Opinion: Why ESPN was wrong in suspending Bill Simmons

Maggie Wachtel is a sophomore public relations major and a columnist for The Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].

Maggie Wachtel

ESPN suspended sports columnist Bill Simmons in late September after making what were deemed inappropriate comments aimed at NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Simmons does a podcast for ESPN titled “The B.S. Report” and is editor-in-chief of the sports blog Grantland, which is owned by ESPN.

In his podcast, Simmons called Goodell a “liar” and criticized his poor handling of the Ray Rice domestic violence incident. Simmons also “dared” ESPN authorities to suspend him for his comments.

“Please call me and say I’m in trouble,” he said. “I dare you.”

Simmons was given a three-week suspension for his comments. But what’s the point of suspending someone for voicing his opinion when that’s what he’s paid to do?

What makes Simmons’ situation different is that he was not only criticizing the NFL—with whom, according to the Washington Post, ESPN has a $15 billion contract—but he was mocking ESPN by “daring them” to suspend him.

The suspension wasn’t about Simmons criticizing Goodell and the NFL. Plenty of other ESPN commentators and analysts have been vocal about their opinions on the Ray Rice fiasco, spending hours upon hours of airtime focusing on the issue.

The suspension was about no one being bigger than ESPN, including Bill Simmons.

Simmons has turned himself into one of the most popular guys in sports journalism. He has built his empire through ESPN, starting as a columnist for ESPN.com in 2001, according to ESPN. He eventually started his own podcast for the network, which quickly became a hit: “The B.S. Report” generates an average of two million downloads a month and is often the most downloaded podcast for ESPN.com.

But ESPN and Simmons have often clashed over creative control and media criticism. Simmons was also suspended back in 2008 after slamming Boston radio station WEEI’s “The Big Show.” The station was coincidentally an ESPN affiliate. 

He was suspended by ESPN again in 2013 for making critical comments about the ESPN’s “First Take.”  

ESPN has followed a pattern of suspending Simmons specifically when he makes comments critical of anything pertaining to ESPN. 

Anyone who reads Simmons’ column or listens to his podcast knows that he is opinionated and has no filter when it comes to something he strongly believes in. ESPN can’t continue to suspend its employees just because they don’t agree with its opinions. Simmons is being paid to give his opinion, so let him voice it.