Friday, September 26, 2014

9 comments Bill Simmons Was Right, But Knew He Would Get Suspended

As was possibly his plan all along, Bill Simmons got suspended by ESPN for his comments on Roger Goodell being liar and then daring ESPN to suspend him. As mandated by Internet law, I'm sure everyone has heard about this and gotten to hear 1,000 opinions on this issue. Bill Simmons takes a piss and the world waits for him to flush. More on Bill and the overall Sith-lord in a Communist nation vibe that ESPN gives out around that situation in a minute.

I want to focus first on the ESPN ombudsman and his work of late. The ESPN ombudsman does not post often. Sometimes he will post fairly quickly one after the other. He has posted on the following dates (and of course he posts about Simmons as soon as I finish typing this):

October 15, 2013

October 24, 2013- in a post that came quickly after the other one and was more complimentary towards ESPN (hint, this is a semi-trend) saying:

The ESPN female audience has risen to about 45 percent, according to last year’s figures, and the network has been making an effort to showcase female talent. The promotion of Doris Burke this month to studio analyst on “NBA Countdown” was a dramatic example.
 

But ESPN also has to do a better job of identifying those “good ol’ boy” comments and turning them into teachable moments for the guys who haven’t quite gotten their heads out of their lockers. 

The entire article wasn't entirely complimentary, but considering David Pollack had essentially made comments which moved humanity back 75 years, and ESPN's earned reputation for a boy's club, along with their history of treating women poorly...I'd say it was pretty complimentary. Lipsyte could easily have gone on for 5,000 words about this just being another example of sexism ingrained in the ESPN culture, but that's for someone else to do I guess.

November 22, 2013

December 18, 2013

December 31, 2013- in a post about religious tolerance and advocacy that more or less just covered the topic.

January 17, 2014

January 27, 2014- On the Dr. V story, where he was critical of Grantland's handling of the Dr. V story.

March 18, 2014

April 3, 2014- Simply reaction from readers and no real "ombudsman" activities to be read.

April 28, 2014

May 30, 2014

July 9, 2014

July 30, 2014

September 9, 2014

September 23, 2014- This is the latest column. Notice this column comes a mere two weeks (two WHOLE weeks!) after the last ombudsman post. You may be familiar with the previous ombudsman post because that was the one where the ombudsman discussed punishments at ESPN and how they are handled. It also has the choice quote from an ESPN executive where he says,

“We don’t treat everyone the same but we treat everyone fairly.”

It's also the post where ESPN was essentially admitting to keeping punishments and information from the ombudsman because it's not the public's right to know. Sure, maybe. What's the point of having an ombudsman if you aren't going to let him report to the public regarding organizational decisions in order to back up the appearance of transparency you want to give with actual actions that support this transparency?

So it was surprising that the ombudsman posted again so quickly. Then I read what he wrote.

The network’s heavyweights -- Keith Olbermann, Jason Whitlock and Bill Simmons, among others -- delivered their own verbal punches; investigative reporter Don Van Natta Jr. has been driving the national media’s newsgathering; Bob Ley anchored smart and thoughtful discussions; and a roster of stars, including Jane McManus, Dan Le Batard, Hannah Storm, Andrew Brandt, Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen, offered information and insight.
 

I’d like to say I wasn’t the least bit surprised … but I was.
 

This was ESPN’s finest hour during my tenure as Ombudsman,

This was a fairly complimentary post towards ESPN and I can imagine some ESPN executive shooting Robert Lipsyte an email suggesting he write about ESPN's great victory as soon as possible. That's how I explain the short two week wait between posts. ESPN had something great they wanted to have Lipsyte comment on, so he did. I wouldn't suggest Lipsyte is a lapdog or lackey for ESPN, but it struck me as funny that he followed up one post with another so quickly when that's not how he usually writes. Topics have been well past their sell-by date when a discussion of that topic has appeared in the ombudsman's page prior, so it doesn't strike me as a coincidence ESPN's great victory which just happens to coincide with a new ombudsman post. ESPN's battle with the Ravens over the Don Van Natta Jr report got a quick, starry-eyed review on the ombudsman's page like it was almost a part of the plan to protect "the brand."

