Bill Simmons Rebuttal: Greed Is Good

Gene ZarnickCorrespondent IMarch 7, 2011

If you haven't read Bill Simmons' most recent column: Greed is good in NFL labor talks then you may not get the whole gist of my rebuttal.  I wouldn't even call it a rebuttal; it's actually just a column that shows the other side of things. Thanks to Bill Simmons and I hope you enjoy.

Take a deep breath, suspend all disbelief and walk through the following hypothetical (and admittedly ridiculous) scenario with me...

It's December 1994.

I'm 10 years old, growing up in Western Pennsylvania, and my dream is to become a national sports writer.  

Western PA is known as a hotbed for sportswriters. Many great writers have grown up here and their legacies still live on to this day.  

This region takes their sports writing very seriously, having after school groups of young prodigies come together at the age of six to begin to expand their skill sets in hopes of one day making it as a syndicated writer.  

I have the passion for sports, but not the talent to write. At least not enough talent to be selected to one of these pristine groups.  

My parents see my determination and know that if they can help me grow as a writer at a young age then I might have a chance to make it as one of the few select sports writers for a metropolitan newspaper.  

They decide to take all their retirement savings and use it to get me a literature trainer. Every day after school I work with a teacher to hone my skills in grammar, content, styling, creativeness; all areas that I need to excel at if I want to be considered one of the greats when I'm older.

Fast forward to December 1998.

I've still been writing; still working with my after school teacher, and I've really became a talented sports writer.  

I'm in 8th grade and I'm considered one of the most promising adolescent columnists to ever write in Western Pennsylvania.  

High schools all around the district are contacting me in hopes that I consider enrolling at their school next year. After some deliberation with my writing coach and weighing all the options, I decide to attend McDowell High School in Erie, PA; a high school known for producing many national writers.  

I'm in 9th grade and I'm one of the select few freshmen that have ever been put on the varsity newspaper staff. There's a lot of pressure on me, but I know this is what I've been working for the past five years in hopes of getting a scholarship to a premier college for sports writing.  

I'm putting out some of my best work during my freshman year. By the time the second semester rolls around I'm already supplanting myself as one of the best on the writing staff and earning my column space on the front page of the sports section. 

In my junior year I've not only become the youngest editor of the school's newspaper ever, but I'm also receiving national praise from some of the top newspapers around the country.  

I'm featured in the cities newspapers at least once a week and I'm receiving letters upon letters of scholarship offers from universities that I only dreamed of ever attending.  

Famous writers that teach at these colleges are visiting me at my home and pitching me on why I should come to their school.  

My popularity is unreal right now, not only are fellow students asking me for my autograph, but I have adults stopping me around town asking me to sign my columns for them as well.  

I don't let the fame overwhelm me and I continue to focus on my goal of winning a state national writing title for my school.  

After facing some staggering competition in the district and regional write offs, my team of writers and myself reach the finals in Hershey, Pennsylvania.  

It feels like a dream as I travel down state for the championship matchup. I'm ready for this. This is what I was born to do. I pen some of the best writing material that I've ever written and we capture the state title and we're ranked nationally in the top 10 of high school writing teams.  

The following year I repeat the feat, becoming the first school editor to ever win back-to-back state titles.

It has finally come time for me to decide on my future.  

I have over 100 scholarship offers and it seems like more and more promises are being made to me every day. Cars. Girls. Money. A new house for my family. Jobs for my parents in whatever city I decide to move to. Guaranteed writing space in the sports section my first year on campus.  

Pretty much whatever I want I can get and it feels good that I'm in this predicament right now.  

The city has been anticipating this decision for years. The nation has been anticipating this decision for months. A press conference is held in my school's auditorium and there are news crews there that I've never even heard of before.

There are some opening comments from the principal and finally it's my turn to come to the podium to state where I'm going to attend.  

I thank the school; thank my friends and family; and of course I thank God last.  

I talk a little bit about why I considered writing for each school and then finally I make my decision.  

Flash bulbs are going off and students are screaming as I announce that I will be continuing my writing career at Penn State University so I can write for a legend like Professor Paterno.

I get to Penn State in the Summer of 2003 and I'm considered a celebrity on campus.

There's 40,000 students here and almost everyone I walk by knows who I am.

