Bill Simmons and the B.S. of ESPN

There are a couple necessary disclaimers here:

1) First and foremost, it’s one of my practices as a writer to abstain from reading specific material on a given subject until after I’ve already written my piece. I don’t enjoy being influenced one way or another, I don’t like to regurgitate similar ideas just because I read it elsewhere, and over all I don’t want my original thought to be contaminated. (All three are basically the same thing.)

2) The topic in this case — Bill Simmons — is someone I’m not a huge fan of. I find him a self-centered, self-important jerkoff most of the time, but in saying so I acknowledge he’s wildly successful and popular, and his baby on — Grantland — is one of the network’s last redeeming qualities. Simmons is a necessary evil within ESPN, which has become a necessary evil within itself if you are a sports fan.

With those two points out in the open, I have a huge problem with ESPN’s recent three-week suspension they laid down yesterday on Bill Simmons for critical comments he made on his podcast about NFL Commissioner, Roger Goodell.

For a link to the audio of what he actually said, here it is, but below is the transcript if you’re lazy like me and would rather just read it:

I just think not enough is being made out of the fact that they knew about the tape and they knew what was on it. Goodell, if he didn’t know what was on that tape, he’s a liar. I’m just saying it. He is lying. I think that dude is lying. If you put him up on a lie detector test that guy would fail. For all these people to pretend they didn’t know is such fucking bullshit. It really is — it’s such fucking bullshit. And for him to go in that press conference and pretend otherwise, I was so insulted.

Essentially, ESPN is popping Simmons for three weeks for saying what many people have been thinking for a while now, something other ESPN personalities have been saying while choosing their words a bit more carefully.

And let’s quickly examine what Bill is saying when he calls Goodell a liar: Reasonably speaking, the NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry — they make roughly $9 billion annually, but it’s probably more now — and they couldn’t get their hands on a tape but TMZ could? Does that make any sense? I tweeted that the morning the second Ray Rice tape went public.

What’s truly hypocritical on ESPN’s behalf isn’t that Simmons was suspended — he openly called out his bosses to punish him — it was the length of the suspension. Over the same Ray Rice topic, Stephen A. Smith was unofficially reprimanded for one week for idiotic comments he made about domestic violence, and Sportsnation co-host Max Kellerman was given a week off merely for talking about domestic violence. ESPN higher-ups are the gatekeepers of all that soulless and wrong, and they run their ship like it’s Nazi fucking Germany. They are good at it, and, usually to be that good and gross as much money as they do, there’s a lot of conniving bullshit along the way.

By giving Simmons a three-week vacation for comments that you don’t need to suspend disbelief very much to accept, over Smith or Kellerman’s suspensions, for instance, can only suggest one thing: ESPN cares more about protecting its alliance with the NFL than about women, or the seriousness of domestic violence. Three times as much.

Further proof can be found when, last year, PBS and ESPN were in-cahoots making a documentary about concussions in the NFL, called League Of Denial, but merely weeks before it was set to hit the airwaves ESPN pulled its affiliation. One can only assume that, once the NFL understood the gravity of what was being presented, they flexed some muscle on ESPN and the Worldwide Leader had no choice but to give in. After all, they have hundreds of millions of dollars invested in Monday Night Football and can’t afford to damage their own helpless relationship with the most powerful and popular organization in professional sports.

But back to Simmons. Like I said, he isn’t my favorite writer, and he’s certainly not my favorite person in the world. What he’s saying here, though, has merit. After all, his entire brand is based off the idea that he is the every man sports fan — his unofficial title is The Sports Guy — and it’s beneath the ESPN umbrella that he’s ascended to the point where he can really say whatever the fuck he wants; he’s one of, if not the most influential personality in Bristol. If he were anything less, he may have been terminated for these comments, so he probably wouldn’t have said them in the first place. He may be an arrogant son of a bitch, but it’s that arrogance that makes him so effective. I can’t fault his heart.

As a final disclaimer, I’m a baseball writer on an ESPN affiliate blog called One Strike Away, but that doesn’t inherently mean I owe the company anything for the platform. Above all, as it was when ESPN got underway, they used to value journalistic integrity; the truth used to mean something to them. As a writer — and I don’t care if it’s on here or OSA or any other medium — I seek the objective truth.

Bill Simmons has grown a substantial amount of equity within the company, so much that he’s able to say things like he did to get only a three-week suspension, but he will never be as big as he thinks he is, and certainly not enough to potentially damage ESPN’s prized relationship with the NFL. With his punishment, ESPN is sending Simmons one message:

We value your scathing opinions, we value the millions of page views you generate, but we don’t want to hear them if it comes between our precious marriage to what’s easily becoming the most corrupt league in organized sports.

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