No one gets more joy in prodding ESPN than Bill Simmons. The difference between Simmons and another ESPN antagonist like Clay Travis, though, is that Simmons spent more than a decade as an employee and saw first hand what happens when you do something that rubs the Worldwide Leader in Sports the wrong way.
So when news came down that ESPN had handed Jemele Hill a two-week suspension for “a second violation of our social media guidelines,” it seemed like only a matter of time until Simmons gave his take on the subject — he, too, was suspended a few times during his time with ESPN for things he said on Twitter. In an article for The Ringer, Simmons recalled the way ESPN’s first ombudsman pointed out the hypocritical approach the network has towards its talent sharing opinions.
He then dove into Hill, writing that ESPN handles disciplining its talent on a “case-by-case basis” before mentioning that it always wanted to “stick to sports.” Ultimately, though, that became difficult for a myriad of reasons, whether it’s because the network placed an emphasis on diversity or because of factors the network could not control, like Donald Trump going after the NFL.
Simmons then pivoted to discussing Hill specifically, saying that while she was guilty of “easily one of the most flagrant social media violations in the company’s history,” employing Hill means you are giving a platform to an insightful analyst who is able to speak poignantly on just about anything. He also criticized the network for the way it handled Hill’s labeling of Trump as a white supremacist, going as far as to say he believed ESPN tried to guilt her into making them look bad.
ESPN handled the ensuing hullabaloo even more awkwardly than I expected. The company didn’t support Jemele, or publicly reprimand her, or do anything other than wait for it to blow over. Two days later, she was twice as famous and there was no going back. From what I heard, they met with Jemele in Bristol and made her feel sorry for putting THEM in a bad position. I knew this was true because the company had done the same thing to me. Multiple times. When you believe you’re right and it’s handled that way, it only deepens your resolve.
The rest of the article includes musings about how the network will handle other young, unique voices (Simmons singled out Katie Nolan and Pablo Torre as two), the way that this incident could have impacted future relationship between ESPN and its talent, and even some musings on Disney CEO Bob Iger’s potential bid for the presidency in 2020.
He also called out the network for its handling of Hill and its general approach to Trump a few more times, including an appeal to ESPN to give voices like Hill a platform.
“Jemele Hill got my brain going,” Simmons said. “That’s what smart people are supposed to do right now. We need dialogue. We need help. We can’t marginalize our most distinct voices.”
(Via The Ringer)