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Biting the Hand That Feeds: Bill Simmons, Lionel Hollins, and the Insufferable Spurs

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#freesimmons

Joe Murphy - NBA

Yesterday over at our Spurs-centric sister site, Pounding the Rock, Michael Erler wrote about why he felt ESPN was right to suspend Bill Simmons. With all due respect to Mr. Erler, and I do mean with all due respect, the piece was an insipid, jealous hack job. (Quotes from the aforementioned article below are in BOLD)

Forgive me if I can't muster sympathy for someone suspended for speaking truth to power from the office of his Los Angeles mansion.

I don't think your sympathy is what anybody is asking for; people are pissed off at ESPN bending to the will of its NFL overlords by suspending one of its writers for calling Roger Goodell a liar and his press conference "fucking bullshit" (which it was). And Simmons' salary is most certainly not the issue at hand; one's income doesn't dictate whether they can have an opinion on Roger Goodell's fucking bullshit press conference.

The reason I endorse the sentiment is because Simmons' profane volley at Goodell wasn't a protest that stood for something, and his 'dare' against his employers wasn't a defiant act or irreverent rebellion.  It was just the latest episode of "I'm Bill Simmons and I have a big ... ego."

You didn't really get to why you endorse the sentiment, but here's what I think you were trying to say: media behemoths should suspend their employees if their egos get too big. So watch out, every single on-air personality in the world.

You don't get to talk to 'Jack-O' one minute and then be the guy WHO HAS IMPORTANT OPINIONS ABOUT SERIOUS THINGS the next.

Why the hell not? Go read that sentence again and then see how long it takes you to come up with a list of American opinion peddlers who've talked about both serious and non-serious issues. If this was 1875, you'd be writing for the San Antonio paper that backed the Confederacy and talking about why Mark Twain shouldn't talk about slavery if he's going to make fence-painting jokes.*

*I'm not comparing Bill Simmons to Mark Twain. I'm fully aware that Mark Twain and Bill Simmons are not on the same level.

Simmons has not earned the right to criticize Goodell over the airwaves.

First of all, he didn't criticize Goodell over the "airwaves" because podcasts are digital recordings that are downloaded by individuals via a system of cables and computers called "the Internet." Second, the right to criticize Goodell and his arrogant, deceitful mismanagement of the NFL is not a right that must be earned, but rather a fact that must be acknowledged by serious people who cover the sport. By the way, when did you earn the right to endorse decisions made by executives at the Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS)?

Would he have made those same comments if he was one of the lowly staff writers at Grantland, or worse, someone working freelance, just trying to make his next rent payment?

Who cares? I'm just glad someone said it as passionately and profanely as Simmons (and Drew Magary, for that matter) did. I'm sorry if his bad words hurt your delicate sensibilities, Erler, but a "lowly staff writer at Grantland" calling Goodell out on his bullshit wouldn't have had the same impact that Simmons had. And for the record, neither of us have enough standing in the blogger hierarchy to refer to anyone at Grantland as "lowly."

I don't know about everyone else, but I find it deliciously apropos that this latest pearl-clutching harangue came from someone covering the Spurs. Does this not perfectly encapsulate their fans' holier-than-thou attitude? Not that they haven't earned it, of course; I've written about my begrudging respect for their world-class organization. But let's face it: they're the Cardinals of the NBA. The idea that this dude Erler sat down and issued an edict praising the world's largest sports media company with which he has no affiliation for punishing one of their writers for speaking out about ROGER FUCKING GOODELL is utterly remarkable to me. Clearly, you all who follow the Spurs have been at the top so long that not enough oxygen is going to your brains.

All the company asks of [Simmons], presumably, for that massive salary is for him to respect a few basic rules. Don't speak ill of the network's corporate partners, don't publicly criticize other company employees or other media rivals, and don't embarrass your bosses.

False. Everybody at ESPN was taking shots at Goodell, the guy who just happens to be in charge of the network's biggest corporate partner. The reason he got suspended was because he literally challenged his bosses to do just that. It's all very stupid and petty. Will Leitch is probably right when he calls it "empty theater." This idea, however, that Simmons should "earn" his salary by not embarrassing his bosses or speaking ill of the network's corporate partners like the NFL is so ludicrous that even Rick Reilly wouldn't write it. Should Grantland's Wesley Morris censor himself if he wants to pan another terrible Marvel movie that Disney bankrolled? Should no one at ESPN criticize Chris Broussard for his homophobia or Stephen A. Smith for victim-blaming in a domestic violence case?

That's not to say that biting the hand that feeds can't have consequences. A lot of people in Memphis believed - and continue to believe - that former Grizzlies Head Coach Lionel Hollins was fired because he criticized his bosses in the wake of the Rudy Gay trade. Most famously, he said, "When you have a champagne taste, you can't be on a beer budget." I can't claim to know whether Jason Levien was so offended by that (pretty good) crack that it influenced his decision to renew Lionel's contract, but no matter how petty Levien actually is (Note: probably pretty petty), at least he had the good sense to let it go at the time. And so should have John Skipper and the rest of the higher-ups at ESPN. If they really want to do something about Simmons, they should let him walk when his contract expires and see if Jason Whitlock's Black Grantland can pull up the slack left behind by losing Grantland. That's what makes this whole controversy so idiotic, and indeed, so wrong.