A few people on Twitter asked me to write about my reaction to Bill Simmons’ three-week suspension from ESPN for his criticism of NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. So here are some thoughts (a few of these were articulated on Wednesday night’s episode of the SCRAlliance Webcast).
• The suspension is laughable. Absolutely laughable.
• More than one person pointed this out, but it’s a point that bears repeating: Stephen A. Smith received a one-week suspension for saying that women should be careful not to provoke getting beaten up by men. Simmons got three times that for calling Roger Goodell a name.
• It was interesting last night to see how stories were framing the suspension as being the result of a “rant” or a “diatribe,” words that carry with them a loaded meaning.
• From ESPN’s own announcement (emphasis added): “Every employee must be accountable to ESPN and those engaged in our editorial operations must also operate within ESPN’s journalistic standards. We have worked hard to ensure that our recent NFL coverage has met that criteria. Bill Simmons did not meet those obligations in a recent podcast.”
Look, Bill Simmons is no journalist. He has never claimed to be one, doesn’t act like one, doesn’t proclaim to be one. By every definition we traditionally ascribe to journalists, Bill Simmons is not one. He’s a blogger, a commentator, a podcaster. And by no means is that an insult. Just because he’s not a “Journalist” with a capital J doesn’t mean that Simmons’ work is worthless. Simmons does what he does and does it very well. He’s a fun, entertaining writer and podcaster who created a place for himself in the sports marketplace of ideas. I don’t love everything he does, but his success is undeniable. But to suddenly hold him to “journalistic standards” — during a podcast, no less — is ludicrous.
Why was Simmons suspended? Was it because the NFL finally got sick of being called out? Was it because Simmons essentially said “neener neener” to his ESPN bosses in the same podcast? Was it because Simmons is an easy target to suspend, a company man who likely won’t go nuclear (although he threatened to) unlike, say, Keith Olberman?
In the end, it doesn’t matter. Once again, ESPN looks petty, small and wrong.