Simmons furor reveals people still care about NFL

There’s a big difference between a journalist saying someone is a liar and someone may be a liar.

So a CBS analyst claimed today in expressing support for ESPN’s suspension of Bill Simmons, who has a large online following that’s now demanding for his reinstatement.

The suspension proves that the NFL is more than willing to throw its weight around and the TV partners will sacrifice its journalistic ethics to bow to its sports overlord. So says just about everyone else.

Simmons went on a podcast Monday, dropped his F bombs, and declared NFL commissioner Roger Goodell a “liar” for claiming he hadn’t earlier seen the video of former Baltimore Raven star Ray Rice clocking his fiancee in a casino elevator.

“I’m just saying it. He is lying,” he said on the B.S. Report. “I think that dude is lying. If you put him up on a lie detector test that guy would fail. For all these people to pretend they didn’t know is such f-ing bull****. It really is. It’s such (expletive) bull****. And for him to go in that press conference and pretend otherwise, I was so insulted. I really was.”

Says Todd VanDerWerff on Vox:

While it seems unlikely Goodell asked ESPN to suspend one of its employees for calling him a liar, the situation speaks to how much power the NFL has in the modern media environment. With football increasingly seeming like the only consistent ratings draw in a splintered TV landscape — and the NFL attracting more and more suitors every time rights to games become available — the league can essentially ask for whatever concessions it likes in broadcast coverage.

That has yet to extend to networks’ news coverage, but the treatment of Simmons, an opinion columnist, rather than a supposedly “objective” reporter, suggests just how jumpy the situation might be behind the scenes.

And ESPN has had run-ins with the NFL before, most notably when it canceled the scripted drama Playmakers, which the league thought depicted professional football players in a harsh light. Simmons has also had his run-ins with ESPN management and been suspended from Twitter before. Still, Simmons’s evident certainty that he would be punished for speaking out becomes all the more intriguing when read in these lights.

The lingering furor over Simmons’ suspension confirms one other suspicion: Many people who said they were done paying attention to the NFL and the game of football are still paying attention to the NFL and the game of football.