Mediaite: You have received a lot of great reviews, but maybe none as heartfelt as that from Deadspin founder/editor/emeritus Will Leitch. What was your reaction to his post? Do you agree that now that you are “establishment,” a target is on your back?
Simmons: Will’s post was very fair and I appreciated it. More importantly, it was well-written. But I try not to get caught up in that stuff — people are going to write nice things and they’re going to write not-so-nice things. It’s part of the game.
I only get ticked off if someone either made something up about me, or if they breached a code of honor in some way (like the a-hole blogger who once printed an off-the-record e-mail of mine). Other than that, I’m a public figure and people can say what they want.
As for the “establishment” thing, let’s be honest — I became “establishment” the moment I joined ESPN in 2001. You can’t work for ESPN and NOT be part of the establishment. For most people, we are the Starbucks of sports. When I started writing for them, it was like a switch went off — suddenly I was getting these “you sold out” emails and I’m like, “I sold out? Where’s the money? Why am I still living in a third floor apartment above some scummy couple that gets stoned every night and floods our living room with second-hand pot smoke?
Actually, why am I complaining? That was fantastic. I miss them.
But I always approached it like a challenge. It’s easy to develop a niche audience without any rules in place. Anyone can do that. It’s infinitely harder to succeed on a mainstream level.
“You can’t work for ESPN and NOT be part of the establishment. For most people, we are the Starbucks of sports.”
When I started writing for ESPN.com, nobody to that point had succeeded as a national columnist except for Rick Reilly, and he was only producing 800 words once a week. For me, succeeding as a national voice was the ultimate challenge as a sports columnist. I put a ton of thought into exactly how to pull it off — how to be “establishment” but also keep an edge, remain original and stand out from what everyone else was doing at the time.
So when I started getting those, “You sold out” emails, eventually, I realized that I was part of the establishment for better and worse. And any fallout came with the territory.
Mediaite: In doing a vast amount of research for this interview (thanks Wikipedia) I learned that you share a birthday with both Catherine Zeta-Jones AND Michael Douglas. Does that freak you out a little?
Simmons: I have an awesome celebrity birthday. Zeta-Jones and Douglas. Scottie Pippen and Phil Rizzuto. William Faulkner. Will Smith. Christopher Reeve. Heather Locklear. Mark Hamill. Cheryl Tiegs. Shel Silverstein. Barbara Walters. We have everything covered on my birthday. I’d put my birthday against anyone’s.
Also, I have not checked my Wikipedia in three solid years. The last time I went there, it had so many inaccuracies that I didn’t even know how to react. Although it did have one funny line in there that was clearly written by someone who knew he had to be objective but also hated me: “Simmons aims for humor in his columns…” I thought that was brilliant. Objective enough that they couldn’t remove it, but also, phrased in a way that made it seem like I was trying to be funny and failing constantly. I tip my hat to the anonymous loser who crafted that sentence. Thought it was well done.
Mediaite: The news of your book tour and bestselling book has moved you up to #8 in Mediaite’s columnist rankings. (Editor’s note: see the rankings here.) How far do you think you can take this run? What do you have planned to unseat Krugman from the top spot?
Simmons: I am working on a quickie third book about how my Dad pushed me into writing against my will, then I wore a weave and ended up doing crystal meth for a year before my marriage with Brooke Shields fell apart. It’s going to sell. I can feel it.
By the way, your rankings are totally confusing to me. I just picture three drunk 25 year old interns making up the order at 2:30 AM on Saturday night and saying things like, “Let’s put Meghan McCain No. 8 just to fuck with everybody.” I mean, God bless her, I think she has potential… but is this someone people are taking seriously right now in anything other than a “Hot Celebrities You’d Want To Suck Face With” Fantasy Draft? Did you factor in Google Images as part of that ranking? Come on, Mediaite! Step it up!
(Editor’s note: oh, it’s on now. Our 25-year-olds are getting top-shelf booze from now on.)
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