Bill Simmons Apologizes for ‘Misreading the Moment’ on Podcast with Ryen Russillo

Jesse Pantuosco
June 03, 2020 - 11:36 am
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Bill Simmons didn’t stick to sports on Sunday night … and in this instance, he probably should have. The former Grantland and ESPN columnist aired a podcast with Ringer colleague Ryen Russillo, which Simmons intended to be a “shoot the sh-t” conversation about recent world events including the ongoing protests in support of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement. The podcast, titled "A Truly Sad Week in America," was widely criticized for being insensitive and tone-deaf, particularly remarks made by Russillo, who praised Simmons for hiring a diverse staff.

“You have tried for a very long time to make sure your hiring is as diverse as possible,” Russillo said on the podcast, which was recorded Sunday night and posted the following morning. Ringer staffers were quick to refute Russillo's claim, pointing out that 86 percent of the network’s podcasters are white while also acknowledging the company, which was recently sold to streaming giant Spotify for $200 million, does not employ a single black editor or beat writer.

“If you’ve heard someone say The Ringer is a super diverse place, sadly that person does not know what he’s talking about,” said staff writer John Gonzalez, obviously alluding to comments made by Russillo. “We have a long way to go and I hope we get there.”

Russillo also drew ire for questioning protesters’ motives, implying looters were more interested in growing their sneaker collection than seeking justice for the death of George Floyd. “Some of the people who may have had an open mind about this are looking at not the protesters but the looters, who look like everybody, black, white, male, female, you name it, just breaking into sneaker shops, where it’s no longer about George Floyd, it’s about rare Jordans.”

Simmons apologized for Sunday night’s controversy in the intro to Wednesday’s podcast, lamenting a missed opportunity to shed light on a serious subject. “I think I just misread the moment on Sunday night,” said the co-creator of ESPN’s popular 30 for 30 documentary series. “I was trying to do a shoot the sh-t, take your mind off things kind of podcast like we would always on Sunday, and the moment was bigger than that. I wish I had had an expert with us that we could have bounced some questions off of and tried to learn from instead of treating the moment like we did.”

Simmons, who founded The Ringer shortly after his departure from ESPN in 2015, struck a more solemn tone with Wednesday’s podcast, hosting civil rights activist DeRay Mckesson for a discussion on police brutality. “Look, I’m 50 years old, I still barely know what I’m doing, I’m still going to make mistakes, I’m still not going to throw a no-hitter every step of the way,” said an apologetic Simmons, acknowledging Sunday’s misstep. “I want to use this platform to educate people and make them think about what’s going on.” Russillo, who did not appear on The Bill Simmons Podcast Wednesday, has yet to publicly address his remarks from Sunday night.

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