There will be no farewell columns, podcasts or television appearances for Bill Simmons on ESPN.
SI has learned that ESPN and Simmons have worked out an agreement that officially ends his tenure as a front-facing employee for ESPN. Simmons sent an email to Grantland staffers this week informing them that he would no longer be working for the site he founded in 2011. Simmons will also no longer do podcasts or appear on television for ESPN.
An ESPN spokesperson declined comment Friday afternoon when contacted by SI. The Simmons camp has declined all interview requests since last week, including one from SI on Friday.
How did we get here? Last Friday, ESPN president John Skipper told the New York Times that ESPN would not re-sign Simmons, the editor-in-chief of Grantland and an executive producer of the 30 for 30 franchise, when his contract expires in September. The news trended to the top of Twitter and drew interest from publications beyond the American shores.
Four days later, following ESPN’s annual presentation to the advertising community Skipper was asked if and when Simmons would appear again on ESPN’s platforms. “We’re going to work through where we are, and I don’t have any comment on what we might do,” Skipper said. “It’s going to be better for us to talk to each other and not go to the press. Anything we are talking about is personal and confidential, and I expect you’ll hear from Bill and I in the not so distant future about what we are up to. Right now all is cordial.”
On the future of Grantland, Skipper said ESPN is committed to the site in the post-Simmons era and does not expect a mass exodus. “We are going to continue to do it, and we are going to continue to do it at the same level both financially and staff-wise,” Skipper said. “Bill did a great job building that site, and I think he and I will be on the same page in suggesting we want to build on that legacy.” Asked specifically by SI.com if he had a long-term commitment to Grantland, Skipper said yes.
There have been a lot of theories as to why ESPN opted to part ways with Simmons (Jim Miller’s two pieces in Vanity Fairare highly recommended reading), including Disney chief Bob Iger having finally had enough of dealing with a well-paid wildcard employee who was frequently critical of the NFL, ESPN’s most important partner. Skipper denied that.
"I want to be definitive about that,” he said. “This was my decision. Bob and Bill have been friends, and Bob is an admirer of what Bill does. And I don't do anything like this without telling Mr. Iger. But he's put it long ago on me that I will make decisions like that.
“It did not come down to money," Skipper continued. "Look, we're a big company. If it was just dollars and cents, we would have figured something out. It is about ultimately about what he wants to do, what value that creates, what we want to do together in deciding whether there is going to be a match, and we decided that ultimately there wouldn't be."