Bill Simmons Thinks the NFL Had a Role in His Ousting at ESPN

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Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit - Day 2
Bill Simmons.Photo: Mike Windle/2015 Getty Images

Bill Simmons, the former Grantland editor who was ousted by ESPN earlier this year, told WFAN’s Mike Francesa today that he believes the NFL played a role in his downfall with the network. Simmons had been critical of commissioner Roger Goodell in the wake of the Ray Rice scandal, and though he says there had been other instances of bad blood between himself and the network, it was “the Goodell thing” that ultimately did him in. Said Simmons: “I was mad, I was doing a podcast, I had a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes with them, and I just decided to say ‘screw it,’ and I went after him. I really felt like the guy was lying. I just felt like I had to say something.”

Here’s a transcript of the relevant part of the conversation between Francesa and Simmons:

Francesa: What really was the downfall at ESPN? What was the big problem? What was the essence of the big problem?

Simmons: I had a mostly happy run there. There were spotty times here and there. There were ups and downs like you’d have at any other company, especially, like, somebody’s who’s creative, somebody who’s outspoken. They tend to gravitate more and more toward the Mike and Mike direction. And that’s just easier, because Mike and Mike aren’t going to cause problems. Mike and Mike aren’t going to say anything inflammatory. They’re just going to represent the brand. And it was fine. And I actually had a really good run with them. I think being on NBA Countdown, and just some of the stuff that played out on that end, which a lot of people don’t know, there was a little bit of bad blood there. But it really was the Goodell thing. Like I got suspended for three weeks last year. They almost fired me.

Francesa: So you think the NFL had a hand in this?

Simmons: I do, yeah.

Francesa: They’re powerful enough to do it. They’re powerful enough to do it. Absolutely.

Simmons: Yeah, it’s their biggest business partner by far. And my whole thing last September was just, I didn’t think Goodell was being honest about the Ray Rice thing. I just felt like for him to pretend that he didn’t know about the second elevator video, and for him to hand out the suspension, and then that second video comes out, he was like, “Oh my God, I didn’t realize he punched her, and now he’s suspended for a year.” It’s just like, she got dragged out of the elevator, it’s a casino. They film everything in a casino. Ray Rice told you he punched her, so what part was ambiguous about the whole thing?

Francesa: None. Zero. I mean, I’m in the same place you are. Everything you said, I agree with. And there’s no way to know. So we all know that. So that you think was the reason more than anything else?

Simmons: Yeah, I got suspended for three weeks.

Francesa: You got suspended for criticizing Goodell, or suspended for criticizing other people there?

Simmons: It was unclear because the story kind of changed from their end, depending on who I was talking to and what day it was. And even the way it was written about, it was like, “Because I went after Goodell.” “No, because I threatened ESPN to to come after me.” And listen, if I had to do it over again, I wish I had listened to that podcast before it went up, because I didn’t want to get suspended for three weeks. I had 55 people working for me at Grantland. And the last thing I wanted to do was freak all of those people out, have them worried about what the future of the site was, was I coming back, was I getting fired. There were real reasons why none of that was good for me, but at the time, it was like, I was mad, I was doing a podcast, I had a lot of stuff going on behind the scenes with them, and I just decided to say “screw it,” and I went after him. I really felt like the guy was lying. I just felt like I had to say something.

Francea: He was. I totally agree. He was.