Bill Simmons, a person that ESPN pays handsomely to talk about sports, has been suspended by the network for three weeks after he brazenly talked about sports. In an episode of his B.S. Report podcast that was posted Monday (and has since been pulled by ESPN), Simmons called out NFL commissioner Roger Goodell for his handling of the league’s recent domestic abuse scandals. Specifically, Simmons addressed the still-unsettled question of when Goodell saw footage of ex-Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice punching his wife—the footage that supposedly led the league to suspend Rice indefinitely.
The NFL maintains that nobody at league headquarters had seen the security camera video before TMZ published it this month, so Goodell was as shocked as anybody to see it. Simmons, like most people capable of rational thought, finds the NFL’s timeline hard to believe, and he said as much on his podcast. Mediaite transcribed Simmons’ remarks on Goodell before the podcast was vanished:
“Goodell, if he didn’t know what was on that tape, he’s a liar,” Simmons said Monday. “I’m just saying it. He is lying. I think that dude 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 fucking bullshit. It really is — it’s such fucking bullshit. And for him to go in that press conference and pretend otherwise, I was so insulted. I really was.”
Later, Simmons dared someone at ESPN to penalize him for speaking out against the NFL. “I really hope somebody calls me or emails me and says I’m in trouble for anything I say about Roger Goodell,” he said. “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,” he added. “I dare you.”
ESPN accepted the dare, announcing Simmons’ suspension yesterday with a brief statement:
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’ antagonistic tone suggests that ESPN had previously warned the Grantland editor-in-chief to handle the Goodell mess with care, with his frustration appearing to boil over during the podcast taping. The outsized disciplinary response is not a good look for ESPN, as it only confirms longtime suspicions that the network’s NFL broadcast “partnership” has made it impossible for ESPN talent to comment on pro football with any degree of independence. This isn’t a new problem—remember Playmakers?—but it’s a new low for ESPN to suspend a prominent commentator for voicing his reasonable, inoffensive, and honestly held opinion. This is the era of ESPNFL; the days of ESPN-Your-Face are long gone.