Today, Simmons wrote about the nature of contract disputes. Ostensibly it's about pro athletes holding out. But somewhere, deep in the Sports Guy's Sports Psyche, it very well may have been about him.
Favre, and Revis, and even Brady: holding their teams hostage through the threat, real or imagined, of holding out. Almost to a person, fans have little sympathy for multimillionaires quibbling over millions. That's why it's so striking that Simmons (establishment-anointed voice of the fan), does the rare-for-him contrarian thing and says he understands why athletes do it, and what's more, he agrees with them.
He quotes Hall of Fame guard John Hannah thusly:
Fans think it's about the money, but it's really about respect. It's about being consumed by something that you believe in your heart is completely unfair. Once you're consumed by it, it affects the way you play, the way you prepare for games, and everything else you're doing. You can't get away from it. So that's why we had to do what we did, even if it didn't work out. The way they treated us was unfair."
But wait. That's not a quote. It's a paraphrasing, to the best of his recollection. We can't help but wonder how much of himself Simmons projected onto Hannah, and every other athlete who feels unappreciated and underpaid.
Simmons's sometimes contentious, rarely private contract negotiations with ESPN are fresh in his memory.
For years he's been easily the biggest draw among the non-on-air talent, and he's continually brought something new to the table. 30 for 30. The Book of Basketball. His podcasts, which he seems to devote more time to than his columns. And the thing is, ESPN indisputably needs him more than he needs them. He could easily start his own site, with him as the main draw (he flirted with the idea in an interview last fall). Think his readership would suffer? You can't blame the guy for wanting to get paid, especially since he's not even the highest-paid writer at his own company.
Simmons and ESPN recently came to some kind of agreement. No official announcement has been made on the terms, but it's a safe bet that it's seven figures annually. Does this make him hypocritical for speaking for "the average fan" when he condones athlete holdouts? Not necessarily.
Negotiations between Simmons and ESPN never devolved to a point where he gave an ultimatum. Does he regret that now? Take a look at this, from the latest column.
He knows you too well. You won't rock the boat. You will say and do all the right things. You will smile for the cameras, shrug off the contract stuff, refuse to take the bait from local media, then take out all your frustrations on the opponents. You will do this because you're the leader and that's what leaders do.
He's writing about Tom Brady. We think.
What, then, to make of his 9th type of holdout (yes, the column became a list), the "Look, I Outperformed My Deal, I Am Woefully Underpaid And You Fucking Know It" Holdout? His example is Revis, who has a decent rookie deal, but as the best corner in the game, deserves to be paid like it. Revis is a no-show at camp, a move Simmons supports.
"And to this point," he writes, "I agreed with everything he did. Wholeheartedly."
His only caveat is a reluctance to punish Revis's employer because another organization set the pay ceiling ludicrously high.
There's no such caveat for Simmons. The bar was set by his own employer, doling out $3.4 million a year to Rick Reilly.
"I agreed with everything he did. Wholeheartedly."