A few weeks ago, I was outside mowing the lawn and listening to the “summer movie preview” episode of Bill Simmons’ podcast, The B.S. Report. There was nothing out of the ordinary about that. I listen to podcasts all the time, especially since I got a smart phone in November, and it’s become so much easier to steam them away from my laptop, and I no longer have to go through the hassle of downloading them onto an mp3 player and hoping if I ever have to pause it, that it will remember where it left off, and won’t start at the beginning of the episode again. What was out of the ordinary about that day, and that podcast was that when the episode ended, I checked my phone, and I had a notification from the Yahoo Sports app that Bill Simmons was parting ways with ESPN.
I can’t say I was shocked. Simmons had been suspended by ESPN last fall for criticizing Roger Goodell. Simmons was a bit of a loose cannon in a company often compared to The Borg in sports media commentary. He had a great run at ESPN, and in a lot of ways was the best thing ESPN had going, but it was bound to not end well.
Not only was I regularly listening to both of his podcasts, The B.S. Report and his NBA-only podcast Bill Don’t Lie, but I have been reading his columns on ESPN.com and, since he launched the site in 2011, Grantland.com, semi-religiously (I worked at a summer camp from 2006 to 2012, and we didn’t have Internet for most of those years, so I took the summer months off) ever since I started college in 2008. I found him easy to identify with early on because he was a Boston fan, but he changed the way I see sports, and got me to think more critically about the culture of sports, beyond laundry, beyond the green team being good and the yellow and purple team being evil. The more I learned from him, the more I liked him. He was the first person to really make it as a writer on the Internet. He started out as a freelance writer for the Boston Herald and Boston Phoenix, and writing sports articles for AOL that you needed and AOL email account to access, and by 2015 is one of the most important people on the Internet. He changed sports media with his laptop.
With the launch of Grantland in 2011, Simmons had his own little corner of the Internet, funded by ESPN, to make his own. He brought in writers that you would not expect to be employed by a company like ESPN, and let them be themselves. It was a sports website as well as a popular culture website, and it was (and still is) full of thoughtful, well written articles in an era of web surfing dominated by click bait. It’s one thing to write a “12 reasons why President Obama is …” type of headline and article, that may have a couple of memorable lines, but not much of substance. It is another thing entirely to send one of your staff writers, like Rembert Browne, who once aspired to work in politics and to work for President Obama, on Air Force One to talk to the President on his way to his address in Selma a few months ago. The latter is more valuable content, in my opinion, even if it does not generate the kind of buzz and traffic the former does. That’s the line we have to walk when writing for the Internet. We want things to be good, but we also want people to see it. It’s tempting to try and make click bait, but what Simmons was doing at Grantland was really something special.
His contract doesn’t end until September, but he will not be contributing to ESPN anymore. It’s a shame because I was really looking forward to his column about David Letterman’s last episode, and his takes on this year’s NBA and Stanley Cup Finals. I was looking forward to another podcast with his dad as a guest, where they’d complain about how bad the Red Sox are, how badly Roger Goodell handled Deflategate, their thoughts about Peter Chiarelli being fired by the Bruins and being replaced by Don Sweeney, and the players they’d like to see the Celtics acquire this summer, either through the draft or some combination of trades and free agency.You know, things I should be writing about if the Boston teams weren’t all putting me in such a bad mood at once.
I would have written about this sooner, but my weekends have been busy. I went to my best friend’s wedding last weekend, and my best friend’s bachelor party the weekend before that. I like to half-jokingly refer to this blog as a “bad Bill Simmons impression” to my friends, and like Bill, I’m bad about deadlines, and not writing nearly as many columns per week as I should or would like to. Unlike a Bill Simmons column, this will not be particularly long. It might not even break a thousand words. There’s some reference to some movie from the 80s that Bill would love to use as a comparison to this situation, but I wouldn’t know because I get most of my references to 80s movies from his columns. That’s why he’s the best. I’m an aspiring writer, and I find myself at a loss for words because a writer I read is away for a few months. Come back soon, Bill! Wherever you go, I’ll read you!