Media / Sports / World Magazine / August 6, 2015

Searching for ‘Right’ and ‘Wrong’ in Media Contract Disputes

From my July 24 article in

Bill Simmons is headed to HBO. Bill Simmons, who made his name at ESPN, was a creative mind behind the 30 for 30 documentaries, founded Grantland, and was ultimately ESPN’s most popular writer and personality. In May, after several months of increasing tension and conflict, ESPN president John Skipper announced in rather disparaging tones the network would not renew Simmons’ contract. The intervening couple months have been ripe with speculation by media and fans alike as to where he would land. Now we know.

Simmons is not the first prime talent to leave ESPN under scrutiny and controversy. In 1997, Keith Olbermann departed after a suspension and conflict with management. (Olbermann since returned to ESPN, but it took 20 years.) Michele Beadle jumped from ESPN to NBC in 2012 after four years and with little explanation. This week, Colin Cowherd confirmed and addressed two days of reports and questions that he would be leaving ESPN radio.

Interest in media contract renewals doesn’t quite rival the NFL off-season, but it’s a bourgeoning web industry all its own. We fans love to speculate about such decisions. We pit one side against the other—right vs. wrong, person vs. corporation, David vs. Goliath, selfish vs. steadfast, creative vs. stodgy—and decry one side for being clearly wrong.

. . .

We rarely know what really happens in these instances, the factors that led to a decision on the corporate side or the individual’s. We don’t know whether it was a clash of personalities, competing values (both of which might be right), a desire to grow professionally, a wage dispute, work preferences or styles, wrongdoing on one side or both, battling egos, that indefinable personal desire for something more, family reasons, or some combination. We are content to collect what facts or reports we can glean and fill in the rest to suit our inclinations.

What if we were in the same spot, though? If we consider the jobs we’ve left for various reasons, we readily see the complexity of such decisions. We recall it’s rarely an easy decision or a black-and-white one. It’s not usually good vs. evil.

. . .

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