ESPN Strikes Back

Bill Simmons is one of the reasons Dunton asked to join Wayniac Nation as a writer. Aside from his Boston loyalties, I think Simmons is a hell of a sports mind as well. Well, Simmons is now suspended and Dunton isn’t happy. He asked if he could go off in a rant on how ESPN is in the wrong for suspending a sports analyst for discussing sports. Bash ESPN, you say? Of course, Dunton, go right ahead…

This Bill Simmons suspension has me outside of my comfort zone. Normally I am the golf writer of this upstart site, and Wayne, the founder and creator of Wayniac Nation, takes on the harder, controversial topics. However, I cannot sit on the sidelines this time. There is simply too much wrong here.

This past Monday Bill Simmons went on his podcast, a podcast that I guess is technically owned by ESPN, and blasted Roger Goodell for his inaction and possible misleading information in the now infamous Ray Rice case. Simmons point was simple: there is no way that Goodell did not know what was on the tape from inside the elevator prior to TMZ releasing it for the world. This is a point that many level-headed people can get behind, including myself. In Simmons’ tirade he did drop a few choice words and dared ESPN to take action against him for his opinion on this matter.

Well, it did not take long for ESPN executives to respond to this request and in turn they suspended Simmons for three weeks. Three weeks. That is 19 days more than the two games Ray Rice was originally supposed to miss. Here is the justification for the suspension of Simmons:

“Every employee must be accountable to ESPN, and those engaged in our editorial operations must also operate within ESPN’s journalistic standards,” the network said in a statement. “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.”

There is this thing in America that is called the 1st Amendment. It guarantees freedom of speech. Does Bill Simmons get protection under this Amendment here? Apparently not. My wife and I have been debating this since I got wind of the suspension and her argument (a valid one at that) is that when you do speak your mind openly you can not be legally punished for it but there may be punitive damages by your employer. She is right. I am a public school teacher for a very large school district. If I spouted off, like Simmons did, to my students I would probably be punished in some way, and at the end of the day I would expect to be. It does not mean that I will be arrested but my employer has a right to protect the people they serve, in my case it is the students and the families of the school system who employs me. That’s the issue I have here. Bill Simmons’ job is to comment on sports and what is going on in all things sports related. His employer is ESPN-The Worldwide Leader in…Sports. He did nothing wrong in that sense. He commented on sports, like he is paid to do. He did not threaten anyone, he did not hurt anyone, he did not in anyway endanger any of the listeners who listen to his podcasts. He commented on a sports situation that he felt was handled very poorly. An opinion that is not uncommon across the country.

Roger Goodell

Why in fact was Bill Simmons suspended? Was it because he dropped the “F”-bomb a few times? No, his podcast prefaces listeners by letting them know it is for mature audiences and is usually free-flowing thought. Was it because he asked for someone to be fired? If the latter is the case, then we can fill the seats at the Super Bowl with people who feel Goodell needs to go away. No, this suspension comes down to one small issue: the almighty dollar. ESPN has a $15 billion television deal to showcase the Monday Night Football game each week. You simply need to follow the money trail here to see why Simmons is facing this suspension. There is no doubt in my mind that ESPN executives were trying to “protect the shield” by showing their zero tolerance policy towards anyone who is going to operate in a manner that will not coincide with their financial investment. Which is funny if you think about it. ESPN is doing more to protect the NFL than the commissioner of the NFL is doing. Again, Simmons is suspended for three weeks. Ray Rice was originally suspended for two games and Stephen A. Smith only received two weeks for his foot-in-the-mouth implications against Janay Rice. That’s not right. I know, I know, Ray Rice is suspended indefinitely but it took TMZ to release the video and the public outcry to get to that point. And let’s remember one more thing here. The Ravens released Rice before he was suspended again by the league. Goodell acted after one of his owners acted. That’s why people like Simmons are outraged and rightfully so.

It’s a sad state of affairs when someone whose job is it is to comment on sports gets in trouble for commenting on sports. Bill Simmons did not disparage ESPN in any matter. He called out the actions of the NFL Commissioner. He does not work for the NFL. If he did I would be more inclined to agree with his suspension. Bill Simmons crime here is that he works for the “Worldwide Leader” and they don’t want anything to get in the way of their bottom line. That is the true crime here. Once again the almighty dollar is getting in the way of everyday life, and in this case it has blocked freedom of speech.

6 thoughts on “ESPN Strikes Back”

  1. I do agree with most of your points. I find any excuse to bash ESPN, but you cannot publicly challenge your employer to suspend you. It was not his rant or how he said it. He said “I hope they suspend me”, and they did, bottom line. He was protected under the 1st Amendment until he forced his bosses hand. He gave them an excuse to “protect the shield” and they took it.

