So why is Bill Simmons being suspended by ESPN? (And, as a sidenote to ESPN, pulling a podcast from your website doesn't kill it from the internets.) Did he say something racist, explicit, or indecent? (OK, well he did use some grown-up language, but that was censored and is certainly not a first!) Is he the first journalist to claim this? NO. Here is Bill Plaschke of the LA Times, who incidentally is a regular on the ESPN fake gameshow "Around the Horn:"
It now appears that beyond being clueless, he may also have been lying. There now exists evidence his office actually received the tape five months ago. Goodell now looks like the sort of sleazy player he has long taken great pride in suspending, with a darkly ironic twist. The reckless bum who should be kicked out of the league for disgracing The Shield is him.
That is far more damning than Simmons. Or how about Christopher Gasper of the Boston Globe:
The NFL bet that what happened between former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and his then-fiancée/now wife Janay Palmer in the elevator of an Atlantic City casino would never see the light of day. ... There is a willful suspension of disbelief that goes along with the business of the NFL, where the players are indistinguishable from the product. The players, portrayed, packaged and sold as superheroes are in reality flawed human beings, some with deeper flaws than others. The coaches, the general managers, the owners, the commissioner don’t really want to know what malice their players are capable of off the field, as long as they’re producing for them on it.Or Patrick Rishe of Forbes:
The assertion by all parties (the league, the Ravens, Goodell and the NFL) is that they had not previously seen the first portion of the video which actually shows Rice striking his then-fiancé with a left hand to the head, causing her to hit her head on a railing within the elevator which rendered her unconscious before ultimately being dragged out of the elevator.
Unfortunately, it is very hard for me to believe that an organization with as much investigative juice/pull/power as the NFL was not able to get their hands on the entirety of the security video inside that elevator PRIOR to today...
A little subtler, but the gist is: Roger Goodell lied and only pretended not to know the truth.
So why is it such a big deal that Simmons said similar things? It's not like the notion that Goodell is lying is a wild, fringe accusation with no basis in fact. ESPN is very unlikely to be sued for libel given the fact that the Associated Press has reported that law enforcement and the DA office made the tape available to the NFL in April.
I fully agree that ESPN has the right to enforce restraint by its "journalists" by whatever means it thinks will most benefit its share holders. I also fully support any news organization willing to discipline its reporters when they fail to live up to journalistic standards for truthfulness, and am correspondingly suspicious of organizations that do not (I searched for an alternate story with the audio of Simmons' rant even though Huffpo was the first link containing the audio). In the end, I hope there will be more backlash against ESPN than Bill Simmons. While news organizations have an obligation to their audience to report truth, they have a reciprocal obligation to their reporters and columnists to give them full liberty in the manner in which they report those facts as well as in the opinions they express.