ESPN suspended Bill Simmons for three weeks for some indefensible combination of calling NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a liar, cussing and/or general insubordination. This is just the most recent in a series of suspensions the World Wide Leader has imposed on Simmons, who lives in LA and ostensibly runs the ESPN offshoot Grantland.com. He appears regularly on the network as part of its NBA coverage, has written best-selling books and hobnobs with the biggest names in sports.
The origins of his career are back in Boston where he fervently followed the Boston teams, smoked pot, talked with his friends and wrote a blog. In those days, Simmons access was confined to season tickets and he found a voice that was equal parts sarcastic, snarky and insightfully romantic. His writing resonated with fans and developed a cultish popularity. He was free to be petty and take pot shots because that’s what his readers did among their friends, and it was balanced by his uncanny ability to frame and give context to transcendent sports men and moments.
ESPN recognized the talent and bought it. It has been an uncomfortable alliance. Simmons is by nature petulant and combative. ESPN is enormous, pandering to greater enormity and controlling. Simmons has lost much of his essence in the deal as he generally writes less, and has gotten to know many of those people that he had fired shots at from afar. He no longer inhabits the environment that made him.
It is refreshing and important that on occasion he is moved to speak in a manner that draws the ire of his employers. It shows he has not completely sold his soul for profit, and it compels ESPN to show its oppressive hand so we don’t forget the depressing power of financial fortitude, or the situational affirmation of the first amendment.