Students are stopping me to shake my hand; talking to me about winning a national writing championship my first year on campus. I have girls giving me their numbers and guys wanting to party and giving me their numbers too.  

At this point it feels like I'm a writing God to everyone.  

I attend my first writer meeting and it's a definite rude awakening as I see some writers there that I looked up to while I was in high school.  

Professor Paterno gets us focused immediately and twice a day I'm participating in writing drills.  

By the end of the first week I'm sore, tired and experiencing more pain in my writing hand than I've ever had before.  

The practice is demanding, but I know the hard work will payoff once the school year begins. I was right. I'm selected to be part of the main sports writing team; a very tough task to achieve as a freshman.  

The team has a solid year, coming up a little short on a conference title, but I still did very well considering I had to adjust to a whole new writing situation.  

My sophomore year I continue to work hard in the offseason, earning 2nd Team All-Big Ten for Sports Writing in the process.  

We once again fall short of our conference title goal and I'm determined to make sure it happens next year.  

My junior year I'm put on the honorable mention list for All-American Sports Writers.

I have an amazing year, setting school records for published columns and the team excels as well, as we win the Big Ten Writers Championship and earn a trip to Pasadena for the Writers Rose Bowl to square off against USC.  

Unfortunately there's no playoff system in college because I feel like we could've won the National Championship this year.

As my senior season is coming around I'm considered one of the top sports writers in the nation.  

I'm starting to see dollar signs after I graduate, and I even have some agents from national news agencies secretly contacting me. With the end in sight I start to slack off a little bit and the lack of conditioning hurts me during our summer drills.  

Right before the season is about to begin, I hear something pop in my wrist. I'm sidelined for nearly the entire writing season after undergoing carpal tunnel surgery.

When I'm finally able to write again, there's only a couple weeks left in the writing season and thanks to my injury, among other factors, the team doesn't make it to a writing bowl this year.  

I can't believe that my senior year was wasted and now I might not reach my dream of becoming a national sports writer, at least not at ESPN where I've been wanting to begin my career at ever since I got to Penn State.  

I hire a writing agent that helps me with the process of gaining national exposure and interviews from various news agencies and companies.  

He tells me I should participate in the Writer's Combine, which all the writing scouts will be at to measure my writing speed, how many words I can rhyme with "door" and a test of general knowledge.  

I also participate in Penn State's Writers Day where the scouts come to State College to see what I can do.

The initial wave of contracts went out to some of the nation's best writers and I wasn't offered as one of the top ten.  

My vision was to be a featured writer for, but now that wasn't going to happen.  

Soon after, I received an offer to write for ESPN New York.  

It wasn't exactly my ideal situation where I would sign a contract for $50 million to write for, but it was still an unbelievable opportunity and I would still be getting paid heavily in the process.  

I finally agreed on a six-year, $30 million contract, which included $11 million in guaranteed money.  

Most of the top tier writers out of college sign three year deals, but I went for the maximum contract to ensure I got the most money guaranteed.  

I was finally rich. $11 million guaranteed, are you kidding me? I got more money now than I could ever dream of. 

I was focused more than ever on my columns and I was prepared to make sure every company that passed me up for someone else would know they made a mistake.

My first year at ESPN New York got off to a great start.  

I was the first rookie front page columnist since Ray Mickens to be featured weekly on the web site.  

The entire realm of sports writing was already extremely popular, but it was still growing and I was growing with it.  

ESPN New York was considered the top subsidiary of and I was considered one of the top sports columnists in the nation.  

I knew ESPN New York and were making enormous amounts of money thanks to me, but I still kept working harder in hopes of being considered the best in the country.  

After my third year I reached that plateau. There was no disputing I was the best and the recognition wasn't enough for me, I wanted to be paid for it.  

Unfortunately I still had one year left on my contract so I did what I felt was deserving and stopped writing for ESPN until they gave me a new contract.  

If I'm the best then I should be paid like the best.  

I stopped attending company meetings, had no contact with my managers and all my editors had no clue what was going on. I wasn't going to budge. All ESPN could do was fine me for not showing up, but I knew they needed me and that's the bargaining chip I was relying on.

Months went by and the major sports season was about to begin, and they needed me.