In a world where the ombudsman doesn't write much, one post where ESPN admits they won't be transparent with him, followed by another shockingly short wait for another post where ESPN looks good, leads me to believe ESPN is up to their usual shenanigans in an effort to help "the brand."

Speaking of the brand and those who hurt it and also help it. Bill Simmons got suspended for three weeks for something. Maybe for his comments about Roger Goodell, though I doubt it, and maybe for challenging his bosses to suspend him, which I don't doubt at all. Here is my archive of Bill Simmons posts. It's a lot. I have a lot of issues with his writing. I put this out there as my resume of being a Simmons-hater. He annoys me because he has a great amount of talent, but his writing is full of "we's" and crappy theories that he has put about 10 seconds of effort into concocting. His columns are essentially material that takes up the time until his next mailbag, which features questions about his columns.

In this situation, Simmons is absolutely right. He was correct to call out Roger Goodell like he did for being a liar. But he wasn't even close to being the first person or the first person at ESPN or the 10th person at ESPN to call out Roger Goodell for being fishy and not entirely forthright about the Ray Rice video. It's popular to call Roger Goodell out for lying. So much so, there seems to be a bit of a backlash against those calling Goodell out for lying. Of course, it would be nice if something would be done about it to prove the statement that Goodell is a liar as true or false, but I'm sure Peter King is hard at work waiting for someone to dig that information up. After all, that's why there is an "independent" investigation.

So in typical Simmons fashion, he becomes the lead guy for "Goodell must go" when he didn't say it first and he didn't say it most eloquently, he just did it with the most flair and uproar. Bill found a way to get himself some attention for his view by challenging his bosses to fire him for holding the same opinion other ESPN employees have voiced. That's the annoying part about Simmons. He's always said the same thing (or similar things) that other people have said, while trying to put his stamp on it and have the focus on him. Examples are all contained in his writing. His ideas have to be the best and most original idea, so he will tweak a reader's idea in a mailbag to make it his own, then drive the idea into the ground. So Bill's thought wasn't original, he just used an airplane flying a banner over the Super Bowl to announce his feelings while everyone else simply put out a press release. Bill knows his power. Don't think he doesn't. You simply can't call out your employer like Simmons did. I guess it serves some purpose.

Bill Simmons was right and perfectly within his rights to give his opinion on Roger Goodell. Even if it was a very expressive opinion for certain alternative purposes he may have had, he was right. Bill Simmons should not have been suspended for his comments, but he was going to get suspended for his comments. "We" simply can't call out our employer like that and expect no blowback for the comments. For someone who is (throws up in a bucket) smart, forward thinking, and understands what his reader wants to read/hear/see, Bill doesn't have a very good eye for business at times. Either that, or more likely, he knew what would happen by daring ESPN to suspend him. ESPN isn't going to mind their employees commenting on Roger Goodell and the NFL. That's something the network has to allow or else they appear to be beholden to an NFL that the public already believes they are beholden to. ESPN is also going to take any chance they can get to punish employees who go beyond criticizing Roger Goodell and the NFL. Bill did that. He was hostile in his comments and challenged ESPN. That'll do it. He gave ESPN a chance to be outraged and they took that chance.

Where ESPN really messed up is in how they punished Bill. Suspending him for three weeks isn't the right type of punishment for a guy like Bill Simmons. It brings me back to the comments to the ombudsman in the September 9 post about how everyone is treated fairly, but not everyone is treated the same. Anyone who has ever managed employees knows it's important to understand what that employee values and reward/punish them appropriately based on that. Suspending Bill Simmons for three weeks is only going to feed the fire. He said on his podcast "I'm going public" if ESPN contacts him about his comments on the podcast. He wants the drama, he wants the notoriety in this situation to position himself as the strong anti-establishment, anti-Goodell guy at ESPN. The same things that frustrate me about Simmons' writing stand in opposition to his strengths. He half-asses his writing and I know this is true because he has interesting podcasts and he is the brain behind Grantland. He's a very smart guy who is always trying to stay two steps ahead of everyone else. His columns represent the lazy side of him where he doesn't care to be two steps ahead because he's bored with writing columns already. I think Bill wants to badly position himself as the rebel, rather than the corporate millionaire that he really has become. Just take a look at the "Rolling Stone" profile of him. He talks about smoking pot and embraces his issues with ESPN. It's all part of the plan to paint himself as a rebel who works within the system, rather than being the person who has willingly chose to be a part of the system because it provides him with what really motivates him, which is power, money and influence.

