In a just-released The Hollywood Reporter feature about his new working relationship with HBO, Bill Simmons describes his unceremonious exit from ESPN in May 2015 using just two words: “Fucking shitty.” Somehow, those two words are an understatement. Simmons continues to contend that he had no idea that ESPN president John Skipper was going to talk to the New York Times about how The Worldwide Leader in Sports was going to part ways with him, and as you might imagine, he’s still pretty pissed off about it.
“By the way they handled it,” he told THR, “you would think I played grab-ass with some makeup assistant or something.”
That remark is, of course, a very thinly-veiled shot at ESPN and the way they handled a controversy involving Chris Berman in November 2015. It’s also just one of many remarks Simmons made about ESPN while speaking with THR reporter Lacey Rose. In between discussing his new HBO show, Any Given Wednesday, and his new website, The Ringer, Simmons let off a steady stream of shots at ESPN. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, seeing as how Simmons has addressed his issues with ESPN on several occasions since leaving the company (see here, here, and here), but at points in the story, he really went in on his former employer. Here are just a few of his quotes from the piece:
On learning about how ESPN employees had gone to ESPN president John Skipper regarding comments he made about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in September 2014:
[Those people] were just trying to cause trouble. It was fucking high school.
On being blamed in the media for Magic Johnson’s 2013 departure from NBA Countdown and feeling like ESPN did nothing to stop it:
I was fucking furious. I was yelling at everybody. I was like, ‘What the fuck? You guys fucked this up. Why am I in this?' And I just made it worse. I should’ve just not said anything and used that to my advantage for the next thing.
On reading about how ESPN president John Skipper said he didn’t realize how close Simmons was to his Grantland employees:
Do you understand how dumb that is? I hired every single person who worked for me, it was my idea, and everything we did came out of all the relationships that I had with those people.
On watching ESPN part ways with other big personalities like Keith Olbermann and Jason Whitlock:
They’ve now gotten rid of everybody who is a little off the beaten path. Ask yourself this: ‘Who would work there that you respect right now?’
On hearing people criticize the TV work he did on ESPN’s NBA Countdown:
They’ve had Countdown for 15 years, and it’s never been good. It fails every year, and still people were like, ‘Oh, [Bill] can’t do TV.’ Well, nobody has ever been good on that show.
At one point, Simmons does admit that he definitely played a role in the way things played out between him and ESPN. “I’m not blameless,” he said. “I acted like a brat a couple times, and there are things I could have handled better.”
But as THR points out, “the wounds still can feel fresh” when Simmons discusses ESPN.
Elsewhere in the story, Simmons' agent talks about all of the companies that were interested in being "in the Bill Simmons business" after he left ESPN (Snapchat?!) and THR reveals the staggering amount of money Simmons will reportedly make working for HBO (Hint: It's significiantly more than Skip Bayless will be making with Fox Sports). You can check out the entire story here. Simmons’ show, Any Given Wednesday, debuts on June 22.
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