As you may, or may not know, last week Bill Simmons was relieved of his duties at ESPN. According to numerous sources, his appearance on the Dan Patrick Show to discuss Deflategate was the last straw for John Skipper, the ESPN chief. They had been in negotiations for a new contract, but Skipper called them off and stated they would not reach an agreement before Simmons’ current contract expires in September.
Yes, you read that right – September. Skipper effectively fired Simmons. They have reached an agreement to part ways. How and why they parted ways can be debated by many folks – Vanity Fair has written a couple of pieces about the departure (here and here), written by James Andrew Miller the author of the book ”Those Guys Have All the Fun: Inside the World of ESPN”, which I haven’t managed to finish yet. J First, I’m amazed that a periodical like Vanity Fair would care so much about Simmons, but that speaks to his reach and the affinity for ESPN material from Miller’s perspective. But don’t think it’s only Miller who is giving his two cents about Simmons, Newsweek, Sports On Earth contributor and Deadspin founder, Will Leitch (and Illinois grad) and the New York Times have published pieces about his departure. This speaks to the influence Simmons had on the sports media culture. Shoot, Rolling Stone even features Simmons in an article. That’s amazing. I’ll be completely honest in admitting to you that this blog probably wouldn't exist without Bill Simmons. He’s that influential. But many are questioning, how?
I can only speak for myself when it applies to the influence of Bill Simmons on the state of sports media. As a sports junkie, I’ve always searched for sources where I could get the information I wanted in the format I desired. More often than not, in the beginning of the Internet Age, it was few and far between. But then I stumbled onto Page 2 at ESPN.com. It was there I found Bill Simmons, and from the very first article of his I read I was hooked. I have been loyally reading his work, both online and in book from, from that very day. What was it about him that I enjoyed so much?
My initial reaction to his writing was – he’s a fan. Like many have opined since the reveal of his departure, most sportswriters up to then seemed as if they were forced to write about sports. As if they were Woodward and Bernstein wannabes who had to write about sports to get their foot in the door. Their fancy words and smarmy attitudes turned me off. This is why I followed very few writers religiously. Simmons changed that for me. He understood me. He knew how much the loss the Bears took out of me on Sunday (even though he was a Patriots fan). He got it. And he parlayed those feelings and emotions to us in his articles. At the same time, he was that guy I always wanted to be around. He gave the impression that he was always having fun. Whether it be with stories about House, Jack-O and J-bug or going to Vegas with the boys, or his gambling manifesto’s (I’m not a gamble, btw, but I enjoyed the columns nonetheless), he was having a good time. And that’s what sports are – a good time. We’re supposed to have fun and enjoy sports. Can they break our hearts? Yes. But can they bring us to the highest of highs as well? Yes, they can. Simmons effortlessly put those emotions on paper and shared them with the world. For once, someone got me.
At the same time, he was hilarious. His sense of humor came from a very similar place as mine. Simmons is only a year younger than me, so we grew up in the same popular culture. He worked those references into his writing seamlessly. Again, I completely understood and bought in. His running diaries of sporting events were genius. Before Twitter, no one expressed their opinions about the NFL Draft as it was going on before. With the diaries, we got to see how the ebb and flow of the draft affected a fan. It was brilliant. He also enjoyed professional wrestling. This is one of my guilty pleasures. I have been a professional wrestling fan since I was about 14. People scoff at it now, but to me, it’s my scripted television show. He made it cool to like WWE and WCW again. I’m thankful for that.
As I remained a fan of Simmons, he grew restless and wanted more. From that spawned the amazing 30for30 documentary series. As a person who reads only non-fiction books, this was heaven for me. Movies on sports personalities, events and situations? Sign me up! I was hooked from the first on the Gretzky trade and have watched every single one of them. I want to make a sports documentary someday - I even have a list of subjects to work from….ask me and I’ll tell you (@illini3sc). It is the single, greatest thing ESPN has ever done and his fingerprints are all over it. The came Grantland, an entire website revolving around sports and pop culture, that was built around Simmons by ESPN. It’s fantastic. To be honest, I don’t even browse to ESPN.com anymore, my only stop in Grantland. Will it continue? Yes. Will it be as good? That’s the difficult question. I sure hope so. They fantastic writers (Keri, Barnwell, Shoemaker, Browne, Lambert, McIndoe, etc…) and should be able to sustain its credibility and relevance. However, without Bill being there and looking forward to his articles, podcasts, etc…, will my page views fall? That I can’t answer for you just yet.
Like I mentioned earlier, this blog wouldn’t be around – I wouldn’t want to try and write sports (for eventually a living) – if it weren’t for Bill Simmons. At first, I tried to model my style after him. Big mistake. But one thing I learned from reading his material was that everyone has their own style. I’ve tried to hone it here. Hopefully, I am succeeding. But I know two things: I’ll keep trying because I thoroughly enjoy this and Bill Simmons will land on his feet.
Thank you Bill for the inspiration.