One small quote from Mankind, one giant axe from ESPN.
It looks like Bill Simmons’ 14-year run at ESPN was ultimately undone by, of all things, his filching a phrase from the pro wrestling realm.
Today’s announcement from Bristol that Simmons was more or less fired followed a Thursday appearance on The Dan Patrick Show. Simmons, brought on to discuss the New England Patriots’ ball-deflation scandal, used his airtime to cut a promo blasting NFL commissioner Roger Goodell. (As you may recall, last fall he was suspended three weeks for profanely and accurately criticizing Goodell, whose league has billions in contracts with ESPN, on his podcast.) A sample of the oratorical chair shot:
I think it’s pathetic. Roger Goodell has handled so many things so poorly that it’s reached a point now where you have something like this, where it’s taken four months to release the report, and he knew everything that was in it. He knows the results before the report is released to the public, and yet doesn’t have the testicular fortitude to do anything about it until he gauges the public reaction.
New York Post headline writers were among the folks who viewed Simmons’ use of “testicular fortitude” as the climactic moment of his Goodell diatribe. James Miller, co-author of the ESPN oral history Those Guys Have All the Fun and likely the foremost independent authority on the network, concurs. The way Miller sees things, ESPN president John Skipper was looking for a reason to sever ties with Simmons, and that naughty bits reference gave him just what he was looking for. Miller expressed his views in an afternoon tweet:
Tonight, Miller told me that he figures ESPN and Simmons were headed for a separation anyway, but that this really was what did it.
“If he hadn’t gone on Dan Patrick and hadn’t said [‘testicular fortitude’] we wouldn’t have today’s announcement,” Miller said. “It was just too much kerosene on the fire.”
Simmons is a self-proclaimed lifetime fan of pro wrestling, a ringside fixture at WWE pay-per-views who guest-hosted Raw in March to help hype the then-upcoming Wrestlemania 31. His fandom is also made obvious in his chronic use of “testicular fortitude,” a phrase that comes straight from the squared circle. The potty-mouthed play on “intestinal fortitude” was popularized in the late ’90s by Mankind, the nom de rasslin’ of WWE Hall of Famer Mick Foley. (It’s so associated with him that in the Pokemon-like card game WWE Raw Deal, there’s a “Testicular Fortitude” action card that allows a player to unleash damage on an adversary. According to the game’s fine print, its impact “cannot be reversed” when played by Mankind.)
Simmons has been a huge promoter of Foley’s catchphrase for years. In a 2005 column, he told Oakland Raiders fans to get over their moaning about the “tuck rule” game, claiming their coach “lacked the testicular fortitude to go for it on fourth down.” In 2007, he correctly predicted that Greg Oden would be picked ahead of Kevin Durant because of executives lacking “the testicular fortitude to pass up a potential superstar center,” praised Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace for their “testicular fortitude and surprisingly appealing contracts,” and blamed a dull trading deadline on, well, you probably know (“... nobody had the testicular fortitude to swing a major deal”).
And, as it looks now, Simmons’ last use of the phrase that pays as an ESPN employee came as he once again went after Goodell. The way his boss saw things, apparently, once Simmons played the testicular fortitude card, the damage could not be reversed.