With his contract with the Disney-owned sports giant now officially expired, Simmons returned from exile all guns blazing with the debut of a new podcast in which he accused the network of being “in the bag” for the NFL.
“I’m a little biased here since my experiences at ESPN the last two years,” Simmons said in the second of two episodes released Thursday. “But the way everyone else was covering Goodell’s role in this story versus the way ESPN covered it, it was embarrassing, and I couldn’t believe no one called out ESPN about it.
“You have Dan Wetzel at Yahoo, you had Sally Jenkins at the Washington Post, you had all the people in Boston, you had different radio personalities, and people really going after how the NFL was handling this, how Goodell was handling this, all this stuff.
“Especially in the weeks after the broken cell phone thing, when it came out that they had obviously leaked stuff and something really legitimately shady was going on, and yet if you went to ESPN, you didn’t see anything.
“It’s hard to come away from that and not think that ESPN is in the bag for the NFL, because they were.”
In 2011, ESPN signed an eight-year contract extension worth $15.2bn for the rights to broadcast Monday Night Football through 2021. The network’s financial stake of nearly $2bn per year in the NFL has long been perceived as at odds with its journalistic mission and ability to cover the league objectively.
In July, HBO announced it had signed Simmons, arguably America’s most influential sports personality, to a multi-platform deal that will see him present a talk show as well as produce video podcasts and features.
Simmons’s pact with ESPN didn’t formally end until September, but he’d been effectively silenced since May when failed negotiations over a contract extension culminated in a highly public split.
A part-time bartender who moonlighted as an AOL blogger known as The Boston Sports Guy, Simmons parlayed his online following into an columnist job at ESPN.com in 2001. He became America’s most widely read sportswriter during more than a decade with the company, and spearheaded a series of successful ventures, including the 30 for 30 documentary film series and the launch of the sports and pop culture boutique site Grantland.com.
As of Thursday afternoon, Simmons’ podcast ranked No1 on the iTunes charts in the United States, which is thought to be a formula of both downloads and subscriptions.
This article was written by Guardian sport, for theguardian.com on Thursday 1st October 2015 19.49 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010