Bill Simmons and ESPN—The Worldwide Leader in Places Bill Simmons used to Work—are at it again.
Simmons recently interviewed Barack Obama for GQ, asking the leader of the free world a number of questions that led to very sports-specific answers. Obama is a huge sports fan, and when you’re being interviewed by a guy known as The Sports Guy, the topics have a natural tendency to float that way.
At one point in the interview, Simmons joked that Obama is like Gregg Popovich, in that he always maintains an even keel in pressure situations. Obama likened his personality to that of Aaron Rodgers, which made news when media covering the Packers asked Rodgers about the comparison by the President this week.
ESPN felt that story newsworthy enough to publish, using the headline in a story written by Rob Demovsky of “Aaron Rodgers flattered Barack Obama spoke glowingly about him.”
The write up at ESPN was innocuous enough, until Simmons decided to point out that they didn’t name him as the interviewer.
Stay classy, ESPN.https://t.co/UdZ6vD0yHV
— Bill Simmons (@BillSimmons) November 18, 2015
I’ll admit I hadn’t seen the ESPN article until Simmons tweeted it. I bet most hadn’t. The original article made no mention of Simmons, sure, but the second sentence did say, “[i]n an interview with GQ Magazine…” with a hyperlink directly to the story. It’s not as if ESPN wrote up the story without a link at all, merely tossing in a cursory reference to the original interview and leading, instead, with Rodgers’ reaction to the comparison. It’s not as if Simmons was relegated to…
@BillSimmons Bud…your new name is "media reports". Get used to it.
— Paul Pabst (@PaulPabst) November 18, 2015
Someone with surely more time and interest can go back to verify this, but how many times in the last, let’s say, nine months has ESPN named the person who interviewed a subject in an article? My bet is very few. It’s become proper internet protocol to mention the outlet when linking to an article and often ignore the author. If anyone links to this, there’s a decent chance it will say Awful Announcing recapped the spat between Simmons and ESPN with my name failing to appear in most links. Nor should it, because it wasn’t about me.
This is different, though. ESPN should have mentioned Simmons for two important reasons. First, getting a sit-down with the President is a huge deal, and in cases like that the interviewer absolutely deserves credit for asking the questions that elicited quote-worthy answers. If Matt Lauer had asked the questions, chance are his name would have been used. Second, given the history between Simmons and ESPN, and given how public their split has been, it makes sense to include a cursory nod to the Sports Guy, if only to avoid precisely what happened on Wednesday.
For what it’s worth, which isn’t much at this point, ESPN updated its story to credit Simmons. Also, for what it’s worth, this is the bio GQ used at the bottom of the Simmons interview:
Bill Simmons is the founder of Grantland, the co-creator of ESPN’s 30 for 30 sports documentary series, and the best-selling author of The Book of Basketball. He is currently creating his own show for HBO, which will premiere next spring.
No matter what Simmons does for the rest of his career, ESPN will retain “first paragraph of the obit” status. Just like ESPN was part of his Sports Guy brand for years, being consistently wronged by ESPN has become a tenet of Simmons 2.0.
The funniest part of this particular slap fight, of course, is the timing of Simmons’ tweet in context of other Simmons v ESPN stories. Less than 24 hours before Simmons reminded ESPN to “stay classy”, the Simmons story du jour was that his podcast network is called the Bill Simmons Podcast Network, or BSPN, which is the kind of thing you’d expect to see in a Key & Peele sketch, not coming from the former Grantland brain trust. Simmons even updated his Twitter bio to reference the recent comment by “anonymous ESPN execs” who called Grantland a cult, a sentiment even writers from the site have used when referencing the relationship between Simmons and many of his staffers.
This whole saga reminds me of a story. When I was coaching youth soccer a few years ago I had a boy on my team whose parents were going through a divorce. It was awful on game days, as the parents would openly fight on the field in front of other families, including the kids. At one game the fight between the two got so bad another mom started to yell at the father and then her husband got involved and I think that guy has ties to the Israeli mafia and it was a really messy situation for everyone, most notably a volunteer coach trying to teach a bunch of five year olds how to kick and trap while their parents threatened each other on the sidelines.
Anyway, the long and short of it is the divorce became so contentious that the families asked me if I could procure two participation trophies at the end of the season so they could put one in each house, because the boy was sad whenever he had to go to his dad’s house and the parents thought getting to stare at his trophy would make it feel more like home. (Why the kid couldn’t just bring his trophy with him, I do not know and did not ask.)
Sometimes it feels like both Simmons and ESPN won’t stop fighting until the trophy stays at their house, and if we can just figure out a way to give them both a trophy, maybe we could all move on a little faster. Still, there is hope. Within a year, tensions lightened and both parents did start to get along. They even drove to a game together one time, not only acknowledging the collateral damage of their constant, public bickering, but making steps to fix it. And yet, as content as they seemed to be in their new lives, they still asked for a second trophy every season, so maybe this will never end, even after both sides eventually move on.