ESPN Suspends Bill Simmons for Comments Made About Roger Goodell

Joseph Zucker@@JosephZuckerFeatured ColumnistSeptember 24, 2014

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Updates from Friday, Sept. 26

John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal provides insight into the decision making process behind suspending Simmons:

About an hour after Donoghue's phone call, ESPN VP/Communications Mike Soltys tweeted news of Simmons' suspension, ending two days of internal phone calls and hand wringing among senior ESPN execs as high up as President John Skipper. Skipper's inner circle making the decision included Executive VP/Administration Ed Durso, Senior VP/Corporate Communications Chris LaPlaca, Senior VP/HR Paul Richardson and Donoghue, Exec VP/Global Strategy & Original Content and Simmons' boss. That group quickly agreed that they had to reprimand Simmons because they felt that he crossed a line -- both journalistically and corporately. But they spent two days deciding what the punishment should be and how public to make it.


The communications department started fielding numerous calls from reporters seeking a reaction. ESPN would not offer an official comment. The small group of execs spent much of the next two days talking via e-mail and phone about how to deal with the situation. They were unanimous in thinking that Simmons' comments about the NFL commissioner were over the top. They believe that it is one thing to call on him to resign; it is another thing to profanely call him a liar.

But what really rankled the execs was the belief that Simmons dared his bosses to reprimand him and threatened to "go public" with any message that came from corporate. ESPN execs felt they had to take a stand on what they viewed as public insubordination by one of their most visible stars. It was that challenge, even more than Simmons’ comments about Goodell, that forced ESPN's top execs to take action.

Updates from Thursday, Sept. 25

TMZ has the latest on Simmons' suspension:

The powers that be at ESPN have issued strict orders to the on-air talent ... DO NOT DISCUSS THE BILL SIMMONS SUSPENSION. 

As we previously reported, Simmons has been put on ice for 3 weeks after blasting NFL commish Roger Goodell during a podcast and the DARING the network to punish him for it. 

We spoke with sources at ESPN who tell us ... "On a corporate level, they told us not to talk about it."

Original Text

ESPN has suspended Bill Simmons after he went on a profanity-laced rant about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.

The network released a statement Wednesday that read:

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.

Earlier in the week, Simmons vented on his podcast, The B.S. Report, calling Goodell "a liar." He took issue with the way in which the league has handled the Ray Rice affair, via For the Win's Nick Schwartz:

Goodell, if he didn’t know what was on that tape, he’s a liar. I’m just saying it. He 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 [expletive] [expletive]. It really is, it’s such [expletive] [expletive]. For him to go into that press conference and pretend otherwise—I was so insulted.

Simmons dared ESPN to censure him as well.  

"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," he added. "You leave me alone. The commissioner’s a liar and I get to talk about that on my podcast. Thank you."

John Ourand of the Sports Business Journal reports his brash behavior may have prompted the suspension:

John Ourand @Ourand_SBJ

ESPN says 2 reasons why Simmons was suspended. He called out ESPN bosses. Also, he offered no proof when profanely calling Goodell a liar.

Awful Announcing believes ESPN president John Skipper is attempting to send a message to other on-air talent with this suspension:

Awful Announcing @awfulannouncing

3 weeks for @BillSimmons is about the longest suspension I can remember ESPN giving. John Skipper ain’t messing around this time, folks.

ESPN previously suspended Simmons from Twitter in 2013 after he sent out these two tweets disparaging a First Take segment featuring Skip Bayless and Richard Sherman:

Bill Simmons @BillSimmons

I am not defending this segment - http://t.co/FHby3bmZea - I thought it was awful and embarrassing to everyone involved. Seriously.

Bill Simmons @BillSimmons

But what bothers me about the reaction to that segment is people saying Richard Sherman "won." Nobody won. Everyone lost. Including ESPN.

The company didn't mention how this affects Grantland's highly anticipated NBA previews featuring Simmons and Jalen Rose. Simmons posted a picture yesterday on Instagram teasing the return:

It's also unclear if this suspension will have any sort of impact on Simmons' standing with the network. He's become one of ESPN's most vital personalities, between his involvement with Grantland, the 30 for 30 documentary series and his podcast.