Bill Simmons, the Internet's best-known sportswriter and one of ESPN's top voices, has been suspended for three weeks after a podcast in which he called out NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Simmons, who had earlier written an angry screed wondering how Goodell is even still employed, snapped off a three-minute rant on his "B.S. Report" podcast that left no doubt about his perceptions of the commissioner:
"Goodell, if he didn’t know what was on that tape, he’s a liar. I’m just saying it. He 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 [expletive]ing [expletive]. It really is, it’s such [expletive]ing [expletive]. For him to go into that press conference and pretend otherwise ... I was so insulted."
(The full version of Simmons' thoughts on Goodell is below.)
Simmons, no stranger to discipline from ESPN, knew what he was doing, and what he was risking. Elsewhere in the podcast, he effectively dared ESPN to punish him: "I really hope somebody calls me or emails me and says I’m in trouble for anything I say about Roger Goodell, 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 took the dare. "Every employee must be accountable to ESPN and those engaged in our editorial operations must also operate within ESPN’s journalistic standards," read a statement on ESPN.com. "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."
A couple points worth mentioning:
• Simmons' suspension of three weeks is longer than the initial suspensions of Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson combined, and both of those situations had the law involved. It's also three times as long as that of commentator Stephen A. Smith, who made controversial comments about women's role in domestic abuse events. Make of that what you will.
• Simmons is a master of self-promotion, of knowing how to leverage public sentiment against his bosses. He understands, like a baseball manager getting thrown out of a game to motivate his team, that sometimes one must kick a little dirt to get a little attention.
ESPN has been providing some of the strongest coverage of the NFL's domestic violence crisis, from the expose on the Ravens' front office misfires to a powerful history of domestic violence within the NFL's ranks. Given the fact that ESPN also partners with the NFL, these were significant statements of journalistic independence, particularly given the fact that ESPN bowed out of a concussion documentary last year to accede to the NFL's wishes. Simmons' suspension will not sit well with the media and fans hoping for journalistic independence from one of the largest voices in sports.