Bill Simmons dared his bosses at ESPN to punish him for a profanity-laced monologue directed at NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, and on Wednesday night, his bosses came through on the dare by suspending Simmons for three weeks.
The suspension came after Simmons, an ESPN fixture for more than a decade who serves as Editor in Chief of the ESPN-owned site Grantland.com, said on his Monday podcast that Goodell was a liar and that it was “f***ing bulls*** that Goodell claimed not to have seen the now-infamous video of Ray Rice punching out his fiancee inside an Atlantic City elevator.
A link Simmons tweeted to the podcast on Tuesday now takes readers to a 404 error page.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) September 23, 2014
Here’s the full text of Simmons’ comments via The Atlantic’s Kriston Capps. (Warning: The language is not safe for work.)
This Bill Simmons bit resembles every conversation every NFL fan has had for months now. It's not a rant. pic.twitter.com/gc3unGhAvJ
— Kriston Capps (@kristoncapps) September 24, 2014
ESPN, one of four networks with a broadcast rights deal with the NFL, issued the following statement about Simmons’ status on Wednesday night:
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, and as a result we have suspended him for three weeks.
Simmons, a prolific tweeter, has not tweeted about the suspension, but plenty of other people have come to his defense on Twitter. The hashtag #freesimmons became an almost instant trend.
— Mark Butscha Jr. (@MButschaJr) September 25, 2014
— Trevor Pitt (@Trevor_Pitt) September 25, 2014
— Patton Oswalt (@pattonoswalt) September 25, 2014
Pro Tip: Instead of trashing the commissioner on the radio, punch him – you'll only get a 2-day suspension #freesimmons
— TrivWorks (@TrivWorks) September 25, 2014
The network has come under criticism for its cozy relationship with the NFL and moves it’s made in the past that put its partnership with the league ahead of its journalistic goals.
These kinds of business relationships are, obviously, inherently conflicted. In 2004, after receiving complaints from the NFL, ESPN canceled its dramatic series Playmakers. (Ripped-from-the-headlines-of-the-future plot lines included a gay player coming out in the locker room and a player getting arrested on domestic-violence charges.) “At the end of the day I made a decision not to continue to produce something that was upsetting to one of our major partners. It wasn’t good business,” ESPN president George Bodenheimer said in Those Guys Have All the Fun, an oral history of the network. Last year, ESPN backed out of a partnership with the public-affairs TV program Frontline based on the Fainaru brothers’ brain-injury reporting. According to the New York Times, the split came a week after the NFL “voiced its displeasure with the documentary at a lunch between league and ESPN executives.”
Simmons isn’t the first person to question Goodell’s integrity during the process. Goodell’s explanation — that he didn’t see the Rice video until TMZ published it on September 8 — has been widely panned as unbelievable given the NFL’s extraordinary clout and the power of its investigative arm, which is full of former police officers and FBI agents.
After the Associated Press reported that a law enforcement official had sent the video to the NFL’s offices in April, Goodell announced that former FBI Director Robert Mueller III — who now works at a Washington law firm that negotiated the NFL’s Sunday Ticket contract with DirecTV — would run an “independent” investigation into the NFL’s information-gathering during the Rice probe. The “independent” investigation will be overseen by two of Goodell’s bosses: New York Giants owner John Mara and Pittsburgh Steelers owner Art Rooney.
ESPN also suspended Simmons for two weeks in 2009 after he called Boston talk radio station WEEI — which has a partnership with ESPN — “scumbags” in a tweet.