Inside the figurative collective "building" that is ESPN, there are few people more powerful than Bill Simmons.
As editor of the popular long-form writing haven Grantland, erstwhile podcaster and television personality (formerly NBA studio show, soon to be his own NBA show with Jalen Rose), Simmons has his hands in numerous highly profitable, high-profile projects that generate millions in revenue and viewership/readership.
In short, Bill Simmons makes money for ESPN. Lots of it. Therefore, he seemingly has a longer leash than many of his peers and counterparts when it comes to discipline.
This past week, Simmons pushed the limits of his employer's seeming latitude to the extreme with this rant about NFL commissioner Roger Goodell:
Here's a transcript of the money shot from that piece of sound:
"It's such fucking bullshit. It really is, it's such fucking bullshit. For him to go on the press conference and pretend otherwise, I was so insulted. We know you are lying...I really hope someone [from ESPN] calls me or emails me and says I'm in trouble for anything I said about Roger Goodell because if one person says that to me, I'm going public. You leave me alone. The Commissioner is a liar and I get to say that on my podcast."
So Simmons essentially dared his bosses to come discipline him for his comments. On Wednesday afternoon, his bosses obliged.
ESPN announced that Simmons would be suspended for three weeks beginning on Wednesday, and ending on October 15. During that time, he would be barred from his podcast, his social media accounts and generally any ESPN platform. ESPN had no comment to Richard Deitsch, media reporter for SI.com, as to whether or not Simmons would be paid during his suspension.
Almost immediately upon the announcement of the suspension, right on cue, Twitter predictably went into its usual hysterics, with the top trending hashtag of the evening becoming #FreeSimmons. Additionally, a large segment of the social media world took offense to the length of Simmons suspension, considering recent ESPN punishments handed down for words spoken on the air, most notably those of Stephen A. Smith back when Ray Rice's two-game suspension from the NFL was handed down.
Here were Smith's comments that got him in hot water:
Smith subsequently apologized for his ignorance, but was still handed a one-week suspension:
The predictable (and flawed) reaction to Simmons getting three weeks whereas Smith got one week went like this (NOTE: I have no idea who the person is that I've singled out in this tweet; it was merely one of thousands that came up upon searching "Simmons Smith suspension".):
Stephen A. Smith tells women not to provoke men = 1 week. Bill Simmons criticizes the NFL's lack of transparency = 3 weeks. #FreeSimmons
— Rene' Bustamante (@BustamanteReneL) September 25, 2014
This is a misguided variation of the line of thinking that pervaded the Internet upon the announcement of Rice's suspension, where people couldn't believe Rice got two games for assault while, say, Josh Gordon got a full season for smoking weed, also a bit of a flawed argument, given how punishment for each transgression is (or isn't) collectively bargained, but at least that comparison was the comparison of two illegal acts.
Comparing Simmons' suspension and Smith's suspension and saying somehow Smith's should be worse because the subject matter is a more heinous crime (blame for domestic assault versus a commissioner's truthfulness) misses the point of the suspension. People are acting like Smith actually committed an assault, when all he was doing was giving his opinion on an aspect of assault, albeit an ignorant opinion.
The act for both Smith and Simmons was their words, and make no mistake, the words that got Simmons in hot water were not his opinions about Roger Goodell's integrity. Plenty of ESPN employees have done that over the last three weeks, including Keith Olbermann multiple times. Hell, ESPN dropped a 10,000-word investigative bomb that paints Goodell in a horrible light!
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What got Simmons in trouble was his daring his bosses to do something about what he'd just said. He was openly challenging them to a fight. This just in -- powerful people do not like their power challenged or minimized. Simmons forgot for a few minutes he was an employee. A powerful one himself, yes, but he still reports to somebody. Chain of command is important.
In short, Smith's words were insensitive. Simmons words were insubordinate. In plain terms, insubordination is seen by ESPN management as three times worse than insensitivity.
People should be able to understand that.