An Unsolicited Letter To Bill Simmons
Dear Sports Guy,
My name is Noah. I’m 29. I’ve read your columns for over a decade. I once waited over 4 hours in line at a depressing Borders so you could sign my copy of The Book of Basketball. I’ve spent hundreds of hours listening to you hang out with your friends on the B.S. Report. I’ve even persuaded my girlfriend to listen along while I fall asleep to you and Cousin Sal predicting the lines. I visit Grantland multiple times a week. You get the idea.
I think you should consider leaving ESPN.
Become the “Czar” of the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL). Your job will be to help the NWSL become a national and global phenomena rivaling the popularity of the NBA, MLB and NFL. You’ve casually nominated yourself to be a General Manager, Commissioner or Political Appointee.
Over the weekend, I drafted a series of arguments to make the case for the NWSL. The NWSL has a fascinating business model where they are supported by the American, Canadian and Mexican federations. Early attendance numbers are promising. Executives running the NWSL have learned from two previous women’s soccer leagues. The influx of talent is rising year over year. The Women’s World Cup offers incredible opportunities to win over new fans. While women’s professional soccer is growing in Japan, Germany and France and Sweden, there isn’t an entrenched league along the lines of the EPL.
Transcribing these arguments helped me realize that my letter to you isn’t about becoming a NWSL wonk. It isn’t about making a case for the NWSL over the WNBA (though you should probably update this 2005 column especially in light of the 2013 season). This is about you, our culture of fandom and the business of professional sports.
You are unique in that you connect with fans. You connect with athletes. You connect with journalists. You connect with owners. You connect with general managers. You connect with stand-ups, musicians and Hollywood directors.
You connect with parents. You are the parent who spoke with President Obama about how to better support your daughters’ athletic pursuits.
Your suspension occurred while our country is starting to say “no more” by refusing to remain quiet when a professional athlete hits a woman. Millions of people who were unfamiliar with you before your suspension, are now aware of you and even supporting you via #FreeSimmons.
You are a cultural figure who can start national conversations that go beyond sports fans. You are not Mike or the Mad Dog. You are not Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith.
What do you want your legacy to be?
You’ve hired incredible people to run Grantland. Grantland can thrive without you. The beauty of 30 for 30 is that you aren’t needed as much as you were during the first season. As long as ESPN keeps giving resources to talented filmmakers, these movies will continue to be nominted for awards.
Is your next step creating a new basketball show? YouTube shorts? Answer 500 more mailbags?
Is your next step helping give rise to a new generation of role models who can change how we think about women in sports?
It is easy for me to sit on the sidelines and make recommendations for what someone else should do with their life. I get that. Yet, this is exactly what you started to do in the late 90s when you took a part-time job with AOL. I’m a sports fan but I’m also a fan of you and I demand a lot from those I respect.
You are already leaving behind an incredible legacy. Once you return and things are back to normal, I’m sure you will launch successful new projects at ESPN (or another media company) and mentor dozens of incredible people. Your contributions will build on your existing legacy.
What do you want your Wikipedia entry 50 to 100 years to start with? In addition to highlighting your accomplishments as a journalist, producer and executive, do you want to help substantially change our culture for the better? Do you want to help create a culture that encourages competition and respect for all, regardless of gender?
I’m setting the bar pretty high. Deal with it. I’m a first time caller, long time listener.
Rooting for you,