language, interests, socio-economics. When you’re young you throw a ball out there or you play a game,  it really doesn’t matter who you are, it’s just about your ability.”


AJ Chan, founder of Grit Media

So Grit Media set out to create a cultural guide of its own, a guide to sports media. Filling a need, as the team sees it, for “real, raw, authentic stories” that were high in quality and would touch a chord with viewers, hopefully propelling them into further appreciation of health and fitness, too.

Along with curating stories from around the world, Grit Media will continue to create new content, such as a travel series that includes a trip to Dallas to discover a city through basketball. Grit Media will also have pro athletes as guest curators, allowing them to share stories that have personal meaning.

The decision to base Grit Media in Oakland was easy. The diversity of experiences in Oakland is important to Grit. “We think that we can attract folks who have that same Grit ethos and passion a lot easier in a place in Oakland that is gritty and cares about these topics than if we’re in San Francisco, L.A., New York, or somewhere else,” said Chan.

“And if you’re gonna start a company called Grit, is there a more gritty place than Oakland?”

About The Author

Katie is the Music Editor at OL. She's a music geek, culture junkie, massive A's fan, and Oakland native. When she was six, she stood for five minutes with a felt pennant stuck under Chris Mullin’s armpit. Check out her Oakland music listings at www.oakampd.com, follow on twitter/instagram as @craziesthawk, or contact at katies@oaklandlocal.com

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