  2. Jay it’s a good point but don’t you think that the money trail had a lot to do with ESPN “protecting the shield”? That’s my bigger issue here. Once again the NFL seems to be the one’s getting away with it and now their financial partners are protecting them and passing out suspensions to people making valid comments on the ethics, or lack thereof, surrounding this event. Simmons probably knew as soon as he went down this road the suspension was coming. Thanks for reading

  3. While I agree with you in that suspending Simmons was arguably about the money and that he is just doing his job (which is true), I have to disagree with him and you and Wayne for that matter about the situation this is in regards to. That being Commissioner Goodell actually saw the tape and is lying about whether he did or not. Whether the actual truth comes out or not, and whether the impending “investigation” into what happened is truthful or not, there currently is no evidence, zero, zilch….to the fact that the Commissioner is “lying”. You are all entitled to your opinions but the fact remains that currently you cannot prove that he has seen the tape. YOu can make all the assumptions you want about him having had seen it, but until there is some sufficient proof as to whether he actually did or not, all your arguments about the Commissioner and football hold no water. I may eat my words a few weeks/months from now when we are told otherwise, but for now, you can only take from it the facts that are presented to us. There may actually be a fact in that someone at the NFL was given the tape, and that that person sent it on to someone else, blah blah. But the fact that Goodell actually saw the tape and denying it is not a current fact. Just an opinion until proven otherwise.

    1. Commissioner-You make very valid points in your argument and you may be 100% correct in your statement. I think the bigger issue here is that each time we get a slow leak of evidence it becomes more and more apparent that this entire case was handled poorly. Did Gooddell see the tape prior to TMZ releasing it? We don’t know, and if he indeed did not, then many people, including myself have to eat some crow. More importantly, is the fact that we have information telling us that the tape was sent to the NFL in April. If that is in fact the case I don’t care if Gooddell himself saw it or not. The buck has to stop somewhere. Just like his justification for punishing Sean Payton “Ignorance is not an excuse”. Doesn’t that same logic apply here? If the NFL received the tape in April it does not matter if Roger sat and watched the tape or was just informed that they received the tape, he is in charge and the plea of ignorance is not an excuse. For now we have to wait and see what comes of this outside investigation but I feel a lot of credibility has been lost, especially when it comes to Roger himself.

      1. “If the NFL received the tape in April it does not matter if Roger sat and watched the tape or was just informed that they received the tape, he is in charge and the plea of ignorance is not an excuse.”

        And what if he was never “informed” either? IF he didn’t even know they had the tape, how does that make him culpable. What if the employee that got the tape was like, “oh this is bad, I’m keeping it and not showing it to anyone and not telling anyone that I got it, better for the league that way.”

        If you want the buck to stop with Goodell that’s fine. IF you want him to be fired over this, fine also. But creating a false scenario, where there currently is no evidence for, or ASSuming something that currently hasn’t been proved, makes this just look like a witch hunt for something that society is just looking to find a scapegoat for.

        I’m not defending the way this entire situation was handled, because it’s all garbage. But trying to find justice by creating illusion is just plain dumb.

      2. Thanks for the fire, Commish, I like what you have to bring to the table. I think you and Dunton both bring valid arguments to both sides of the coin. You are correct in that jumping the gun until this outside investigation is fully complete is unfair to Goodell because he is being unfairly accused of seeing something that few people want to give him the benefit of the doubt that he hasn’t.

        That being said, I side more with Dunton as I feel his assumptions are valid in this case, and I’ll tell you why. Goodell came into this league with a very short list of goals. It was to clean up the NFL and protect the shield and to take the NFL to the next level financially. The latter he has clearly achieved, but the former he has lost control. His suspensions, fines, and punishments seem to backfire as we see often that the rules for punishments are changed because they seemed to be too absurd (or strict, however you want to translate that) and that many of the appeals by players have been overturned. When the punishments you levy are flimsy and have substandard backing, you turn to precedent.

        Now, you are 100% correct that you can’t prove that Goodell saw the tape, but there are numerous sources that can prove the tape was in his office. When your administration’s primary focus is to clean up the NFL, the people you have in place should deem it 100% absolutely necessary that Goodell saw that tape. And incidentally, if you are assuming that this person watched the tape before handing it to the commissioner himself, what kind of employee is that? Could you imagine opening a letter at your job intended for the higher up officials and making a judgement on it?

        I digress. As Dunton mentioned, Goodell set the precedent himself in the Bountygate scandal that if one person allowed it, everybody did. And EVERYONE on that team had to pay the price. This is no different. Did Goodell see that tape? No one knows, and probably never will. Was that tape in the NFL offices? Well, that we know. Thus, this is a failure of the commissioner’s office and the commissioner has to pay the price. Does that mean being fired? Not necessarily. But something has to be done. Has he taken action against any employees in his administration that may have been denying this? I don’t believe that has happened.

        This is a hot topic and it will continue to be. Right now, as you said, there is no firm right or wrong, because we the public doesn’t have answers. It seems that you won’t deny if it is proven that Goodell did in fact see this tape, that action must be taken. But, and I agree with you, we are running on assumptions here. It will be interesting to see what transpires and how many other people will be suspended or in trouble before the Great Goodell himself.

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