The Bill Simmons Conundrum
What does it mean to not be racist? If somebody, like Bill Simmons, seemingly says and Tweets all the right things most of the time is he not racist? Is that person still not racist if their hiring practices don’t reflect the values of those tweets? Let’s look at Bill Simmons and the recent controversy surrounding his views on race that were highlighted in the New York Times here.
What amazes me about Bill Simmons, and the type of white person who builds a brand on being liberal while actually also being problematic (See Jimmy Kimmel) is that they tell you who they are all the time. Simmons said with his “open mic" comment exactly how he feels. He then acted on that by hiring someone as divisive as Ryen Russillo and more importantly by not hiring a diverse staff. He then spent half an hour on a podcast with Russillo lamenting looters who are “breaking into sneaker shops.” We’ve now heard Bill Simmon’s words and seen his actions yet there are a large contingency of fans bringing the defense in to protect The Ringer and Bill’s brand. Sometimes people show you exactly who they are but we don’t want to look.
I would argue it must have been open mic night at ESPN when an unproven analyst, Bill Simmons, was given a national stage upon arrival. It’s pretty bold to make a career talking about Black men in the NBA, NFL, MLB and other people of color but not wanting to hire those same people in your office. Is that not the most insidious form of racism? Racism is easy to spot and avoid when somebody is yelling a racial slur. Racism is hard to combat when the nice white person only hires people who are a “good fit” but that that fit just happens to be somebody from the same background.
One of my friends said that Bill has a learning curve and needs to do better. This guy is 50 years old, has spent countless hours with NBA players and has a plethora of life experiences and travel. He is educated and liberal. If there is a learning curve for Bill Simmons we are all truly fucked.
The real conundrum here is that Bill Simmons has a valuable voice and perspective. When he talks about race and advocates for different causes he has a captive audience. Bill Simmons being white means that his message can resonate with white people in a different way. I don’t want to see Bill Simmons fail or be cancelled. I also hate that Bill Simmons can actively be part of the problem and still have value. That’s the conundrum. To lose Bill Simmons and his brand in it’s entirety may be a net negative for positive discourse, especially in the sports media realm. Does that excuse the problematic parts of Bill’s media empire? I don’t know. Of course, the irony here is you’ll never hear much of a perspective like mine, a black man, on one of The Ringer’s many outlets because as Bill Simmons said, “this isn’t open mic night.”