Perhaps not even ESPN's most popular columnist can get away with criticizing what may be its most disliked program without repercussion. Citing an unnamed "ESPN source," Deadspin first reported on Thursday that Bill Simmons had been suspended from Twitter for three days for violating the company's social media guidelines with his criticism of a recent "First Take" segment. Without citing a source, The Hollywood Reporter claimed to have confirmed the Deadspin report. ESPN spokesman Mike Soltys told USA Today Sports that the network declined to comment.
The tweets that have apparently drawn the ire of Simmons' employers at ESPN pertained to the argument between "First Take" co-host Skip Bayless and Seattle Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman. In a particularly argumentative and uninformative segment during last Thursday's episode of ESPN's controversial debate program, the pair traded barbs, with Sherman notably telling Bayless that "I'm better at life than you." As if often the case when Bayless is involved in a shouting match with an athlete, the segment generated plenty of attention. Simmons vented on Twitter about the nature of the segment as well as those who were giving it more attention than he felt it deserved.
Those three tweets came in the early hours of March 8. Simmons would tweet seemingly at his usual pace throughout the 8th, 9th and 10th but he has almost entirely stopped tweeting since. His three subsequent tweets have all been promoting content from Grantland. According to Deadspin, Simmons will return to Twitter on Friday, March 15.
This is not the first time that popular columnist who founded Grantland and served as executive producer of the "30 For 30" film series has run afoul of ESPN's social media policies. In 2009, Simmons was suspended for two weeks from Twitter after a social media dustup with Boston sports radio station WEEI. The suspension came shortly after ESPN announced a partnership with the radio station in Simmons' stomping ground.
The critical tweets about "First Take" came just days after Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated placed Simmons atop the list of the "10 most powerful people in sports media." Aside from crediting Simmons for his unique multi-platform success, Deitsch noted that he "has the ear of ESPN president John Skipper." Simmons may have Skipper's ear but he does not, apparently, have immunity when it comes to criticizing Bayless and "First Take."
"Regardless of the specifics of the suspension, it's a huge story for ESPN to discipline Bill Simmons, who has been named the most powerful man in sports media by Sports Illustrated," wrote Reva Friedel at Awful Announcing. "You can argue this is a clear choice by ESPN in taking Skip Bayless' side over Bill Simmons. It also says a lot about Bristol that they were willing to discipline their biggest name for daring to speak out against the atrocity that is First Take."
James Andrew Miller, co-author of Those Guys Have All The Fun: Inside The World Of ESPN, tweeted his take on the reported suspension, asserting that the move was based on guidelines rather than any preference for Bayless over Simmons.
While Miller's knowledge of ESPN may be especially deep, he was hardly the only one weighing in on the reported Twitter ban.