I spent half my day trying to wrap my head around why the Bill Simmons situation bugged me as much as it did. Of course A and Adrastos hit on a ton of points I planned to make, so it was time to cut what I had and start over again.
Simmons started his career as an anti-establishment guy and later became part of the establishment. He ripped the shit out of incompetent GMs and coaches as well as lazy and petulant athletes from the safety of a website that about six people read. Eventually, he gained enough views to become the “it guy” of the moment: The fan with intelligence and insight enough to make good points while pairing those thoughts with the “just folks bar-guy” feel that appealed to “regular folks.”
He parlayed that break into a job at ESPN. Then, he parlayed THAT into a series of incredible projects at ESPN, including one of my favorite things ever: The 30-for-30 series. Although I’m not going to go as far as Robert Lipsyte did in calling him “ESPN’s Franchise Player,” I will say he’s a reason a lot of people go to the site and the source of great out-of-the-box ideas that keep ESPN relevant to casual fans and full-fledged fanatics alike.
That said, it’s not about him, something Simmons has never really full grasped.
That same thought hit me when I saw the Charlo Greene video earlier this week. If you missed it, Greene was essentially living a double life: A reporter for KTVA and the owner of the Alaska Cannabis Club. While reporting on the issue of marijuana legalization, Greene took the opportunity live TV and a captive audience allowed her to come out as an activist. Then, she did the ultimate mic drop with the line of “Fuck it. I quit” before walking off the set, leaving behind a vexed anchor and befuddled broadcast crew.
After I got past the “holy shit” reaction, all I could think was “What an asshole…”
Do I think Roger Goodell is lying like hell about the Rice situation? Hell yes. Do I think people need to keep on top of this? Hell even more yes.
Do I think Charlo Greene has the right to her beliefs on cannabis and the legalization moment? You bet. Do I think she has a constitutionally protected right to get the message out on that issue? You bet your life.
However, how these people approached their topic and the way their selfishness led to more harm than good bugs me. It bugs me even more because they don’t understand that journalism ISN’T ABOUT YOU. It’s about the work. It’s about the information. It’s about the impact on the audience.
I know one of Greene’s former professors and he’s said more than once that she was “headstrong” along with other things that seemed to belie a sense that what she wanted was most important. Colleagues noted that she often pushed marijuana legalization stories when they weren’t there or bent stories to be more in favor of legalization. As much as I hate it when Fox News assholes say it, it was clear she had an agenda.
Simmons has always been about his own brand and what he could present that reflected positively on it. If it was interesting to Simmons, he figured it was interesting to everyone else. He also had no compunction about setting up his own version of “The Jordan Rules” for himself at ESPN. He viewed it as keeping his street cred, while others saw it as a petulant star pushing for what he wanted, fuck everyone else.
Even in a completely free press state (forget for a moment about KTVA and ESPN being private companies for a minute), we have time, place and manner restrictions. The manner in which both of these people did what they did was inexcusable, and not just because of the language. They left behind a wake of colleagues who had to scramble to figure out what the hell just happened and what the hell was going to happen next. Of all the people I feel bad for, the one I most pity is the anchor on KTVA who looked like someone had just walked onto the set and shit on her desk. How the hell do you recover from Greene’s blaze-of-glory exit?
Context counts for Simmons as well and not just because of Goodell’s position or the way-too-chummy connection ESPN has to the NFL. Simmons isn’t the punk on a barstool anymore. He made a choice to associate with a company that while looser than MSNBC or CNN, lacks the total free reign insanity associated with being an independent blogger. I can’t think of any company out there where you could get away with calling someone a fucking liar and calling him fucking bullshit and then challenging your boss to do something about you. Even if you can do more things at Company A as opposed to Company B, there are rules. When Johnny Damon went from the Red Sox to the Yankees, he got the memo early: That long hair and beard shit was fine in Beantown, but here we shave and look professional. You don’t like it? Don’t sign the contract.
Also think of the context of distribution: I can call my best friend a cocksucker while we’re drinking at a bar and probably get away with it. If called my boss a cocksucker on this blog post and then wrote, “I bet you won’t fucking fire me you fucking pussy,” I’m getting fucking fired. It’s one thing to be over the top in front of a couple people when your hammered. It’s another to broadcast to the world, “You can’t fucking stop me. You can’t even hope to fucking CONTAIN ME!”
In the wake of these things, Greene and Simmons are getting a ton of press. The “free Simmons” movement has been dimming the sun with all the power Twitter is pulling to keep up with it. Greene has been on YouTube more often than clips of John Oliver, doing everything from explaining why she quit to sparking up in front of a reporter to showcase her commitment to the cause.
What’s sad is that the underlying issues that are front and center now are getting lost in the long shadow cast by people like these who believe themselves to be bigger than big.
For them, it’s still all about them.
And for that, we all lose.