ESPN cast its lot long ago. Content with no longer wielding any type of cultural influence, choosing instead to be a network which fills its nighttime programming with live games and seven different versions of SportsCenter (a completely outmoded and altogether unwatchable show) and stuffs its daytime programming with a bunch of contrarian, thoughtless never-been-puncheds like Skip Bayless, Michael Wilbon and Colin Cowherd to promote the games ESPN is televising that week.
Enter Bill Simmons. After a stint as espn.com's Page 2 "Sports Guy," Simmons left to write for Jimmy Kimmel for a year before coming back to begin working on a social examination project centered around sports and pop culture that would ultimately become Grantland. At a company long bereft of creativity, Grantland became the lone place for any thinking sports fan/pop culture consumer to take a break from the toothless, nutless "analyses" provided by the aforeinsulted Bayless, Wilbon and Cowherd, as well as Mike, Mike, Chris Berman, Mark Schlereth, Trevor Matich, Mark May, Jesse Palmer, Lou Holtz, Kirk Herbstreit, Tedy Bruschi, and OMG I could so keep going, but you get the point.
What was Simmons's offense? He had the audacity to say what every single person in America who watches the NFL was thinking. From his BS Report Monday with Cousin Sal, who is awesome:
Goodell, if he didn't know what was on that tape, he's a liar. I'm just saying it. He is lying. I think that dude is lying. If you put him up on a lie detector test that guy would fail. For all these people to pretend they didn't know is such fucking bullshit. It really is--it's such fucking bullshit. And for him to go in that press conference and pretend otherwise, I was so insulted. I really was.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. The commissioner's a liar and I get to talk about that on my podcast.
Now, I've recently been similarly victimized by a former employer, so I'm admittedly a little salty on the topic of censorship, but I f#cking loved everything Bill Simmons said, and you know who else loved it? You. Because it's the truth. It's what you were thinking, what I was thinking and, quite honestly, it's what the gutless people who suspended Simmons were thinking.
The real issue now, of course, is where do Grantland and Simmons go from here? He said he was "going public," and I'm dying to know what that means. The truth is, neither of these parties needs each other, at least financially, at least not now. Simmons would have suitors lining up at his door to back his next project. ESPN deals in multi-billion dollar contracts with the NCAA, NFL, MLB and NBA. Here's where it will sting ESPN: they built their brand on being a culture changer, a paradigm shifter. They were the first network to focus on sports twenty-four hours a day, and now every major network has a twenty-four hour sports channel. Whatever they are now, basically a self-promotion factory for their own live broadcasts, Grantland was ESPN's only remaining link to what they were: a culturally relevant, cool place to consume sports and entertainment (yeah, that's what the E in ESPN stands for) and now they've taken a (redacted: vulgar) on that, too.
Congratulations, ESPN. You've gone from being Old MTV to New TBS. Instead of Nirvana videos, half-naked spring breakers and Singled Out, you're a glossy, thoughtless dilettante pandering solely to the lowest common denominator. You're Fat Elvis. You're as tone deaf as the NFL and its commissioner you're so desperate to protect. You're not ESPN. At best, you're SPN, and SPN just doesn't have the same ring, does it?