ESPN and outspoken commentator Bill Simmons parting ways

Bill Simmons, the outspoken ESPN writer who has helped lead the sports-media juggernaut into new content ventures, is leaving ESPN after the network said they are not renewing his contract.

Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/File
Bill Simmons arrives at the world premiere of 'Million Dollar Arm' at El Capitan Theatre in Los Angeles, May 6, 2014.

Bill Simmons, the outspoken ESPN writer who has helped lead the sports-media juggernaut into new content ventures, is leaving the Walt Disney operation.

Simmons is editor of "Grantland," an ESPN digital magazine of sorts that examines sports and pop culture. But he has also contributed to podcasts, ESPN the Magazine and other properties, winning notice with a mix of sports-fan passion and love of personal observation.

"I decided today that we are not going to renew Bill Simmons' contract. We have been in negotiations, and it was clear it was time to move on," said John Skipper, ESPN's president, in a statement. "ESPN's relationship with Bill has been mutually beneficial -- he has produced great content for us for many years, and ESPN has provided him many new opportunities to spread his wings. We wish Bill continued success as he plans his next chapter. ESPN remains committed to Grantland, and we have a strong team in place."

Simmons and ESPN have clashed over the years. The company kept him from posting on Twitter in 2009 and 2013, the first time for criticizing a Boston sports radio program, the second for criticizing ESPN. In 2014, ESPN suspended Simmons for three weeks after he criticized the way National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell handled a domestic-violence controversy centered around player Ray Rice.

The Monitor reported of the suspension:

The nature of Mr. Simmons' rant essentially forced ESPN to take action, experts say. Not only could there have been legal implications, but ESPN would also have looked like a house in disorder if it had allowed Simmons to make an explosive and unsubstantiated claim so brazenly, they say.

The suspension is a reminder that, even in an emerging and unsettled new media landscape, there are lines, and they occasionally have to be drawn.

"It has become more difficult for journalists to understand when it is OK to be a fan and when one has to be a journalist," says Eric Zillmer, a sports psychologist and the athletic director at Drexel University in Philadelphia, via e-mail. But "ESPN wanted to separate themselves clearly from the meaningless chatter that is associated with sports talk radio."

Simmons is expected to stay until his contract with ESPN expires in September.

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