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ESPN calls Bill Simmons bluff


nflBill Simmons seemed to dare ESPN to suspend him for his comments suggesting that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is a “liar” for insisting that he had not seen the videotape of Ray Rice attacking his then-fiancee before the TMZ release turned public opinion against the sports behemoth.

ESPN happily obliged “The Sports Guy.”

“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.”

That was The Worldwide Leader’s statement in announcing the three-week suspension of the star blogger and commentator for the comments in his podcast, which has since been scrubbed from the Grantland.com website that he founded.

Three weeks, or one week longer than the suspension that Goodell had originally given to Rice. For saying what we will all one day soon know to be an accurate description of how things went down on the Rice story, which unlike Grantland.com can’t be scrubbed enough to get the crapstains left behind by Goodell out.

“Goodell, if he didn’t know what’s on that tape, he’s a liar,” Simmons said on the podcast, which was posted on Monday. “I’m just saying it. He is lying. I think that dude is lying. If you put him on a lie-detector test, that guy would fail.”

Then what appeared to be the challenge to his employers: “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.”

Is this ESPN’s way of trying a mea culpa after publishing an Outside the Lines story on the Baltimore Ravens’ handling of the Rice fiasco that has been found to have been rife with errors? Or is it that the network that owes its leap from broadcasting endless hours of repeats of Australian Rules Football and strongman competitions to the big time to its relationship with the NFL wants to show that it is a team player, and as such is willing to eat its own to “protect the shield,” to borrow from Goodell’s mania?

Just to be clear to the tone-deaf ESPN execs who think Simmons was asking for it, as Stephen A. Smith still seems to think that Janay Rice was asking for it before she got into the elevator: he wasn’t really daring you to suspend him. He was actually just making the point that the idea that Goodell is clumsily covering up his own misgivings in the Rice mess is something that we can all agree upon, and that it’s only the sycophants like Sports Illustrated’s Peter King and ESPN NFL insider blowhards Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter parroting the league’s party line like so many Pravda editors shilling for the Soviet Politburo that seem to be on the outside of the perimeter of wisdom.

Not that anybody out there thought of ESPN being any kind of paragon of journalistic integrity before this episode, but whatever sliver of pretense that there was there lost another grain or two of its sandy-bottom ground.

– Column by Chris Graham



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