On Bill Simmons’ Departure From ESPN

| May 18th, 2015


I’ve never cared for the writing of Bill Simmons. It’s just not my thing. It’s doesn’t stop me from acknowledging Simmons as the most important sports media voice since the turn of the century.

Why don’t I care for Simmons? Content and approach.

Pop culture references in sports writing, movies, music…etc always bother me because they limit the lasting power of the piece. Nobody on earth will get the references in The 40 Year-Old Virgin – an otherwise funny movie – twenty years from now. (They actually make jokes in that film about Maid in Manhattan, a movie people had forgotten before it was released.) Simmons not only utilizes pop-culture references but often uses reality TV and his favorite movies as the complete framework for his columns.

Simmons likes a lot of stuff I don’t care for. He likes reality TV and fantasy football and wrestling. He’s spawned a generation of barroom boneheads saying things like “Andre Iguodala is like the girlfriend who blah blah blah nonsense.” He’s glib and unserious and that works for this generation of young males (especially his most dedicated readers) who have a detachment from the sports they watch.

Note on the above point: go to a sports bar on Sunday afternoon near a university and watch how many young guys are running from television to television watching their fantasy teams, not their teams. Most don’t have a team.

But if you look around the world of sports blogging you will find more writers mimicking Simmons than folks like Dan Wetzel or Wright Thompson – two of the heavyweights working in what Mike Francesa refers to as the “toy department”. This is because Simmons and the internet were the perfect match of form and function.

The internet is now. It is immediate. What happened on television last night is relevant today because it’s going to be forgotten by tomorrow. Does anybody remember a great Simmons sentence? Probably not. Because for Simmons the set-up is the thing. The device is the point. It’s about that NBA trade calculator thing he does or The Ewing Theory or endless references to Shawshank.

The Simmons mailbag columns were always the most absurd of his work. Simmons would receive a zillion emails from individuals writing like him and then would reward those who wrote most like him but printing their question and then doubling up on his Simmonsness in the response. I’ve heard of putting a hat on a hat but this was putting a fedora on a beret on a derby. And to top it off there was always 10,000 words of it!

Simmons realized the appetite for his type of blogging was dwindling as the marketplace became over-crowded and brilliantly pivoted to the role of editor-in-chief of Grantland, co-creator of the 30 for 30 series and NBA television presenter. Ultimately, as happens, Simmons became a monster the network could no longer contain with his loud criticism of their most important sporting partner, the NFL. And when you are a cog in the Disney machine, there’s no room for wild cards.

Where will Simmons end up next? It doesn’t really matter. Nobody is going to go seek out his work on the Yahoo or Fox sports sites. He’ll be a guy with a zillion Twitter followers and a show on the NBA channel. Or maybe he’ll put it all on the line and try to build his own thing – the return of The Sports Guy. Either way the Simmons legacy is written as the internet’s most popular and impacting sports mind.

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