Bill Simmons will be hard-pressed to match ‘dream job’ he had at ESPN

My latest column for the National Sports Journalism Center at Indiana.


I have been blessed with many wonderful assignments during my career, but I can’t say I ever had a “dream job.”

I never had anyone tab me to write 5,000-word columns and be the featured voice for the website of the world’s most influential sports network. I never had a podcast that gave me the opportunity to talk sports with Larry David, not to mention numerous other big-name stars and athletes.

I never had the chance to create an award-winning documentary series and a website, both of which produce excellent and different perspectives on sports. I never was selected to be part of a network’s studio show for my favorite sport, the NBA. I never had that network then give me my own NBA-based show.

And I most definitely never had a network willing to pay me $5 million per year.

Sounds like a pretty good gig, right?

So perhaps that is why I am having a hard time understanding why Bill Simmons was willing to squander his “dream job.”

It appeared as if ESPN president John Skipper had enough when he suddenly dropped the bomb last Friday saying the network would not renew his contract. The tipping point, writes Richard Sandomir of the New York Times, likely was an interview Simmons did on the “Dan Patrick Show” in which he ripped Roger Goodell last week. This was after Simmons was suspended for three weeks last fall for comments related to the NFL commissioner.

The length of that suspension had the feel of a lifetime achievement award for Simmons. He previously had other flare-ups that warranted calls from the ESPN disciplinary police. ESPN finally put the hammer down after the “Goodell is a liar” comments.

It certainly seemed as if Simmons was playing fast-and-loose with his “dream job.” At the very least, he had a serious case of big-head syndrome, acting as if ESPN’s rules didn’t apply to him.

Simmons made a serious miscalculation if he truly wanted to stay at ESPN.James Andrew Miller did a terrific examination of the break-up for Vanity Fair. He writes:

“In the end, one could say with minimal originality, but considerable accuracy, that Bill Simmons simply flew too close to the sun. He miscalculated how much value ESPN put on him and on his unique abilities and talents. He might also have forgotten a cardinal company rule that remains sacred whether it’s ESPN’s Old Guard talking or its new one: nobody, but nobody, can be bigger than those four initials.”

Miller writes ESPN also loses with the departure of Simmons. He has a unique brand that can’t be duplicated. Who becomes the next Bill Simmons at ESPN?

The network, though, will somehow continue to remain on the air without Simmons. It will get along just fine.

As for Simmons, clearly there will be no shortage of suitors. There is much speculation about his future. In a column by Paul Fahri of the Washington Post, John Ourand of Sports Business Journal had an interesting thought:

“Ourand expects Simmons to stretch beyond sports. Noting Simmons’s friendship with talk-show host Jimmy Kimmel, he said: “I suspect his next move will have a real entertainment beat to it. I’d be surprised if it’s pure sports.” (Simmons briefly worked as a writer on Kimmel’s late-night show in 2003-2004 before returning to ESPN full-time.)”

If Simmons remains in sports, Dan Levy of Awful Announcing believes his likely landing spot will be with Turner Sports and Bleacher Report. The set-up re-connects him with the NBA via TNT and offers him a powerful website and other bells and whistles.

Yet regardless of where Simmons lands, he never will have a platform that rivals ESPN. There’s something to be said for working for the most powerful brand in sports media. Those “four initials,” as Miller writes, carry considerable weight.

Saying you’re Bill Simmons of ESPN is much different than saying you’re Bill Simmons of anything else. The reach and impact isn’t the same.

Now Simmons was with ESPN for 15 years. That’s a long time. Maybe he feels as if it is time to do something else. Time to take on a different challenge.

However, Simmons should know a “dream job” comes around once in a lifetime for a select few in this world. If it was me, I find a way to make it work at ESPN.

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