The comments that got Bill Simmons suspended:
While it seems unlikely Goodell asked ESPN to suspend one of its employees for calling him a liar, the situation speaks to how much power the NFL has in the modern media environment. With football increasingly seeming like the only consistent ratings draw in a splintered TV landscape — and the NFL attracting more and more suitors every time rights to games become available — the league can essentially ask for whatever concessions it likes in broadcast coverage.
Vinik assesses Simmons’ claim:
Is [Goodell] a liar? That’s still unclear, but there is strong evidence that might be the case. Goodell has adamantly denied that the NFL knew the contents of the tape before TMZ released it on September 8. But last week, Don Van Natta and Keith Van Valkenburg reported for ESPN that “Rice told Goodell that he hit her and knocked her out, according to four sources.” It’s of course possible that those four sources are either lying or have the story wrong. But Simmons was just saying what the evidence seems to indicate. Is that really in violation of ESPN’s standards? In fact, on Tuesday, ESPN’s ombudsman praised Simmons for his comments, including it in part of the “strong coverage and commentary” from the network.
Richard Deitsch tries to understand ESPN’s rationale:
Someone familiar with ESPN’s management’s thinking said the combination of the nature of the personal attack on Goodell and the challenge to his bosses were the key elements in the decision and the length of the suspension. It should be noted that Simmons has been very critical of Goodell in the past and was not reprimanded. So have others at the network, including NFL analyst Tedy Bruschi and Keith Olbermann.
There is also something else likely at play here. ESPN management is looking to become more decisive with suspensions when its employees go off the rails.
But Linda Holmes suspects the suspension has done more harm than good for ESPN and Goodell:
In all honesty, had he not been suspended, these comments from Simmons, who has all kinds of opinions about all kinds of things, might have passed largely unnoticed. It’s entirely possible that by suspending him for three weeks, ESPN guaranteed that the comments would reach many, many more people than they ordinarily would have.
Margaret Hartmann has more:
ESPN has a $15.2 billion deal with the NFL to air Monday Night Football through 2021, and it’s believed that the network cut its ties to the Frontline documentary League of Denial last year due to pressure from the NFL. A few people agree that there should be consequences for publicly taunting your employer, but … the Twitter reaction has been overwhelmingly negative. If ESPN cares about the backlash they can always follow the NFL’s example and reconsider Simmons’ punishment. On the other hand, $15.2 billion is a lot of money.
A couple weeks ago, Stefan Fatsis spelled out how the NFL manipulates the media:
The league’s financial muscle allows it to create its own quasi-journalistic outlets and to exert soft power over the media partners that pay it billions of dollars annually to televise its games. Last week, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft went on a CBS morning news show to promote the network’s new Thursday night football broadcasts. After a few questions about Ray Rice, in which Kraft criticized Rice and defended Goodell, the hosts moved on. “We’re so proud to be partnered with CBS,” Kraft declared as a countdown clock to Thursday’s game flashed onscreen. The chyron labeled him “Master Kraftsman.”
On CBS’s pregame show that night, anchor James Brown delivered what Slate’s Allison Benedikt called “a powerful speech about male responsibility, not just for domestic violence, but also for our collective devaluation of women.” It absolutely was. But it also was devoid of criticism of Goodell or the NFL. That wasn’t surprising. John Ourand of Sports Business Journal reported that CBS Sports chairman Sean McManus said he instructed on-air talent to refrain from criticizing “individuals involved in the story, whether it be team ownership, whether it be NFL management.” According to Ourand, McManus said the talent was encouraged to “express opinions about the situation, to express opinions about domestic abuse, to express opinions on how the NFL has handled this.”