Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Free-Flowing Conversation That Occasionally Touches on Mature Subjects

I listen to a lot of sports talk radio. It’s kind of a default option for me when it comes to selecting some kind of ambient noise while doing barn chores, driving, or performing similar activities that aren’t intellectually intensive. I’ll still toss a few poker podcasts in that mix now and then. But for the most part it’s sports-related chatter that works as the soundtrack, say, when I’m shoveling stalls.

There are really only two sports shows I tune into regularly these days -- Dan Le Batard’s daily show out of Florida (which I’ve found myself referring to a few times here over the last few months) and the B.S. Report with Bill Simmons (whom I’ve also mentioned here on occasion).

After ESPN suspended Le Batard for two days a few weeks ago for his involvement in a humorous-though-ultimately-unrealized stunt related to LeBron James’s move to Cleveland, the network has now also suspended Simmons. Starting to think there might be a reason why I’ve gravitated toward these two among the huge roster of pundits at the network.

Like the Le Batard suspension, the Simmons suspension is laughable, too, not just for its cause but for the length of time -- three weeks (!) -- that ESPN has decided to silence him from podcasting or writing or doing whatever else he does for the site via his Grantland offshoot.

The press release from ESPN regarding the suspension offers no specifics, merely saying that “those engaged in our editorial and operations must also operate within ESPN’s journalistic standards,” and that since “Bill Simmons did not meet those obligations in a recent podcast... we have suspended him for three weeks.”

Simmons’s podcast always opens with a disclaimer that it’s “a free-flowing conversation that occasionally touches on mature subjects.” I guess from their action the conversation this week was too “free-flowing” for ESPN’s liking.

The podcast was the most recent B.S. Report, one in which Simmons and “Cousin Sal” spent nearly an hour trying to guess the lines for the upcoming week of NFL games (as they do every week). It looks like ESPN has actually taken the episode offline, which strikes me as being as absurd as the suspension itself. (An extended excerpt of the show can still be heard here.)

I enjoy listing to the guess-the-lines shows, not because Simmons has any special insight into sports betting strategy (he doesn’t) nor even because of his football knowledge (hit-or-miss, in my view), but for the passive fun of hearing a couple of fans shoot the breeze about different teams and how the season is going. There are usually lots of genuine grins mixed in, too, amid the prognosticating.

There was a brief digression in the show wherein Simmons acknowledged the various unpleasant issues that have marked the start of this year’s season, including NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell’s cringe-worthy press conference from last Friday in which he mostly made things worse by his evasive handling of various questions. Not coincidentally, that press conference was followed immediately by a lengthy ESPN investigative feature that suggested a few more reasons to doubt Goodell amid its exposure of the Baltimore Ravens front office (the article’s primary target).

Simmons’ negative comments about Goodell on the show weren’t at all surprising to hear. He’s said (and written) similar things for years about Goodell. In fact when I first read the quotes (prior to listening to this week’s show, and before it was removed) I actually thought they might have been from last week’s episode.

On the show Simmons called Goodell a liar with regard to what he’s said about the Ray Rice suspension -- or suspensions, I should say. Simmons used profanity (bleeped out), including evoking the word usually intended by his own initials and used as the name of his show (not at all unusual to hear on the podcast). And he added a postscript showing that he was aware ESPN might not appreciate his comments, although he still felts editorially-unrestrained enough to have made them.

“I really hope somebody calls me or emails me and says I’m in trouble for anything I say about Roger Goodell,” said Simmons, almost as an afterthought (and also almost sounding like he had his tongue in cheek). “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.”

It seems obvious that it was this latter statement that earned Simmons his suspension -- not the profanity, his position regarding Goodell, or even his statement that he believed Goodell lied about his knowledge of the Rice case.

“ESPN’s journalistic standards” were hardly compromised by the podcast. In fact -- and ironically -- those standards are instead called into question by the decision to suspend Simmons.

I’m curious to see if Simmons does anything at all in response to his suspension -- e.g., speaks out in any fashion regarding it, or perhaps even begins some sort of preliminary way to fashion a break from ESPN altogether. Probably more likely that he won’t do anything, remaining silent for three weeks rather than risk further what had been a comfortable (and no doubt especially well provided for) spot within the ESPN empire.

Am hoping also Le Batard says something about it all, although again it seems like it wouldn’t be in his personal interest to do so, being employed by ESPN as well. The suspension seems as though it would have to create an obvious “chill” which may affect others working for the network going forward with their commentaries -- either about the NFL or ESPN itself.

Indeed, it’s a move that makes me think of what it is I’m shoveling out of the stalls. Sort of like what Simmons called Goodell’s actions.

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Blogger timpramas said...

I respectfully disagree with your assessment. Accusations about lying were made without any proof. I strongly disagree with how the NFL handled the Rice issues, and also wonder if there is more that we don't know, but without proof, the accusation that the commissioner is lying is supposition only. As for the length of the suspension, publicly trying to bully his bosses was a bad idea as is his implicit notion that he is too valuable to be held accountable for his poor journalism.

9/26/2014 12:09 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

If ESPN employs, or has ever thought of Bill Simmons as a journalist then they are kidding themselves. Simmons is a columnist, and a damned entertaining one. His Goodell remarks are clearly opinion, just like 95% of his writing and commentary.

9/27/2014 7:48 AM  

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