Grantland Editor in Chief Bill Simmons has always been one to speak his mind, it's one of the many reasons why he's risen to the very top at ESPN. It's also seen him cross swords with his employer and voice criticisms about his own network that nobody else can raise in public. The Sports Guy has been suspended from Twitter twice by ESPN - once in 2009 for calling an ESPN Radio affiliate "deceitful scumbags" and again earlier this year for tweeting criticism of the abomination that is First Take.
With his comments in the early morning hours after Game 4 of the NBA Finals, Bill Simmons may be on his way to a trifecta of suspensions (or at least a stern talking to from the HR department) Simmons objected to SportsCenter editing out a joke of his about Dwyane Wade and managed to take another dig at one of the network's more controversial personalities. He also sent a cryptic tweet that makes you think it's going to be difficult for him to return to ESPN's NBA studio next year:
Wow, SportsCenter edited my joke out about Wade going to Germany before Game 4 - I should have just ripped people to shreds like SAS did.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 14, 2013
The rigidity of studio TV is really discouraging. Let's just say that A LOT makes sense after these past 8 months.— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) June 14, 2013
Unfortunately, Simmons stopped before this got really good. Simmons had spoke to SI's Richard Deitsch earlier in the playoffs about possibly not coming back to the studio next season and these frustrations being made public make that look more probable. That would be a shame since his addition, along with Jalen Rose, has made an unwatchable studio show passable... although there are still many, many issues with the setup that keep it from truly excelling (step one: find a host).
Even though he may once again get a slap on the wrist, Bill Simmons is taking full advantage of a privilege that nobody else at ESPN has. He can afford to criticize his employer publicly because he's too valuable to Bristol to do anything drastic. He has a platform and a following that allows him this leeway.
Again though, these tweets are about much more than Bill Simmons vs ESPN and a couple frustrated tweets from a disgruntled worker. (For what it's worth, a tweeter tells us the morning SportsCenter included the joke, so mission accomplished I suppose.)
As I wrote a few months ago, this is about the identity struggle at ESPN. Simmons is obviously not a fan of Skip Bayless, Stephen A. Smith, and the "Embrace Debate" qualities at the network (and good on him for that). To him, it's distressing that ESPN would rather air SAS yell and scream or Skip troll than anything else. And it should be. Simmons is taking a stand even though it may lead to a visit to the principal's office because it's clear he cares about his network's identity.
What makes Inside the NBA great is its free flowing nature and chemistry. When studio shows, SportsCenter hits, and even entire programs are designed around pre-ordained debate positions and regimented so strictly, it constricts what you're capable of doing. And for someone who has lived in the online space of several thousand word columns and hour long podcasts, it just won't work.
ESPN is no longer a watchable entity. It is when talents like the Sports Guy are highlighted that the once great sports channel becomes slightly watchable.
Shame on the Sports Leader. They have emasculated all of their talen to such a degree that their personalities are no longer watchacble. @billsimmons has an opinion and something to say. Oh yeah, balls too.