Bill likes power and influence and not the "I'm going to take over the world" power, but the "I want to do what I want to do when I want to do it" power. The "don't edit my column" type of power. That's what he wants. He wants money, influence and power. ESPN has money and offered him the opportunity for power and influence by allowing him to start the successful (from all appearances) Grantland site. As much as he protests, Bill's first choice is not to leave ESPN, because they are paying him well, he gets his opinions out to the masses and they have multiple platforms where he can voice this opinion. He's also aware he doesn't want to be seen as a corporate stooge. A Chris Berman or Skip Bayless who is tied so tightly to ESPN you can't imagine him outside of ESPN. Hence, we get these temper tantrums from time-to-time where Bill needs to remind the public that he is a rebel and doesn't like being held down by the same corporate partner whose resources he has willing and eagerly chosen to use to enhance his bank account and celebrity. This isn't a criticism. Bill is smart. He knows what he's doing. ESPN suspends him and they look like they are going hard on one of their best known employees and Bill looks like he is raging against the machine again. Bill will passively-aggressively make comments about ESPN down the road to let everyone know how unhappy he was, but he hasn't been so unhappy as to make a move yet. He has money, influence and power. A three week suspension will only enhance his influence by painting him as a martyr for the anti-Goodell crusade among fans of his and non-fans of his.

So short story long, ESPN shouldn't have suspended Bill because that buys into what he wants them to do. Of course the alternative is probably not attractive because it risks alienating Bill and ending this symbiotic relationship where each party accomplishes what they need to accomplish without looking like they are soft on their best employees (ESPN) or bow down to corporate interests (Bill). The real way to punish Bill, assuming ESPN really wanted to punish him rather than just piss him off and dare him to think leaving for a week or two, would be to threaten to remove some of his power. Grantland is a good site. I go there to read articles and there are many good articles. It is a product of Bill's mind and foresight. But like any good editor-in-chief he is replaceable with the right guy. Everyone is replaceable, including Bill. I will admit I don't know how Grantland works contractually. I think ESPN could get rid of Bill as editor-in-chief. It's an ESPN property, so I am working with partial information knowing only that.

If ESPN really wanted to punish Bill, they would tell him, "Look, you have done a great job with Grantland, but we can't have you challenging us to suspend you while bashing the NFL commissioner on this site. If you can't stop doing things like this and threatening the brand of the Grantland property then we may have to remove you as editor-in-chief. So for a few weeks, take a step back and think about what you want. If you want to be editor-in-chief, then stop challenging us to suspend you, and hurting a growing branch of ESPN. You can still write, still do the NBA pregame show, and podcasts, but Grantland won't have you as editor-in-chief and you won't be doing any of that other stuff on Grantland."

After a while, an idea like Grantland, much like the "30 for 30" documentaries and ESPN as a whole, become bigger than the creator and take on a life of their own. Grantland won't necessarily require Bill Simmons to succeed in the future.

Yes, having this type of conversation with Bill probably isn't the best business decision, but if the purpose is to punish Bill Simmons, threatening to takeaway Grantland permanently, not for three weeks, is the route they would want to go. Maybe they did that. I don't know. I just know Bill Simmons isn't Stephen A. Smith who requires face time on the television or radio screaming at you to soothe his ego and feel accomplished. Bill just exists with his influence brought by "30 for 30," Grantland, podcasts and appearances on the ABC NBA pregame show. Take away something from him, then he's probably pissed off and he's also been punished. One read of the "Rolling Stone" confirms that Bill is constantly moving and constantly trying to think of new ideas. Take away one of those ideas that he's made real, that's a real punishment. Bill thrives on his ideas and his ownership of those ideas. It's what makes him great at what he does...not including writing. He's still not good at that, which is why there are 180 posts tagged here with his name on them.

