A big topic in the news today has been the suspension of sports journalist and commentator, Bill Simmons, by ESPN for his remarks regarding NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The three week suspension of Simmons by the network has drawn criticism across the mainstream media and social media networks.
In order to provide some background for those who might not be aware, Simmons launched headfirst into an explosive tirade filled with expletives on an internet “podcast” show that he hosts regarding Commissioner Goodell’s handling of the Ray Rice domestic abuse incident.
In his three minute verbal bashing of Mr. Goodell, Mr. Simmons asserts that the Commissioner saw the tape of Rice punching his then-fiancé in an Atlantic City casino elevator. He continues by stating that Goodell would “fail a lie-detector test” if it was administered to him.
Mr. Goodell had initially suspended Rice for 2 games, then when the tape from the elevator emerged and the NFL looked badly, he reversed the decision and suspended Ray Rice indefinitely. Many people feel that the NFL saw the tape and were trying to cover up the incident by stating that they had not seen it during the initial investigation.
ESPN, which televises NFL games on Monday nights and pays billions of dollars for the rights to those broadcasts, acted swiftly by suspending Mr. Simmons for his comments about Commissioner Goodell. The response to this action by ESPN has been mostly negative for the network across the media and the social media sites, particularly Twitter. There is a Twitter “hashtag” which is trending today that notes a conversation thread of a hot topic and it is: #FreeBillSimmons.
In addition, Bill Simmons openly dared ESPN to suspend him for his comments, which probably was not the wisest course of action.
Many people feel that Simmons should not have been suspended for stating what many of us feel is the truth about the Ray Rice case. The fact that ESPN has a huge contract with the NFL makes the network look like they are pandering, and that they are restricting the freedom that the Constitution provides to those in the media to speak openly about any issue.
Fuel to the Fire
My friend pointed out to me on Facebook last night as we had some dialogue on this issue that ESPN’s suspension of Mr. Simmons is much longer than the action that the network took against another commentator, Stephen A. Smith, who was suspended for one week at the beginning of the Rice scandal a few weeks ago.
This wide variation in the suspension lengths was reported today by the mainstream media as well. In order to provide background for those who are not aware, Mr. Smith, also employed by ESPN indicated in statements on the air during ESPN programs that women provoke men and put men in the position to hit or physically abuse them. Those statements immediately raised a public uproar and ESPN responded by suspending Smith for one week.
The difference in the suspension actions taken by ESPN has added fuel to the fire and has opened network executives there to extensive public scrutiny and criticism that they punished Simmons strictly because he attacked the NFL, which is their “cash cow”.
However, the argument can be made that what Mr. Smith intimated in his comments has far greater long term ramifications on the central issue of domestic abuse than what Mr. Simmons said during his podcast.
The Other Side
In fairness, there are still others out there in the general public that do not view what ESPN does as pure journalism. They feel that the network is strictly a sports broadcasting medium which is greatly influenced in its coverage by the corporate sponsors and the big professional sports leagues which combine to provide them with huge advertising revenues.
Another faction feels that Mr. Simmons should have been suspended regardless because he represents ESPN and he used several foul words in his frustrated diatribe against the NFL and its’ commissioner, Roger Goodell. This viewpoint gains strength when considering that Mr. Simmons has a significant role on the network’s NBA basketball coverage which includes several Sunday afternoon games that children and young adults watch across the country on ABC.
The fact remains that the suspension of Mr. Simmons should have been made in-line with the suspension of Stephen A. Smith, or the network should add 3 weeks to the suspension of Smith in the near future. ESPN now has an image issue that it did not expect, and that no network wants to have to deal with.
The majority of the American public, which happens to be the prime customer for ESPN, believes that the network acted harshly to Simmons, muzzled his Constitutional rights as a journalist, and pandered to their corporate sponsors and the NFL. That is a big problem for ESPN at this point which they will need to somehow address.
Unfortunately, I have seen this situation happen to other journalists that I know, and I can understand the sentiment that the freedom of the press is hindered by corporate interests from the big conglomerations which own the networks as well as the other forms of media. It will be a part of a much larger debate brought to light by this situation with Simmons and ESPN.
In the end, the NFL is a multi-billion dollar industry with tremendous resources and enormous power. Their story that they did not receive the tape during their investigation into Mr. Rice seems highly unlikely. Mr. Simmons was saying what many of us already knew or thought to be true. The fact that he got suspended for being upset about the NFL’s poor handling of a horrible incident involving the abuse of a defenseless woman while Mr. Smith got a far less rigorous suspension for actually defending Ray Rice is the root problem here.
That decision by the executives of the network is not only what is wrong with the whole situation involving freedom of the press, it is an indictment on our society. The fact that so many people found it as troubling as I did, gives me hope that maybe our future will be better than the issues of the past several weeks.