After five months of not having a podcast outlet for his opinions on DeflateGate, Roger Goodell and ESPN firing him, Bill Simmons took some jabs at the NFL commissioner and his former employer before taking a roundhouse swipe at the two.
The Bill Simmons Podcast debuted with two episodes on Thursday. In the first installment, Simmons discussed Week 4 in the NFL and made picks with Cousin Sal, which has always been a regular feature of his show. As could have been expected early on, he made some references to ESPN — particularly Chris Berman — and expressed joy that he would now be able to criticize personalities on the network and the preferred style of its NFL analysts.
But with Cousin Sal employed by ESPN and ABC, Simmons understandably couldn’t push too far and put him in an uncomfortable position. However, that wasn’t a problem in the second podcast with longtime friend Jack-O on as a guest to talk about everything that’s happened during Simmons’ hiatus from the podcastosphere. Mostly, that meant discussing DeflateGate, but also Goodell and ESPN’s relationship with the NFL.
Around the 10:20 mark of the show is when Simmons began to load up and fire.
“Granted, I’m a little biased here from what my experiences at ESPN were the last two years. The way everyone else was covering 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, because you had, like, Dan Wetzel at Yahoo, you had Sally Jenkins in the Washington Post, you had all the people in Boston, you had different radio personalities and people really going after how the NFL was handling this, how Goodell was handling this, all this stuff.
“And especially in the weeks after the broken cell phone thing when it came out that they had obviously leaked stuff, that something really legitimately shady was going on. Yet if you went to ESPN, you didn’t see anything. Charlie Pierce on Grantland was the only person who really went after them. On ESPN, they really didn’t do anything until that giant Don Van Natta/Seth Wickersham/Outside the Lines investigation. But it was just hard to come away from that and not think that ESPN was in the bag for the NFL. Because they were.”
And there it is. Given the circumstances under which ESPN fired Simmons — not to mention hitting him with a three-week suspension eight months earlier — it’s not much of a surprise that some bile had built up since May that needed to be unleashed. Criticizing Goodell got Simmons in a lot of trouble, and he clearly bristled at the attempt to muzzle him.
But it’s not like Simmons isn’t saying anything that plenty of others haven’t believed themselves, that ESPN is in the business of protecting its partnership with the NFL and puts the network in an awkward, conflict-of-interest position. (Pulling out of the League of Denial documentary with PBS is perhaps the most obvious example of this.)
Just in case Simmons hadn’t made his point clear enough, he doubled down on that assertion (and took a shot at Mike & Mike) when promoting the new podcast on Facebook:
To be fair, Simmons also criticized his father earlier in the podcast for briefly losing faith in and turning on Tom Brady when reports of the Patriots quarterback destroying his cell phone surfaced. If Bill’s dad responds or there’s further conversation about it with Jack-O, we’ll do our best to document and report it here.