I was fully prepared to get all over ESPN for suspending Bill Simmons three weeks for calling National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell a liar on his podcast.
Then I heard through an ESPN source that Simmons was actually suspended for daring ESPN to suspend him, which he did with as much vigor as he displayed in calling out Goodell.
Unfortunately, ESPN did not say that when it announced the original suspension. It instead called into question Simmons for going outside the boundaries of its journalistic standards, which sounds like they were criticizing him for criticizing Goodell, who has not yet been proven to have lied.
In this case, telling the truth would have had a lesser effect in terms of reaction than fabricating a reason, which apparently is what ESPN did with its initial statement. ESPN allowed its journalistic standards to be challenged because it did not want us to know it was mad at Simmons for calling out its journalistic standards.
To recap, Bill Simmons is an ESPN writer, blogger and contributor who is funnier in print than he is on the air. On his podcast earlier this week he accused Goodell of lying when he said he had no knowledge of the videotape showing Baltimore Ravens player Ray Rice slugging his then-fiancé and current wife inside an Atlantic City elevator.
Simmons was suspended on Wednesday for three weeks, which became controversial for its length because it was less time than Ray Rice got from the NFL for the initial allegation of abuse against his fiancé (Rice was suspended for two games, a punishment that has now been extended to an indefinite suspension). Simmons’ suspension was also two weeks longer than the one-week suspension given to commentator Stephen A. Smith who said that women have to be held accountable for the role they play in domestic abuse, leading some people to suggest he suggested that sometimes women deserve what they get.
So what this means is that ESPN considers it three times worse to criticize it than it is to say women deserve to be beaten.
ESPN has not suspended any of its commentators for criticizing the NFL. The network is a partner of sorts with the NFL because of its broadcast packages, which include the most popular regular season product of all, the Monday Night Football telecast. The initial reason given for suspending Simmons called into question ESPN’s journalistic position in regards to the NFL; now it can say that it has covered the story as well as any other news organization and without reservation.
But you still have to wonder if the zeal with which any news organization with a sports arm is going to persist in hunt for information as it relates to Goodell because every news organization with a sports arm has its hands in the lucrative NFL pie.
There is an “independent’’ investigation going on with the offices of the NFL, but the investigator was hired by the NFL. The investigation began a week or more after the second videotape was uncovered and questions about what Goodell knew were first brought forth. Don’t you think the NFL had time to cover its tracks before the investigator knocked down the door?
I believe there is very little chance the investigator is going to come back with any kind of indictment against Goodell. There is no way there is any evidence left to be found that shows Goodell saw or knew of the second tape, and no one who works for the NFL is going to come forth and say he or she was in the room when Goodell watched that video.
Which doesn’t mean Goodell didn’t see it.
Do you know why defendants in court cases are found “not guilty’’ rather than “innocent”? It’s because the court cases cannot prove innocence; all they can do is prove that there is reason to doubt the defendant is guilty.
Just because no one will be able to prove Goodell saw that tape doesn’t mean he didn’t see it.
When the investigation report comes back and Goodell is not accused of lying, what then? Will the world just accept that proclamation? Is there anyone who is going to dig deeper?
If you want to find out what is really going on with the NFL investigation, where should you turn? ESPN is compromised by its telecast agreement with the league, as is FOX, and ABC, and CBS, and NBC.
You have to wonder who is left to tell us the real story about the behind-the-scenes events at the NFL. And who is going to tell us the next time the NFL messes up?
Maybe we can turn to the BBC. Or Al Jazeera.