(Warning: This post includes gratuitous shots at CM Punk.)
Big news today is Bill Simmons leaving ESPN. Simmons started out as a simple blogger, the Boston Sports Guy, who got picked up when ESPN.com created Page 2, a sister site to branch out into other topics that the website’s fans might be into. Simmons insights into both sports and entertainment was a big hit, and opened the door to a bunch of other things for him. And we loved it. It was like one of us made it. Everyone who writes for free on the internet (like me) dreams of being able to do this for a living, quit your day job, and expand into a mass media platform to express yourself and communicate to the world. In short, we all dream to get the kind of space Simmons has to talk or blog about whatever our areas interest are. And if you’re really lucky you can find yourself covering events, meeting famous people, getting quoted or linked to by major media outlets, etc. And some of us have actually been able to break through and make something of it. To see somebody like Simmons blow up like he has is an inspiration to us all.
But Simmons lately has become a difficult person to deal with in Bristol. He’s clashed with ESPN management, gotten himself suspended for bashing other ESPN programming (namely Mike and Mike and First Take) and NFL commissioner ripping Roger Goodell, and complained about ESPN not properly monetizing his Grantland site and all its components. His contract negotiations broke down, reportedly because they didn’t want to pay him what he wanted (his projects, as good as they are, don’t bring in the money that some other things do). So now it’s over. As of September, he’s out, and will undoubtedly find another outlet to do his kind of work. So he’ll be fine as he follows in the footsteps of a few other guys (Keith Olbermann, Jason Whitlock, Dan Patrick) who found themselves too smart/good for the Worldwide Leader and moved on. And if history holds, he’ll likely be back one day just like two of those three guys are. When I watch all of this unfold, I’m reminded a lot of….CM Punk.
The similarities are uncanny. Both men worked their way through the lower levels (Simmons on his own blog, Punk through the indies), got a chance to show what they could do on slightly bigger stage (Page 2 for Simmons, Ring of Honor for Punk), made it big (the main ESPN site then Grantland, WWE). And over time both began to take themselves too seriously, saw themselves as the smartest guy in the room, and ultimately found themselves out. The only thing left is for Simmons to go somewhere else and start firing off hypocritical rants about his former employer. Both men were ultimately unprofessional as all get out, to the degree that it erodes a lot of the support they might get from some people (like me). You can’t bite the hand that feeds you so often in a display of your inherent superiority before than hand turns into a fist and goes upside your head.
There’s no need to get all bent out of shape over shows like First Take or Mike and Mike. No they’re not the serious, groundbreaking shows. First Take is ridiculous WWE-style sports debate while Mike and Mike is an unoffensive Today-show style sports morning show. But they have audiences and make money for the company so they get to stay on. Those kind of shows and the return on investment they bring make it possible for the Bill Simmons of the world to try their hands at being avant garde sports media people. Likewise, Punk’s complaints about part-timers like Brock Lesnar and Undertaker getting so much shine show a total lack of awareness of how the business works – Lesnar bring outside attention while Undertaker is an institution that people look forward to every year. Both men are a mark for their own work, to such a degree that they completely miss the way their businesses worked. And now they find themselves trying to make their way apart from the companies that made them household names. Two peas in a pod of their own making.