1. Last June, during the protests that followed the murder of George Floyd, Ryen Russillo joined Bill Simmons on his Ringer podcast. They discussed what was going on in America at the time and the results were not good.
Russillo and Simmons were accused of being tone-deaf and many people took issue with the segment. Both men apologized for misreading the moment and doing, in Russillo’s words, “a bad job.”
Russillo was a guest on this week’s Sports Illustrated Media Podcast and opened up about that controversial podcast, his regrets over it and the fallout.
“I went through a lot of stuff last year where Bill and I talked about everything that was going on in L.A. in the aftermath of George Floyd being murdered and it ended up being a podcast where I look back and have a lot of regret because just I feel like I didn’t do a very good job even though I’ve been talking for a living for almost two decades,” Russillo told SI.
“Maybe I didn’t understand that the minefield was there for me. So ever since that time, I went, ‘You know what, I got into this to talk sports. You can still do the job by talking sports.’ That’s what I set out to do. So for me it was a hard pivot back. There are some issues that’ll come up, or a topic that’ll come up, and after everything happened with that and some of the stuff that was said about me that just wasn’t true—you know what, I think from now on I’ll stick to ranking NBA players and I’ll stick to some of this other stuff and clearly the numbers back it up. That’s what the audience is coming to me for. They’re not going, ‘Hey, I wonder what he thinks about the House of Representatives this year.’ I don’t think anybody has ever downloaded a podcast hoping that was gonna be the lead.”
More on the controversial podcast with Simmons:
“I know the segment I could’ve done with Bill with five minutes and, all right, everybody will still like me, but instead I wanted to go a little bit deeper on some of the things I thought about. And then it all just got spun into something else. And look, there’s still stuff I said that I regret and it shouldn’t have been two white guys talking about that topic for as long as we did. It was stupid. And I apologized and I felt bad about it. I really felt bad about it because you assume people know where your head is at and that your heart’s in the right place and things you care about and you can forget that’s a huge audience. I was on Bill’s pod so not everybody knows me and not everybody does know me that well, so they were like, 'Who’s this ass----?' ”
After that time, especially when I was reading the stuff I did wrong, I deserved to get my ass kicked here a little bit, but then there was stuff that wasn’t even accurate. It was a lesson of, ‘I don’t want to talk about that stuff because I’m not as educated about it.’ If I’m a Black guy, I’m probably pretty tired of hearing a couple of white guys go, ‘Hey, here’s what’s not racist this week.’ That’s not cool. So I just don’t want to do that stuff.”
More on the fallout:
“It was an awful week. And the thing that I actually was trying to do when all of a sudden I became a Trump supporter through the media, which just isn’t true—I didn’t vote for him either time. I was saying, ‘Hey, I wasn’t exactly running around in 2008 with an Obama Hope hoodie on, but even I, as someone who isn’t way left—look, I can’t stand any of the politicians. …
It’s funny because people were like, ‘You’re just another ESPN lib, but now I’ve become MAGA boy because I said, this awful week, whatever the demands are, at the very least, one of the easiest things about the job is understanding decency, understanding how to be decent in the moment. Sometimes the country just needs a f------ hug and you need to say the right thing and Trump was incapable of ever doing that. So even if you’re a Trump supporter listening to this podcast, I think you have to, if you are of moderate intelligence, go, ‘Hey, it would’ve been nicer if he could’ve just not pissed everybody off in the aftermath of another horrible thing happening.’
And even listening to this, people aren’t gonna hear me. But I was trying to shake the listener, going, ‘Hey, not even as the biggest Obama guy, either, I can understand he would be so much better right now because he would know what to say; he would act more like a leader. He would actually be, as cheesy as this sounds, a little more presidential. And maybe none of that stuff matters and changes anything in the grand scheme of things, but I was presenting that. Then I woke up on that Monday and I was like, ‘Uh, oh.’ One of the New York papers said, ‘Russillo defends vote for Trump for tax purposes after George Floyd murder,’ and I was like ‘You gotta be kidding.’
So once that happens it’s like game on because everybody can use that headline as their source and all sorts of stuff was going on and some weird stuff happened and I remember a reporter who had everything wrong and I could tell there were people trying to get me and I would call him back off the record and be like, ‘Here’s the deal. This is wrong, this is wrong and this wrong,' and we talked it out and I thought we were fine and then he took one piece of what I was talking about with looting where I said, ‘who is pro looter.’ And I go, ‘By the way, everybody on social media that if you’re from one part of the argument, trying to point out, look at this group looting, well there’s another group that looks completely different than this group that’s also doing the same s---.’
So my thing is if you’re a bull---- peddler for your own message, I have no time for you whatsoever. And I pointed that out. But then there was one part of it where it turned into I was saying something about sneakers being stolen and then that ends up in The New York Times. So I’m like, 'What are you doing?’ This isn’t even accurate.
So you sit at home and you think your heart is in the right place and now you’re like, ‘Ugh, this sucks.’ It’s not fun. But then again, there were much worse things happening to them than happening to me, so you gotta move and say, ‘Well, f--- it. I’m not gonna fight with everybody all day.’ ”
You can listen to the full SI Media Podcast with Russillo below. Other topics discussed include the differences in working for ESPN and The Ringer, the one sports commissioner who would complain to ESPN if he got criticized, why he still thinks Pam Beesly is ‘evil,’ whether he ever gets tired of talking and podcasting, the Aaron Rodgers saga, whether he’d be fine with the Nets winning the NBA title and much more.
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Be sure to catch up on past editions of Traina Thoughts and check out the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast hosted by Jimmy Traina on Apple, Spotify or Stitcher. You can also follow Jimmy on Twitter and Instagram.