The only thing Bill Simmons has ever been suspending for is criticising ESPN.
In 2009 he got a two-week Twitter ban for calling the ESPN radio affiliate in Boston “deceitful scumbags.”
Now he has been suspended for three weeks after calling Roger Goodell a “liar” and daring ESPN to punish him for it on a podcast.
Daring ESPN to punish him was the primary reason Simmons got suspended, according to an ESPN source. The company also deemed the Goodell rant outside the bounds of its journalistic standards and it contributed to his punishment, we’re told.
For the third time, Simmons has been suspended for going after his employer.
What Simmons said about Goodell was neither new nor particularly extreme. The manner in which he delivered the Goodell rant was notable, especially considering his status as ESPN’s most recognisable writer, but he’s far from the only ESPN commentator to rip Goodell. Keith Olbermann accused Goodell of participating in a “cover-up” hours after Rice was cut, and he has gone on “DESTROYING” various sports figures on ESPN without consequence. ESPN’s Tedy Bruschi also called for Goodell’s resignation, saying, “I don’t know if he even believes what he’s preaching,” which is basically calling Goodell a liar without using the word “liar.”
Just hours before ESPN suspended Simmons, the company’s ombudsman praised Olbermann, Simmons, and others for their handling of the Rice story.
You also have to consider the context in which Simmons criticised Goodell. He wasn’t doing hard reporting on his podcast. The “B.S. Report” isn’t “Frontline.” It’s two dudes talking about football and gambling.
He called Goodell a “liar” for claiming he didn’t know what went on in between Ray Rice and his wife in the elevator until he saw the TMZ tape. His rant came three days after Outside The Lines published a big article in which the Ravens were accused, among other things, of knowing exactly what went on in the elevator in February. Simmons was speaking from the point of view of a guy who just read that article and drew the most obvious conclusion, not from the point of view of an investigative reporter or a lawyer.
Suspending Simmons for calling Goodell a “liar” on his podcast without hard proof would be holding him to a standard they have never held him to. This is a guy who floated the theory that Adrian Peterson used PEDs to come back from a knee injury and said live on TV that LeBron James was distracted during a playoff game because he learned that the Cavaliers won the 2014 NBA Draft lottery at halftime. We aren’t meant to take everything he says as fact. ESPN pays him to say what he thinks about sports, and they have never sanitised those opinions, even if they stretch the bounds of truth.
… Which brings us to the real reason he was suspended: going after ESPN.
Here’s the full text of Simmons daring ESPN to punish him:
I really hope somebody calls me or emails me and says I’m in trouble for anything I say about Roger Goodell. Because if one person says that to me, I’m going public. You leave me alone. The commissioner’s a liar and I get to talk about that on my podcast … Please, call me and say I’m in trouble. I dare you.
It’s a dare, and a silly one at that. But it’s also a criticism. Simmons is suggesting here that ESPN would punish a commentator for criticising Roger Goodell. In preemptively challenging his employers to punish him, he’s hinting at the idea of corruption and censorship.
If there’s one thing we know about Simmons’ special relationship to ESPN, it’s that publicly criticising the mothership is forbidden.
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