Bill Simmons deserves better than ESPN

Omar Etman, Deputy Opinion Editor

ESPN no longer deserves Bill Simmons. The sports conglomerate, itself a subsidiary of the enormous Walt Disney Company, suspended Simmons last month for a comment he made during “The B.S. Report,” his popular weekly podcast. On Sept. 22, in the midst of the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal that continues to hurt public perception of the NFL, Simmons called league commissioner Roger Goodell a liar for claiming to have not seen the now-infamous elevator footage of Ray Rice. Though it is unlikely that Goodell had not seen the footage, ESPN swiftly suspended Simmons for three weeks. The suspension ended Oct. 15.

Simmons started with ESPN as a columnist in 2002. In the time since, his presence has expanded to include “The B.S. Report,” the “30 for 30” documentary series and, more recently, the Grantland website, an ESPN vertical that publishes truly excellent commentary on sports and culture. For regular subscribers of the network’s many communicative channels, Simmons is inescapable.

Though I should admit that I love Simmons, I cannot claim to be his biggest fan — that title belongs to my friends. They read everything he writes and listen to each podcast he posts. His “Book of Basketball” in particular is essential reading for hoops fans, and for a good reason — it is at once entertaining and informative. The book’s best elements exemplify the reasons Simmons has amassed such a following. His conversational commentary, which is fast-paced and historically informed, feels wonderfully personal. More fundamentally, it is always clear that Simmons cares about sports and the people involved. Even in the case for which he was suspended, his comments were made to protect football against negligent leadership.

It is unlikely Simmons will leave ESPN soon. He is believed to earn more than $5 million each year, and “The Grantland Basketball Show” is set to debut on the network later this month. Then again, his contract ends next year, and there are rumblings that this suspension is the final straw. If the Grantland show is not a roaring success, and I selfishly hope that it will not be, the choice to leave should be an easier one. ESPN has a journalistic responsibility to its readers and viewers to deliver honest news, but ESPN’s treatment of one of its most respected voices proves that the company values Simmons’ profitability more than Simmons himself. His departure, however unlikely, is understandably overdue — for most sports writers, ESPN is the pinnacle of the industry. But Simmons is not most sports writers. He is the best modern sports commentator, truly The Sports Guy. He should create an independent platform to house his existing media empire, one that emphasizes good reporting over revenue. I know my friends and I will follow him there.

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 A version of this article appeared in the Oct. 20 print edition. Email Omar Etman at [email protected] 

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