ESPN is Hypocritical for Suspending Bill Simmons Over Goodell Comments

“Don’t get fired.”

That’s the mantra over at Grantland when Jalen Rose and David Jacoby weigh in on a controversial topic during one of their wide-ranging and always-entertaining podcasts.

More than just pithy words of wisdom, the saying eventually began to feel like a thin blue line someone would inevitably cross if they got on the air and talked long enough about various hot-button issues. Nobody thought that someone would be Grantland Editor-in-Chief himself Bill Simmons. But that’s precisely what happened Monday during his podcast, The B.S. Report, when he went on a profanity-laced tirade about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s handling of the recent Ray Rice domestic violence scandal, during which a surveillance video of Rice brutally punching his then-fiancée and knocking her unconscious in a hotel elevator surfaced and subsequently went viral.

Before the video became public, Goodell had given Rice what was widely seen as a slap-on-the-wrist (a paltry two-game suspension) and has long maintained that he and other NFL executives had not seen what transpired on said video surveillance footage until the video erupted onto the internet recently, although several unnamed sources within the NFL front offices have claimed otherwise.

“Goodell, if he didn’t know what was on that tape, he’s a liar,” Simmons said. “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 f–king bullsh-t. It really is. It’s such f–king bullsh-t. And for him to go in that press conference and pretend otherwise, I was so insulted. I really was.”

But he didn’t stop there. He went on to basically dare his bosses at ESPN to censor him for his comments, which evidently didn’t sit well with network execs.

“I really hope somebody calls me or emails me and says I’m in trouble for anything I say about Roger Goodell,” Simmons said. “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.”

ESPN, who it should be noted has a nearly $2 billion broadcast deal with the NFL, ultimately decided to suspend Simmons for three weeks, citing a breach of the network’s journalistic ethos.

“Every employee must be accountable to ESPN and those engaged in our editorial operations must also operate within ESPN’s journalistic standards,” the statement read. “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, and as a result we have suspended him for three weeks.”

Serious basketball fans have been reading Simmons for more than a decade now. Even before he launched Grantland, Simmons was one of ESPN’s most widely read columnists, precisely because of his inimitable, no-holds-barred take on sports reporting.

This isn’t the first time he’s used profanity during one of his podcasts – or columns for that matter – and it almost certainly won’t be the last. That’s beside the point. It also isn’t the first time he’s said something salacious about a prominent sports figure (and again, it definitely won’t be the last).

And it isn’t the first time Simmons has sidestepped certain rules of journalistic objectivity. During the 2013 NBA Draft, Simmons, who was covering the event for ESPN, got into an awkward on-air spat with former Celtics Coach Doc Rivers, who he accused of turning his back on the franchise and being dishonest about his reasons for leaving Boston to take the head coaching job with the Los Angeles Clippers.

Earlier this spring, Simmons couldn’t hide his disgust while covering the NBA Draft Lottery when it became clear that the Cleveland Cavaliers would win the number one pick for the third time in four years (presumably instead of his beloved Celtics). It prompted him to publish a series of articles describing how the Draft Lottery should be restructured or wholly re-imagined in the future to avoid such discrepancies.

Simmons, of course, is a fanatical and unrepentant homer for his Boston Celtics, and his obvious bias toward his hometown team has affected numerous of his opinions on sports-related matters over the years. During the NBA Draft this summer, for instance, he was caught on tape fist-pumping when his Celtics selected James Young with the 17th pick.

None of those other scenarios were grounds for suspension, so what’s all the hubbub about this time? It seems to be primarily because he had the gall to challenge his employer. It’s been argued elsewhere that, had he not called them out, the whole ordeal would have likely flown under the radar.

If ESPN was so concerned about journalistic integrity, they wouldn’t have a nearly $2 billion dollar contract to broadcast NFL games, a relationship that unavoidably results in all sorts of conflicts of interests.

Not to mention the fact that ESPN’s own Stephen A. Smith, whose narcissism and verbosity make Simmons seem like a veritable introvert by comparison, was suspended only a week for comments he made about the Rice scandal that were arguably far more offensive and inappropriate, i.e. by suggesting that it is a woman’s responsibility not to provoke her man into committing violent acts against her.

Glaring inconsistencies aside, the suspension promises to be little more than a bump in the road for the man who has become an institutional stalwart in the world of sports reporting and just another reminder to take heed of his own simple words of wisdom: don’t get fired.

Is ESPN justified for suspending Bill Simmons?

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