Bill Simmons’ leaving ESPN is worth a moment of our time

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This is not really our usual subject matter, but we talk a good bit about sports media here so why not?

Bill Simmons’ departure from ESPN is notable. Not because any of us should care about Bill Simmons’ employment status, really, but it is worth a moment to think about what Simmons has meant in sports media over the past 15 years.

I won’t go into full-on career retrospective or anything — go read Richard Deitsch for that — but I think it’s worth noting that Simmons was likely the first or, at the very least, the first notable person to make “Internet Sports Writer” a thing. Yes, others were on the Internet writing about sports — the old Starwave/ESPN Sportszone stuff and any other number of outlets coincided or predated him — but Simmons was the first guy to just sort of carve out his own thing and convince people that a fan with some talent and a point of view can be just as legitimate a sports voice as someone with a J-school degree who climbed the ladder from covering high school sports until, in their 40s maybe, they were finally allowed to offer an opinion about sports.

I think it’s fair to say that Mike Florio and Aaron Gleeman and me and any other number of people who came into sportswriting in a non-traditional way owe Simmons a debt of gratitude. If ESPN doesn’t take a chance on him, do any other media companies take a chance on us? Maybe eventually, but having that model out there was pretty helpful. He changed the lexicon of sports writing and democratized sports commentary in incalculable ways.

It’s been a long time since I’ve been a regular Simmons reader. As a writer I think he’s — to use a favorite Simmons metaphor — lost his fastball a bit. Understandable. He’s been pulled in a lot of different directions over the years, what with TV, documentary producing and the like. But his more recent contributions have not been about his writing. I read Grantland all the time as do many others. Many people dismissed it as a vanity project when it was announced, but it’s turned into one of the most indispensable sports sites around. Simmons deserves credit for what that has become and for all of the great talent assembled there. As a writer, Simmons has become less-than-truly relevant. As a big picture guy he’s underrated.

I’m curious to see what he does next. Anyone who consumes sports online should be too.