Citing a breach of its journalistic standards, ESPN on Wednesday suspended columnist and commentator Bill Simmons for three weeks following a profanity-laden podcast in which he called NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a liar.
The decision provoked widespread criticism on social media Wednesday evening, with the hashtag #FreeSimmons quickly becoming the top trending subject on Twitter.
As many media observers noted, Simmons' suspension is three times as long as the one meted out to ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith for implying that women like Janay Rice sometimes provoke domestic violence. It's also a week longer than the original punishment given to Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice for assaulting then-fiancee in a casino elevator.
A sampling of the social media outrage:
"What exact 'journalistic standard' did Bill Simmons - a personally branded columnist and analyst - violate? Speaking ill of the NFL?" -- Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery
"So let's see. Ray Lewis, Stephen A. Smith, Skip Bayless, and Chris Broussard are all things ESPN is fine with. Bill Simmons, not so much." -- Former NFL punter Chris Kluwe
"ESPN suspends Bill Simmons for calling Roger Goodell a liar, days after ESPN reported Roger Goodell is a liar." -- ThinkProgress editor Judd Legum
"All you need to know about ESPN: Stephen A Smith says women need to stop provoking men = 1 week. Simmons says Goodell is lying = 3 weeks." -- Fox Sports writer Jimmy Traina
Simmons, who is editor in chief of Grantland, a sports and pop culture blog affiliated with ESPN, and also provides on-air commentary for the network, is known for his outspokenness and for taking opinions that put him at odds with his employers at the sports news and broadcasting giant. Last year he was suspended from Twitter for criticizing a segment on the ESPN program "First Take."
In a Tuesday podcast, Simmons repeatedly called Goodell a liar and challenged ESPN, which has in the past been accused of shying away from sensitive investigations in order to preserve its business relationship with the NFL, to punish him.
“I really hope somebody calls me or emails me and says I’m in trouble for anything I say about Roger Goodell," he said. "Please, call me and say I’m in trouble. I dare you.”
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