Bill exists outside of ESPN. He has purposely tied himself to working for ESPN, but isn't considered as much of an ESPN property to the general public like other ESPN employees (Chris Mortensen, Stephen A. Smith, Chris Berman, Bob Ley, Skip Bayless, etc). This is intentional. Don't get me wrong, Bill works for ESPN, but he's made sure he is "Bill Simmons noted sports/entertainment talking head and editor-in-chief of Grantland" and not "Bill Simmons of ESPN." Bill has his own web site, but he needs the resources of ESPN to make this work for him. Bill could start his own Grantland if he left ESPN, but I believe it would be hard to draw the talent he is currently drawing at this new site away from ESPN. Bill has accumulated some really good writers (and annoying writers, don't get me wrong) at Grantland. Zach Lowe being of one of those writers. So Bill could venture out on his own or hook up with another sports web site to open a different form of Grantland there (I can see Bleacher Report making a play for him and considering how much he's bashed them, it would be a bit of hypocrisy on Bill's part), but he's still going to be competing with ESPN at that point. He can succeed without ESPN because he's not as tied to them as other employees, but I question whether he can pull in the talent at another site that he's pulled in at ESPN without the backing of ESPN. So while Bill exists outside of ESPN, I don't know if he wants to actually exist outside ESPN. Again, the platform ESPN provides for his ideas across all of their mediums is something he simply can't get anywhere else. ESPN can outbid other networks for talent and offer them a chance to get more face time on many more platforms than other sports networks.

Now don't get me wrong, I don't think ESPN should be as draconian as to threaten to take away Grantland from Bill. That's a tough move that I don't believe his behavior in this situation merits. I'm on Bill's side here. His writing stinks, but his value to ESPN is unquestioned. Suspending him for three weeks is a pretty tough move as well, but not a move I think that really hurts Bill. It's a move that accomplishes what Bill wanted to accomplish and isn't the best way to punish Bill if ESPN really was looking to punish him rather than just put him in time out. ESPN does need to be careful in fucking with their well-known and well-liked employees like Bill Simmons. While I have stated Bill could have trouble leaving ESPN and succeeding elsewhere due to the power, influence and money ESPN offers, if any ESPN employee has the brains to succeed and go up against ESPN then it would be Bill Simmons' name on that shortlist. If we are being honest, Bill has never gone against the grain really. He started working for ESPN in the late 90's and every new idea he has brought forth has had the backing of ESPN and always allowed him the soft pillow of ESPN to fall back on. So again, while he paints himself as the rebel with crazy, new ideas he wants to bring forth, he prefers to bring these crazy, new ideas forth with the corporate backing and fail-safe that ESPN provides. Bill has the intelligence to go out on his own, I don't know if he has the daring.

What's annoying is this suspension isn't about Bill Simmons and what he said on his podcast. It's about ESPN's ego. They simply don't want him questioning their ability to suspend one of their personalities. That's it. Bill Simmons deserved to get suspended while also not entirely deserving to get suspended. ESPN basically suspended Bill because he told them to. He said nothing that other ESPN commentators haven't said and ESPN hasn't exactly stuck with the NFL on the topic of the Ray Rice video. For me, this is the height of Bill and ESPN's hubris. Bill made himself a martyr at the altar of hot takes on Roger Goodell and ESPN suspended him because he dared them to do so. Bill's actions will look good compared to the "Don't say anything negative about Goodell" attitude that ESPN is projecting in this situation, even though that's not what the suspension is about. The suspension is about ESPN wanting to treat every employee fairly, but not the same. They can't have Bill Simmons bashing the commissioner and then daring ESPN to suspend him while threatening to "go public."

But here's the thing, this was a non-story if ESPN just doesn't respond by suspending Bill. At ESPN it is fine to use the n-word on the air three times, it's fine to accuse women of provocating their own beating and it isn't the first time Smith has done that, and it's fine to lie to viewers. All of those incidents resulted in a grand total of a two week suspension. Just don't challenge ESPN's ability to suspend you for making the same comments others at the network have made, but simply in a stronger fashion. It's annoying, because Bill is getting what he wanted. He's getting the attention he clearly wanted and is seen as the clubhouse leader when it comes to calling for Roger Goodell's head. ESPN could have quashed this all by just allowing the news cycle to run it's course. Granted, they would have some people upset internally and egos would be hurt, but ESPN hasn't worried about internal strife previously when one of their employees makes controversial statements. Why start now?

