Bill Simmons Doesn’t Embrace Debate Enough

The most powerful person in sports media, according to Sports Illustrated, was put into Twitter jail by his employer. Deadspin’s John Koblin reported that after ESPN’s Bill Simmons took issue with a segment on the Mothership’s oft-derided “debate” show First Take, he was silenced for three days – prohibited from using Twitter as punishment for speaking out against the company. Seattle Seahawks cornerback and smack-talk maven Richard Sherman “debated” with sports media shouter Skip Bayless in an exchange that Simmons called “awful and embarrassing to everyone involved.” This criticism of ESPN and a product of the network caused Simmons’ suspension. The writer, podcast host and newly minted television star with two million twitter followers may be “the most powerful man in sports media” but no one is more powerful than those who sign Simmons’ checks.

Here are Simmons’ tweets that caused the silencing:

This twitter suspension decision by ESPN raises this question: Was Simmons wrong to publicly criticize his own network? Simmons could have voiced his opinion internally or made suggestions to management that could help First Take increase its standing in the eyes of book readers and “fancy talkers.” This decision to suspend Simmons does not imply that the Worldwide Leader is taking the side of Skip Bayless and First Take, though. ESPN will justify it as following the company’s guidelines.

ESPN’s Social Media Guidelines explicitly state for their employees to “exercise discretion, thoughtfulness and respect for colleagues, business associates and fans.” Basically, “toe the company line” or “Thou shalt not tweet bad things about fellow ESPN-ers.” If Simmons had said this on-air – whether on his highly-downloaded podcast or on the “NBA on ESPN” pregame or halftime show panel – the sanctions against him may have been different.

While Simmons was banned from Twitter, he has been using other forms of social media. Deadspin reported:

Though Simmons has stayed off Twitter, he has certainly been keeping up with Facebook, posting about Wes Welker, a story he wrote, a blog post written about him, and a video of his dog.

This is the second time that Simmons has been suspended from Twitter by ESPN. In 2009, Simmons was suspended for two weeks after calling an ESPN affiliated radio station in Boston “deceitful scumbags.” Simmons should resume tweeting tomorrow but I wouldn’t expect any clarification – or an apology – when he returns. It is unfortunate that ESPN put Simmons on a forced Twitter hiatus instead of paying attention to the critical honestly of their most “powerful” staff-member.

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