ESPN New York was losing visitors and advertising money daily from me not writing for them. Meetings were held and nothing was being resolved. I was about to turn off my computer and stop writing for the entire year, but then something came over me.  

I loved writing about sports and a year without doing so would tear me apart. Hesitant, I signed a new contract with ESPN to write for with contract terms of four-years, $46 million, with $32 million guaranteed.  

Basically I added an extra year to my initial deal and got an extra $11 million guaranteed. Definitely not what I was looking for, but I'm still a very wealthy man after this deal.  

I felt like a writer had finally won a little against the big guys. Then again I didn't really have many other options, unless I wanted to go to Canada and write for The Score for $2 million a year.

Now it's March 2011.  

I'm amongst a group of ten writers that are about to sue ESPN if a collective bargaining agreement isn't agreed upon within the next week.  

ESPN wants each of us to write two additional weeks worth of columns in exchange for reducing our "involuntary" services that we have every year.  

We also will get a reduction on draft columns that we have to write before a major sports season begins. Many writers are against any concessions that ESPN wants us to consider, specifically the additional writing weeks, claiming that more carpal tunnel injuries will be caused due to the additional workload.

Many past writers have been coming out lately explaining how typing on a typewriter really caused damage on their wrists. ESPN has been studying these claims and is trying to reduce the wear and tear on us by making sure we have the best furniture and computer hardware.

Other veteran writers want to hold out for more money. Some of us think that salaries are too exorbitant for newly signed writers just entering the field.  

Then we have the group of writers who want ESPN to take some of their profits and give it to the old writers for their medical bills since health care costs are a lot more expensive these days.

Maybe I'm just the writer that actually understands business and I wouldn't give in to anything if I owned ESPN either. Just think about it for a minute.

I'm the owner of ESPN.  

I'm the one that took the risk over three decades ago to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for this company in hopes of making a profit from it. The risk paid off and the company has grown rapidly over the past 30 years.  

I'm a billionaire now and deservedly so. I'm the one that took the risk initially and it paid off. My employees are making more money per person than less than one percent of the people in the country, and they want to complain about money because MY company keeps growing.  

I guess they don't realize that this is how business works. There is a company and there are employees. The owner of the company makes the majority of the money if it's a profitable business, and the employees receive competitive salaries and earn raises or bonuses each year depending on how well they perform and how well the company performs.  

I'm a private company. I don't have to show my financial statements to anyone, especially not my employees who are making monstrous salaries, just because they think they aren't getting a big enough percentage.

So what if I'm an owner that wants to make more money. That's what business owners are supposed to do. If you don't want to write for those two extra weeks a year in exchange for some considerations that lessen your workload at other times then leave.  

Where else are you going to make the amount of money that I'm paying you? I give my writers the best facilities to write in, the greatest staff of editors and producers to help them excel at their job, and they still think they deserve more.  

I'm the one who risked it all years and years ago when ESPN was nothing and helped turn it into the most powerful sports network in the world.  

I guess what the writers don't understand is that I'm this successful because of the product that the company puts out, not because of who puts it out.  

Of course I need talented people to maintain my audience, but there are always talented people out there.  

If Gene Zarnick, Bill Simmons and Rick Reilly all leave ESPN tomorrow with the rest of the writers then of course I'll be stuck in a predicament, but I will be alright in the long run.  

There is no other market like ESPN, and because of this I will always have consumers.

I may not have the best talent, but the product is more than talent. It's all the ESPN networks, including television, radio and print. It's the fan bases in all the cities that care for their teams and will still want to read about their team even if their favorite writer isn't writing here anymore.  

ESPN belongs to America and America will never give up on ESPN because of that. So go ahead writers, leave. Go see what you can do with your college degree at a different company and then come crawling back a year later begging to keep the same deal we had.

That's of course how I would feel if I owned ESPN.

Or maybe my fellow writers are correct to hold out until we get what we want.

We've dreamed of this opportunity to write for ESPN from a young age, worked hard and had the determination to finally get to the apex of the sports writing world.  

I love writing. As you've read from my story I dedicated myself to this craft in hopes of one day making it a career and I achieved that goal. So are we the greedy ones or are the owners?

I'm not really sure, but I do know that whenever this deal gets signed, no matter the outcome, I can always just stop writing again to get myself a better contract anyway.


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