There’s a very thin line between entertainment and news — and a major network got burned by their own decisions, as ESPN suspending Bill Simmons for three weeks really just proves they want him to be honest, but not that honest.
Most news organizations have to figure out that balance to make sure they are staying within the lines of journalistic standards, while also being provocative enough to keep readers interest piqued.
ESPN got what they deserved when writer, podcaster and TV personality Bill Simmons called out NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell a liar on Monday’s podcast. They suspended him for making those statements on Wednesday, but let’s understand just exactly what happened.
ESPN suspended Simmons for three weeks after he ripped into Goodell, calling him a liar and challenging his role as the head of the NFL.
“I really hope somebody calls me or emails me and says I’m in trouble for anything I say about Roger Goodell, 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. Thank you.” – Bill Simmons said on his podcast Monday.
The worldwide leader hired Simmons in 2001, after he made a name for himself as a writer for his own website, BostonSportsGuy.com. He then became a writer on Jimmy Kimmel Live! in 2002, along with his duties at ESPN and ESPN The Magazine. Three years later, he left Kimmel’s crew, which included comedian Adam Carolla.
Understand that Simmons is an entertainer more than he is a newsman. He’s not breaking stories. He’s not beating the bushes for information on players and coaches. He’s discussing the sports, analyzing the teams and players, and making it funny and palatable for his readers and listeners.
But when Simmons says something purely editorial, like that he thinks Goodell is a liar, the company had to take a stand. But really, this is what happens when you pay a person to entertain even though you are a news organization.
“Every employee must be accountable to ESPN and those engaged in our editorial operations must also operate within ESPN’s journalistic standards. We have worked hard to ensure that our recent NFL coverage has met that criteria. Bill Simmons did not meet those obligations in a recent podcast, and as a result we have suspended him for three weeks.” – ESPN said in a statement.
It’s a shame, really, because it means the other entertaining writers and podcasters on ESPN aren’t allowed to make similar editorial statements about NFL officials or the commissioner.
News companies and networks often face tough decisions when their staffs disagree or call out people from another organization that’s getting paid by the network for television rights. The networks still have to report on their nightly news shows that an actor from one of their network’s TV shows was arrested.
But the problem here arises when the network goes to an entertainer and asks him to stand in as a news man. That’s unfortunate – especially for Simmons, but it’s unfortunate for the readers.
Obviously, Simmons’ wording could have been better, rather than calling Goodell out as a liar, he could have just pointed out several instances and then let the reader make the connection that Goodell is, in fact, a liar.
In the end, though, we’ll all just blame Ray Rice for the whole thing anyway. And he only got suspended for TWO weeks initially.
David Gonos spent 5 years as a CBSSports.com Senior Fantasy Writer and three more years writing with SI.com. Over the past 17 years, his work has been published on NFL.com, MLB.com, FanDuel, FoxSports.com and USA Today. Since 2001, he has been tracking down the Top 50-plus Free Fantasy Football Draft Tools online. You can contact David Gonos here.