ESPN will end relationship with controversial writer, analyst Bill Simmons

BRISTOL, Conn., May 9 (UPI) — ESPN has decided to part ways with The Sports Guy.

The network announced on its website Friday that veteran contributor Bill Simmons will leave his position later this year, as ESPN chose not to renew his contract.

Simmons, a New England native, was first hired by the sports network in 2001 and has made several noteworthy contributions in his 14-year stint at Connecticut-based ESPN. He is perhaps best known for launching the website Grantland, a sports and pop culture blog operated by ESPN, in 2011.

Before joining the network, executives were impressed with Simmons’s work on his own website, BostonSportsGuy.com, and extended an offer. As he rose to prominence, he became known to many fans as The Sports Guy.

Simmons wrote regular columns for ESPN The Magazine and co-founded the network’s 30 for 30 documentary series, which was launched in 2009 and consists of numerous entries covering virtually all corners of sports — from the Boston Red Sox’s 2004 World Series title to “I Hate Christian Laettner,” a retrospective of the former Duke University basketball star.

The full reasoning for why ESPN decided against renewing Simmons’ contract has not been discussed. Negotiations for a renewal had been going on for a while, but no resolution was reached before Friday’s announcement.

“It was clear it was time to move on,” ESPN President John Skipper said in a statement. “[Our] relationship with Bill has been mutually beneficial — he has produced great content for us for many years and ESPN has provided him many new opportunities to spread his wings.

“We wish Bill continued success as he plans his next chapter.”

Simmons, 45, also worked as a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live! between 2003-04 and wrote two books that ended up on the New York Times Best-Seller list. In addition to his writings on Grantland, Simmons also supplied a network of podcasts — the BS Report, for example — and was a regular fixture on SportsCenter and ESPN’s pregame coverage of the NBA.

Part of the reason ESPN is cutting the columnist loose may involve incidents and reports about Simmons’s controversial antics on the air and on social media, as well as behind-the-camera demands, the Washington Post reported.

At times, he would occasionally bite the hand that feeds him. In March 2013, he was suspended from using his Twitter account for slamming an ESPN program that aired a debate between fellow columnist Skip Bayless and Seattle Seahawks defensive back Richard Sherman.

In November 2014, he again took to Twitter to blast ESPN Radio host Mike Golic for criticizing remarks Simmons had previously made about basketball star LeBron James. In one tweet, Simmons said Golic’s segment was “awful” and “pathetic.”

Simmons has not yet responded about his departure from the network, which is expected to take effect when his contract expires in September.

ESPN effectively launched Simmons to worldwide sports fame (he has nearly 4 million Twitter followers) — but his ability to connect with and speak for the common fan, analysts say, is what made him really valuable to the network.

“I think he nailed the fan voice online before anyone else did,” Deadspin columnist and GQ writer Drew Magary said. “His voice was so different from the [people] usually littering up the sports section — people who didn’t even seem to enjoy sports — that his voice just seemed new and fun and a lot closer to readers than anyone else at the time.”

Some believe his hefty criticism of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a “BS Report” podcast last year may have marked the beginning of his end at ESPN. Simmons repeatedly called Goodell a “liar” in September for remarks the NFL chief made about a domestic violence case involving running back Ray Rice. It earned him a three-week suspension.

The timing of ESPN’s announcement might also be related to more comments Simmons made during a radio talk show on Thursday, which again criticized Goodell — this time for his handling of the New England Patriots’ “Deflategate” scandal.

On sports personality and former ESPN anchor Dan Patrick’s radio program, Simmons reportedly said that Goodell lacked the “testicular fortitude” to punish Patriots quarterback Tom Brady “until he gauges the public reaction.”

Analysts say Simmons’s repeated criticism of Goodell raised a significant conflict of interest for ESPN, which has exclusive rights to broadcast Monday Night Football games until 2021. The deal is said to be worth as much as $15 billion.

“There really were no active negotiations going on the last couple months between Simmons’s representatives and the network,” author James Andrew Miller said in the Post report.” “It wasn’t completely over, but when Bill went on Dan Patrick and talked about the commissioner, Skipper just said, ‘No mas.’”

A business case against Simmons and his reported $5 million annual salary may have been other items that factored into Skipper’s decision.

Some experts speculate that Simmons may now end up at Fox Sports 1 — a relatively new network that is one of ESPN’s chief national rivals.

Despite Simmons’s departure, ESPN has said it remains committed to operating the Grantland website, which has not yet turned a profit so far in its four short years.

“Bill has done an excellent job for us on Grantland, and we have an outstanding staff,” Skipper said. “Bill’s contributions have been fantastic, including his own column. I hope we’ll have a friendly discussion about the transition.

“This is not personal. It’s business.”

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