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Executives at ESPN are famously protective of the network. Numerous people have been fired over the years for off-the-air conduct, and very rarely do you ever hear someone employed by the network even constructively criticize the brand. It’s almost always positivity or silence, which is why most observers were shocked last week when ESPN personality Bill Simmons took to Twitter to bash the hell out of First Take and more specifically, its almost universally despised host Skip Bayless. In fact, many wondered whether executives would take the criticism to heart. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. But either way, the powers that be apparently weren’t too happy with Simmons.
According to Deadspin, Simmons was suspended from Twitter for three days for his rant. Apart from two retweets of Grantland stories, Simmons hasn’t delivered any new content, which is very rare for an extremely active account. Neither Simmons nor the network has commented on the alleged suspension, but if true, it’s far worse press than the Simmons tweet ever could have created.
The whole point of Simmons’ writing persona is that he’s a man of the people. He’s willing to cut through the normal journalist bullshit and address the issues real fans are talking about---like what a huge problem PEDs still are and the contracts that are ruining entire NBA franchises. In theory, he is the everyman of journalism. He answers emails, advocates for beloved shows like Friday Night Lights and doesn’t shy away from controversy. And if there’s one thing ESPN viewers, aka his fans, have been bitching about for years without any proper outlet, it’s the complete disgrace that is Skip Bayless. So, when he got into a squabble on the air with Richard Sherman and the video was flying around the Internet, it would have been weird if Simmons didn’t comment.
Bayless is to sports journalism what Armond White is to film criticism. More often than not, he takes the crazy opinion in arguments, the opinion an overwhelming majority of people wouldn’t even consider taking, and states it as obnoxiously and forcefully as possible in an apparent attempt to convince viewers to hate watch him. He called Tim Tebow ”the next Brett Favre”, advised NBA teams not to even consider drafting white dudes in the first round and as recently as two years ago, argued LeBron James wasn’t even a top 5 NBA player. Those aren’t even strange opinions. They’re opinions anyone with common sense should logically know are wrong.
Instead of suspending Simmons, ESPN executives should have held meetings to decide whether Bayless’ bullshit schtick was doing more harm than good. They should have been asking themselves whether Bill was right. They should have addressed his comments and given us an actual reason why they support Skip, if they actually do. Instead, they silently slapped Bill on the wrist and hoped no one would notice. The decision makers at ESPN should be ashamed of themselves.