ESPN is known nowadays less for leading the way in sports journalism and more for being the Fox News of the sports world. Once a titan and pioneer in reporting on sports, the four letter network is mentioned as much for not handing out credit and having mouth breathing commentators as it is for breaking news.
Bill Simmons has usually been a voice of reason for ESPN, blasting those who don’t give credit and going as far as to side with the people when it came to how idiotic and sensationalist First Take and guys like Skip Bayless have become. But he inserted his foot directly into his mouth or simply had a stroke live on-air when he compared the Memphis Grizzlies losing in the NBA Playoffs to the assassination of American hero Martin Luther King Jr.
On his popular podcast “The B.S. Report”, Simmons raised some eyebrows when he dropped the MLK assassination into a basketball conversation with fellow ESPN pundit Jalen Rose.
“I didn’t realize the effect [the King assassination] had on that city. [...] I think from people we talk to and stuff we’ve read, the shooting kind of sets the tone for how the city thinks about stuff. We were at Game 3. Great crowd, they fall behind and the whole crowd got tense. It as like, ‘Oh no, something bad is going to happen.’ And it starts from that shooting and it’s just that mind-set they have.”
- Bill Simmons
Take foot, insert directly into mouth.
The quote is being blasted by some while others are pleading that is has been taken out of context. But what people should be looking at is who said it and how it was misspoken. Simmon’s been known to rattle off random and obscure facts about basketball the way Quentin Tarantino rattles off random and obscure facts about films, but this is a moment the Simmons should in no way be proud of.
What he should have said is he didn’t realize the effects 1968 still had on Memphis, as the MLK slaying was the headline of the city’s worst year ever. Memphis was operating like it was still back in the Confederate days in 1968 and if you think I’m being dramatic, read a history book. It was not a fun place to live for anyone of any color and it’s a dark chapter in American history that is still a wound that has yet to fully heal.
So if you take the comment in the context of Simmons simply talking about how people in Memphis still think about 1968 even today, you can see where he might have been coming from. People reguarly connect sports with 9/11 as Mike Piazza’s home run in the first game played since the buildings fell is still one of the greatest moments in baseball history. Simmons is doing the same thing with his comments, only it’s to the reverse effect.
Either way, connecting the dots between the Memphis Grizzlies losing in the postseason and a tragedy like the Martin Luther King Jr. assassination is a wild stretch. Piazza’s home run came weeks after 9/11 and helped give the city something to cheer about. The Grizzlies were eliminated in the postseason 45 years after MLK’s assassination and likely wasn’t the first thing the folks of Memphis thought about as they were exiting the building.
Sports are a major fabric in American culture, not everything needs to be related back to them.