This suspension is about ESPN wanting to be a Sith-lord who chokes an underling for a mistake, because they can and don't want their authority to do so questioned. "Look at how decisive and strong we can be! Don't fuck with us, because we have standards that we pay attention to every once in a while when it is convenient to do so! Our standards involve reporting on the showering habits of athletes and allowing Gregg Easterbrook to mislead readers every week on ESPN.com, but it's not our standard to allow justified criticism of Roger Goodell in a strong fashion, then challenging us to take action against you for making such a strong, justified statement."

It's another example of ESPN treating their employees "fairly" but showing contempt for the intelligence of their viewers. Trolls, women-haters and race-baiters get an opportunity to voice their opinion as much as they want while throwing around opinions that may or may not be factually based. But ESPN takes it seriously when there is justified criticism of the NFL commissioner for potentially lying about whether he saw the Ray Rice video prior to suspending Rice. ESPN has to protect their ability to suspend an employee so they can further protect a non-employee, but important ESPN stakeholder, who at the very least is guilty of completely misunderstanding the impact domestic violence can have on society and those who are victims of domestic violence. ESPN employs women, but desperately wants to protect Roger Goodell's right to lie about a domestic violence incident and what he knew about the incident when suspending a player. That's how it looks to some people, though that's not the entire truth.

Regardless of whether ESPN knows it or not, which they probably do, they have started a war with Bill Simmons. He's a child. He's a child in the right in this situation, but he's a child nonetheless. Just read his podcast comment about potentially getting suspended by ESPN,

"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," Simmons said. "You leave me alone. The commissioner is a liar and I get to talk about that on my podcast."

Those words, especially the last sentence sounds like that of a teenager who is rebelling against their parents. It's very childish.

It's HIS podcast and he can talk about WHATEVER HE WANTS! Leave Bill ALONE! He'll tell everyone how mean you are if you try to do anything to him.

It's very childish sounding.

So the war has started/continued and the only question that remains is whether Bill will continue to passively-aggressively bash ESPN when given the chance all while being protected by the umbrella of money, influence and power it has provided him or he will honestly look to get out and find his own way in the sports world? Is this another temper tantrum to remind everyone that Bill is nobody's bitch, all while Bill takes zero steps to ensure he is not under the thumb of ESPN anymore? Or is this a breaking point where Bill has finally challenged ESPN to suspend him for saying comments he believes (rightfully) he is within his rights to say?

Frankly, this is probably an example of Bill acting like a teenager. He's testing the limits of his parents while also choosing to live in their home due to the safety of the situation. I would be convinced otherwise if Bill had ever previously turned his anger towards ESPN into anything other than a way to get more autonomy with the security of ESPN behind him. Perhaps the fact he is very much right in this situation can push him to eventually make a change, but his three week suspension isn't enough to make him change his behavior and serve as a real punishment where he would lose something he values. If ESPN wanted to change Bill's behavior then they would have actually tried to punish Bill through the loss of something he values and if Bill really didn't like ESPN messing with his podcast then he will take this chance to start making a move. At this point, it feels more like a stalemate and a half-assed, symbiotic Cold War right now. ESPN wants to "punish" Bill, but doesn't really want to piss him off, and Bill wants to rail against ESPN overseeing his work, but doesn't really want to leave. 

This is how far we have come from the Ray Rice video. It started with Ray Rice seen dragging his fiance off an elevator and now a sports network has suspended one of their most popular employees for commenting the NFL commissioner may or may not have lied about seeing a video tape inside the elevator where Rice actually knocked his fiance out. Ray Rice got Bill Simmons suspended. Rice is out for the year, the Baltimore Ravens' franchise is being called liars by ESPN, ESPN is questioning the Ravens honesty, the Ravens are questioning ESPN's reporting and ESPN is suspending employees for questioning Roger Goodell's honesty and then challenging ESPN to do something about these comments. Meanwhile, Roger Goodell is still NFL commissioner awaiting an "independent" investigation on what he knew and when. People all around the situation fall and have their integrity questioned, but Goodell still stands. He's letting everyone else fight it out while he has disappeared. Seems like Goodell has won to me.

