It’s been a little over two years since ESPN chose to part with Bill Simmons and although the popular personality who loved to test the network’s boundaries and push his bosses’ buttons has moved on to other things, he couldn’t help but notice the kerfuffle last week over Jemele Hill’s tweets calling President Trump a “white supremacist.”
That drew a rebuke from the People Who Run ESPN, and running afoul of management is something that Simmons knows all about. He was suspended for daring the network to do just that and going on to call Commissioner Roger Goodell, whose NFL happens to be a broadcast partner of the network, a “liar” in a podcast.
In his weekly mailbag Friday for The Ringer, the site he founded after leaving ESPN, Simmons was asked whether he was bothered that, after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders called for her to be fired, Hill is still employed while Simmons was pushed out for offering his opinion. Even the president weighed in on Hill, tweeting: “ESPN is paying a really big price for its politics (and bad programming). People are dumping it in RECORD numbers. Apologize for untruth!”
Simmons says the distinction between his situation and Hill’s “doesn’t bother me” and he admires her for what he sees as her triumph.
“Neither of us should have been suspended,” he wrote. “But I enjoyed how brilliantly Jemele checkmated her bosses. She knew ESPN couldn’t punish her for speaking candidly, as a black woman, about a president whose pattern of behavior toward women and minorities speaks for itself. She used her platform and it worked. Now she has a higher profile than she did three days ago. She seems more fearless and genuine than she did three days ago. She doubled down on a fan base that already liked her and openly shunned the other side. And she flipped her relationship with ESPN — now, the company needs Jemele Hill more than she needs the company.
“The whole thing left me like this:
In her tweets, Hill took the conversation about Trump beyond just labeling.
Hill does indeed remain employed by ESPN, which had issued a statement saying that her comments did not represent its position and that it had “addressed this with Jemele,” who “recognizes her actions were inappropriate.” Despite the controversy, she was not absent from “SC6,” a marquee edition of its “SportsCenter” franchise that was introduced to great fanfare and publicity last winter when Hill and Michael Smith were charged with revitalizing it with opinion, analysis and conversation about sports and culture. When her tweets blew up, ESPN reportedly threatened to bench her and Smith refused to go on without her, as did others who were approached to fill in.
Hill offered her regret for the position in which she had placed ESPN, a Disney subsidiary. “My comments on Twitter expressed my personal beliefs,” she tweeted. “My regret is that my comments and the public way I made them painted ESPN in an unfair light. My respect for the company and my colleagues remains unconditional.”
In the fall of 2014, Simmons drew a suspension, daring his bosses to suspend him in a profanity-laced tirade on his “BS” podcast and calling Goodell a liar over his handling of the league’s domestic-violence crisis. “I really hope somebody calls me or emails me and says I’m in trouble for anything I say about Roger Goodell,” Simmons said. “Because if one person says that to me, I’m going public. You leave me alone. The commissioner’s a liar and I get to talk about that on my podcast … Please, call me and say I’m in trouble. I dare you.”
That sent #FreeSimmons trending on Twitter, but he still got a little vacation and as it became clear that he would be leaving the network at some point, a decision became increasingly mutual.
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