Bill Simmons is back!
Five months after Simmons was effectively fired by ESPN – technically, they just decided not to renew his contract and took him off all mediums, forcing him to sit in limbo until his ESPN deal expired – the first two episodes of his new podcast, “The Bill Simmons Podcast” dropped at midnight on Thursday.
While the first two episodes sound a lot like the old “BS Report,” including appearances by his buddies Cousin Sal (Jimmy Kimmel writer Sal Iacono) and JackO, there is one obvious difference: Simmons has come out firing against his old employer and the NFL, something that didn’t happen often while he was at ESPN, but that got him in trouble when it did.
In the first minutes of the inaugural episode, Simmons announces that he has a new show coming to HBO in the spring, and, in doing so, he took a thinly veiled shot at his old employer.
“I have a new show, coming on HBO next spring,” Simmons said. “I am very excited to work with them. They have been great – a place that cares about creative people and freedom of speech. I’m very excited about that! Two of my favorite things, creative freedom and freedom of speech.”
Prior to being let go, Simmons was suspended on multiple occasions for things he said on his podcast or in social media. Simmons specifically mentioned the final straw, when he joked on “The Dan Patrick Show” that Goodell “did not have the testicular fortitude” to make a decision in the Deflategate case, and that the next day was his final one at ESPN.
In Episode 2, Simmons took the veil off, flatly accusing ESPN of being “in the bag for the NFL” – that is, biased in their news coverage of the NFL, specifically when it came to Deflategate.
“Granted I am a little biased here from what my experiences at ESPN were the last two years. But the way everybody else was covering [Roger] Goodell’s role in this whole story versus the way ESPN covered it, it was embarrassing, and I couldn’t believe nobody called out ESPN about it.
You had Dan Wetzel at Yahoo, Sally Jenkins at The Washington Post, all the people in Boston; you had different radio personalities – people really going after how the NFL was handling [Deflategate], how Goodell was handling this, and, especially in the weeks after the broken cellphone thing when it came out, they had obviously leaked stuff, that something really, legitimately shady was going on.
And yet, if you went to ESPN, you didn’t see anything. Charlie Pierce of Grantland was really the only person who went after them. On ESPN, they really didn’t do anything until that [Outside the Lines] investigation. It was just hard to come away from that and not think that ESPN was in the bag for the NFL, because they were.”
Simmons goes on to note that his “big takeaway” from Deflategate as a whole was just how much power the NFL has and “how afraid everybody is of” of the league. The insinuation here is that ESPN is part of “everybody” and is afraid to anger the NFL.
It is hard to argue that Simmons is wrong. It is difficult to be a legitimate news source if you are afraid to piss off the very subjects you purport to cover. But at the same time, the E in ESPN stands for “Entertainment” and the N does not stand for “News.” ESPN is an entertainment network first that also puts itself in terrible conflict-of-interest situations while trying to be a news entity that covers the very leagues it is in bed with.
At the same time, there is no shortage of instances of ESPN coming down hard on the NFL. The very “Outside the Lines” investigation cited by Simmons, which looked at the questionable relationship between the NFL and the Patriots, may have done more to clear up the Deflategate story in the minds of many than any other single story on the subject, and there have been a lot of stories.
Simmons does acknowledge that there is a balance that must be struck when covering a partner. But he also questioned that balance when the partner “is acting completely inappropriately,” as he says the NFL was doing in Deflategate, “making up its own rules and leaking false information and handling things incorrectly, legally.”
At the end of the day, love him or hate him, this is the Bill Simmons we want, and now we finally get a shot to see what Simmons will do and what he can be without the choke collar from the Worldwide Leader. The risk is that Simmons’ Boston-centric homerism, which many find insufferable, and the constant martyrdom of the Patriots and his sense that everybody outside of New England is out to get the Boston teams, will get worse.
After the first episodes hit the internet, Simmons took to Twitter with a simple message.
Also – IT'S GREAT TO BE BACK.
Thanks to everyone for spreading the word.
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) October 1, 2015
He’s back. We’ll be listening … and watching, and presumably reading, at some point.
ESPN declined to comment for this story.