Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bill Simmons Suspended: Brazen, Profanity-Laced Rant Forced ESPN's Hand

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Bill Simmons Suspended: Brazen, Profanity-Laced Rant Forced ESPN's Hand

Article excerpt

The National Football League's Ray Rice controversy has taken down yet another high-profile sports figure, but this time, from the wider circle of sports commentary.

Sports news behemoth ESPN suspended commentator Bill Simmons for three weeks on Wednesday for profanity-laced comments he made during his Monday podcast, both calling NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a liar and daring anyone to challenge his right to do so.

With commentators like Mr. Simmons flitting among social media, television, and podcasts, the rules of what is acceptable and what isn't are becoming less clear. The line between entertainer and journalist has been badly blurred.

But the nature of Mr. Simmons' rant essentially forced ESPN to take action, experts say. Not only could there have been legal implications, but ESPN would also have looked like a house in disorder if it had allowed Simmons to make an explosive and unsubstantiated claim so brazenly, they say.

The suspension is a reminder that, even in an emerging and unsettled new media landscape, there are lines, and they occasionally have to be drawn.

"It has become more difficult for journalists to understand when it is OK to be a fan and when one has to be a journalist," says Eric Zillmer, a sports psychologist and the athletic director at Drexel University in Philadelphia, via e-mail. But "ESPN wanted to separate themselves clearly from the meaningless chatter that is associated with sports talk radio."

Reaction to the video of former NFL player Ray Rice punching his fiancee in a casino elevator has been strong and mixed. Various news reports have provided evidence to suggest that Mr. Goodell either could have or should have seen the casino video.

But "a smoking gun is required to unequivocally corroborate Simmons' words," says Patrick Rishe, an expert on sports economics and a visiting professor at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, in an e-mail.

Simmons had no such evidence.

"When you start calling someone a liar without hard evidence to support the claim, this can lead to legal repercussions," Professor Rishe says. …

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