I pushed TMQ to my next post for this weekend, so check back. So two TMQ's in a short time span (probably). Who says "no" to that?

9 comments:

Chris said...

To further your point of Simmons existing outside of the ESPN world they actually had the suspension as a headline on the homepage for ESPN.com but they referred to him as "Grantland's Simmons".

I will still never understand the rationale behind these policies. Stephen A. Smith basically says Janay Rice had it coming on television, uses racial slurs, Rob Parker says RG3 isn't black enough, Skip Bayless makes the comment on national television that white Redskins fans won't support a black quarterback(conveniently forgetting about Doug Williams apparently), yet Simmons is the one that commits the worst offense. What exactly is the thinking behind that.

Bengoodfella said...

Chris, I did not see that. He has worked hard not to work for ESPN, which gives him a fighting chance to succeed outside of ESPN. I don't think he'll take the chance though. For a guy who likes to be a rebel and outsider, he's always taken calculated risks with his professional moves. Nothing wrong with that of course.

Simmons challenged ESPN. I guess that's the best I can get at. There is jealously over Simmons at Bristol, so they had to over-punish him in order to show that they don't favor him and he can't get away with anything. That's the best I can do.

I don't see the suspension changing anything. He's invested with ESPN and I can't imagine he will leave. He throws a tantrum from time-to-time to remind us he's an outsider, but both parties need each other.

Chris said...

In my opinion it makes Simmons a hypocrite. Honestly if it weren't for seeing him on NBA countdown or his articles on the webpage, and of course BOTB, I would know very little about him. Simmons acts anti-corporate with his whole just one regular Sports Guy act but he knows he needed ESPN to prop him up before he could get Grantland up and running as it's own entity.

On a lighter note I'm a huge WWE fan and they showed him on camera as one of the celebrities attending Summerslam and it almost ruined the PPV for my friend and I.

franc said...

i wonder; does simmons even have any fans that stayed loyal to him since the 90s or early 00s? because right now he's doing the exact opposite of what his career was when it started. true, he was a douchebag back then too, but it seemed okay and fun at the time, i don't know. his recent writing is ridiculously bad compared to almost anything he wrote before 2006. it's infuriating because he actually has talent, unlike king or easterbrook who have little talent to go along with almost no effort.
nice job, ben. i wish you would write full articles more often.

Bengoodfella said...

He does have a bit of hypocrisy in him for that. He made his bones making fun of award shows and pregame show hosts. Now he's getting awards and is on a pregame show. There's a certain amount of hypocrisy because he's "made it" at this point in that. He tries hard not to be that corporate type, but I really think he likes having ESPN around to fund his ventures. Who wouldn't in his position?

Ha! That would ruin it. I understand his talent, but I also think he wastes a lot of that talent as well. He hasn't embraced who he has become, yet he has embraced it in his name-dropping of celebrities and athletes.

Franc, I was that fan back then. His decline in writing quality isn't even traced back to his teams' success, which is what I often hear. It's traced back to him becoming very popular and simply wanting to be more than what he is. He wants to create Grantland, be an executive producer and go on Kimmel, but he wants to portray himself as the regular fan. He's simply not anymore.

He does have talent. He wastes it a lot. I would like to write articles more often. I tend to let the inspiration fall away.

Anonymous said...

Do you want a journalist that is willing to state his opinion (while in a forum that is clear that it's his opinion), or a journalist worried about being removed for saying any opinion regardless the evidence produced?

franc said...

anon, there is too much opinion in news anyway. simmons called goodell out when he knew he could only benefit from it; there's nothing brave about what he did.

Bengoodfella said...

Anon, I want a journalist willing to state his opinion in a forum where it is clearly his opinion. I stated that Bill was right, so I'm not criticizing him for giving his opinion, it's just that he knew the result of what he would say. I'm not sure I would consider Bill a journalist.

But I wasn't criticizing him for giving an opinion, I'm saying he knew he would be suspended and he said what he did 2-3 times and kept bringing it up. He knew what he was doing. He gave his opinion hard so he could inject himself into the conversation. It worked, he and ESPN will pout at each other for a month or so and then they will throw a bucket of money at him...then he can go back to pretending he is an outsider.

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