The news came down today that Bill Simmons will soon part ways with ESPN. Though Simmons himself has not made a public statement as of this writing, this decision looks to be primarily ESPN’s move.
I can’t say that I’m particularly moved in one way or another by this particular happening. I never really bothered to read Simmons’s output, largely because I could never get over my “Who the hell is Bill Simmons?” bias. After all, Simmons rose to prominence because he was the “Boston Sports Guy”–a blogger who sucked up to all things Boston sports…which of course means he was already a worshiper of ESPN’s house teams, and a natural fit for the Connecticut Clown College’s faculty. That synergy–not his presumed talent and insight–is the reason Simmons rose to prominence; had he been the “Memphis Sports Guy” or the “Tulsa Sports Guy” or the “Salt Lake City Sports Guy,” there’s little reason to believe any of us would have ever heard of him. Had Simmons developed in any other home town, he might today be little more than a sports blogger as obscure as yours truly.
Part of my bias against Simmons came from his origin with “The Worldwide Leader…in Spurts” as a writer on their website’s Page 2 section. Back then, around the turn of the century, Simmons shared space on Page 2 with one of my idols, the late and great Hunter S. Thompson. When Thompson, wracked by pain from the physical infirmities of age and injury, finally took his own life in 2005, I couldn’t help but wonder if Thompson had thought to himself, at some point before firing the gun, “Why am I–one of the giants of journalism in the last half of the 20th century–sharing a website with Bill Simmons. Who the hell is Bill G.D. M.F. C.S. Simmons?!” (I leave it to the reader to decipher those middle names I attribute to Simmons.) I certainly wondered that, if Thompson didn’t; why was this man, whose work I so admired, sharing space with some then unknown blogger–and the unknown seemed to be getting the bigger share of the marquee?
But of course, we know why Simmons got the lions share of ESPN’s marquee space: he was their invention, their pet, their creature. They made Bill Simmons–and while that patronage delivered a wealth of prominence and prestige in the sports world, it came with a cost. This move, parting ways with the one ESPN cast member–that’s the Disney way of referring to their employees, from Bob Iger down to the clerks in their mall stores–who was, more than any other, built up by them, demonstrates how ESPN has become the sports world’s version of MTV. If you ever listened to the Loveline radio program back in the day–when it was Adam Carolla partnered with Dr. Drew Pinsky, and after MTV had canceled their television show–you will remember their characterization of MTV vis-a-vis their on-air talent: “We made you, you’re nothing without us, we can replace you and make someone else.” That seems to be the reigning philosophy now at ESPN; sending Simmons out the door means, as much as anything else, that the network’s brass thinks that they can make a new Simmons as easily as they created the original–and probably for less money, too. They may even be right.
I can’t say that I never got any entertainment from Bill Simmons. When I briefly worked at the magazine Inside Tennis in 2011, I got to enjoy the private pleasure that came whenever that publication’s longtime editor and publisher, Bill Simons, was confused for Bill Simmons, including being called “Bill Simmons” by publicists during conference calls with tennis bigwigs. Simons hated being confused for Simmons–probably for the same reasons I imagine Thompson could not have been thrilled with sharing space with the upstart blogger. (Don’t worry; my onetime boss richly deserved his frustration, as anyone who worked for him–or even knows him from the tennis world–can affirm.) That touch of schadenfreude provided me with more entertainment than anything Bill Simmons ever said or wrote for ESPN.
Where Simmons goes from here is anyone’s guess. He won’t be going away; he has more than enough fans to create demand, and certainly some other media property will hire him as soon as Simmons is ready to ink his name to a contract. And as for the Connecticut Clown College, The Worldwide Leader…in Spurts? Beyond their game coverage–which is a necessity, the landscape being what it is–and PTI, I already consider the network a total loss (as my pungent nicknames should make clear). Losing Simmons will hardly make them worse, but even I can’t bring myself to claim it will make them better.
The moral of this story may simply be this: you can’t fanboy anyone or anything these days, because if you come to rely on that one person or property for your viewing pleasure, it will eventually be taken away from you. You root for the uniform, not the player–and your favorite sports channel is just a venue for watching the game, and nothing more.