Why Can ESPN’s Keith Olbermann — But Not Bill Simmons — Trash Roger Goodell?


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When Bill Simmons was let go by ESPN last week after 15 years as a columnist and commentator, most analysts looked back at his podcast rant against NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and subsequent three week suspension as the beginning of the end. So in some ways it is surprising to see another outspoken ESPN personality, Keith Olbermann, going after Goodell just as hard in the wake of Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension.

Olbermann, who was given a larger role on ESPN’s SportsCenter after launching his eponymous show on ESPN2 in 2013, has spent the last couple of weeks urging the NFL to suspend Brady for his apparent involvement in the deflated football scandal and then advising Brady not to appeal that decision. Now, he has turned his attention back to Roger Goodell.

“Just when you thought nobody could act dumber in Deflategate than Tom Brady, along comes an old, familiar favorite: Roger Goodell,” Olbermann said on his show Monday afternoon. He went on to say that Goodell “out-stupided” Brady for deciding to act as both judge and witness in the pending appeal.

“Mr. Goodell, you’ve heard this phrase, ‘the appearance of a conflict of interest?'” the host asked. “That appearance looks very much like your face.” And he kept going in that vein for the next several minutes.

Olbermann noted that he would call for Goodell to resign, but he’s actually already done so, back in August as the Ray Rice domestic abuse scandal was coming to a head. A month later, Olbermann went even further, saying Goodell had “already forfeited your privilege of resigning” and must instead be fired.

Watch Olbermann’s latest Goodell takedown below, via ESPN:

How does any of this differ from what Simmons said last year? Olbermann did not use nearly as much (bleeped) profanity as Simmons, but other than that they were basically making the same point. Both men accused Goodell of “lying” and said he is not fit to run the NFL, but only Simmons received a suspension and later the termination of his contract.

In its statement on Simmons’ suspension last year, ESPN said that his words didn’t meet the network’s “journalistic standards.” Like Olbermann, he was using one of his platforms on ESPN to express his opinion. It was something he did again the day before he was fired, this time on a competing radio program hosted by Dan Patrick. This time, Simmons questioned the “testicular fortitude” of Goodell when it comes to displining Brady. So, was it just the use of a phrase like that one — or “fucking bullshit” in relation to Rice last year — that got him in trouble? Or was there something larger at play?

When you examine the difference between the ways ESPN has treated Olbermann and Simmons after expressing very similar criticisms of Goodell, the idea that the NFL, with its immense financial influence over the network, somehow pressured ESPN to let Simmons go more or less falls apart.

ESPN president John Skipper has been relatively quiet about the details of Simmons’ departure, telling The New York Times that they simply could not come to a contract agreement and stressing that it was a “business” decision and not personal. But at the same time, he confirmed that nobody even told Simmons he had been fired until the news broke publicly online. That does not sound as “cordial” as Skipper made the break out to be.

As long as both sides are refusing to talk publicly about what precipitated the split, it is impossible to know what exactly caused ESPN to abandon one of its longtime stars. But as long as Keith Olbermann continues to call Roger Goodell a “stupid” liar on a regular basis, we can be fairly sure that Simmons’ NFL criticism had little to nothing to do with him losing his job.

[Photo via screengrab]

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