Bill Simmons’ shocking and sudden public dismissal from ESPN was indeed shocking, but not all that sudden, according to the most plugged-in man at Bristol.
James Andrew Miller, the co-author of the oral history of ESPN, “Those Guys Have All the Fun,” wrote the inside story about the billowing feud between the Worldwide Leader and its biggest star in a piece for Vanity Fair.
While ESPN president John Skipper told the New York Times on Friday that Simmons’ contract would not be renewed when it expires later this year, the drama had been building for quite some time between the Grantland front man and a network increasingly frustrated with his perceived entitlement. Simmons’ free-wheeling nature — a blessing and a curse, as it turned out — catapulted him from everyman Boston blogger to perhaps the most read sports columnist of all time, but also ended up costing him allies in Bristol and a job that pays around $5 million per year.
The first step in the Sports Guy’s fall was losing a supporter in Skipper. The man who worked with Simmons to strike a deal in 2010 was soon named network president and had bigger issues to worry about. Without Skipper at the ready, Simmons’ ESPN enemies seemed to multiply, believing the co-creator of the “30 for 30″ documentary series “operated as if certain rules simply did not apply to him,” Miller writes.
Then came the much-talked-about suspension. Concerning the Ray Rice tape, Simmons called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a “liar” on his wildly popular “B.S. Report” podcast, which resulted in two weeks banishment without pay. The money wasn’t initially withheld, however, leading Simmons to believe ESPN was giving a peace offering — until a Dec. 19 paycheck lacked two weeks’ pay, which set Simmons off.
A tired network and angry Simmons then had to deal with contract negotiations, which weren’t quite negotiated. Simmons refused to offer any specific monetary number to prevent ESPN from saying it couldn’t meet his demands, according to Miller, while ESPN largely remained silent until Friday.
“I decided today that we are not going to renew Bill Simmons’ contract,” Skipper said.
So what happens now? ESPN still owns “30 for 30,” Grantland and, oddly, the B.S. Report. In a bizarre detail, Miller noted a network executive was heard pondering who would replace Simmons on his titular podcast. (Is Simmons the latest candidate for the Ewing Theory?)
Simmons likely will end up somewhere he can speak his mind. He had grown tired of the eternally corporate network censoring him, and a final straw was his appearing on “The Dan Patrick” show Thursday, vexing ESPN both by going on a show outside the ESPN umbrella and slamming Goodell for his handling of Deflategate.
If Simmons wants to test anyone’s “testicular fortitude,” he’ll be doing it for another outlet.