Last week he had on Scott Harrison, the founder of Charity: Water. The charity aims to bring clean water to the world’s poorest. What is unique is their commitment to using 100% of their donations on helping others without using any of it for administration costs. It also allows donors to know where their money is going, through geotags and for what kind of wells or aquifers. The interview touched on Harrison’s past as a party promoter in New York City and his transformation to helping those less fortunate. The interview was inspiring but who gave the interview was surprising: Bill Simmons.
Simmons began as the “Sports Guy” writing about spots and popular culture. He is partisan as an avid fan for the Red Sock’s, Patriots, Bruins, and almost anything Boston. His columns sometimes were 7,000-word pieces on who has the highest trade value in the NBA and what to do with Tim Duncan of the San Antonio Spurs. When he was with ESPN he founded the sports and pop culture website Grantland. A year ago the two sides parted ways. He signed on with HBO to do a show (premiering on June 22) and to build a website called The Ringer, launched this week.
ESPN tends to shy away from controversy. Politics, controversial social issues are not discussed on its platforms. Being released from ESPN, Simmons has either widened his interests or has given him more freedom to explore other topics.
The transformation shows in his podcasts. The first few shows, on HBO, were similar to the old ones where he and Sal Iacono, a comedian who appears on the Jimmy Kimmel show, would guess the betting lines on the weekly NFL games, having discussions on pop culture with author Chuck Klosterman. The substance is light and fluffy and great for listening while doing other things. With Harrison, restaurateur David Chang, billionaire investor Chris Sacca it has gotten better . The topics are broder. It seems more Simmons has people on who interest him rather than having people who fit in sports and pop culture. He has a good conversational style mixing in what is going on in social media and on the news. He sounds like someone you want to talk with.
The Ringer does things Grantland never did. It touches more on politics, with former advisers to President Obama Jon Favreau and Dan Pfeiffer. The weekly podcast show, Keeping it 1600, starts with a run down of what is going on in the political world that week then usually feature an interview.
“There is something to be said for Simmons’s style of writing and talking,” Favreau says in an article in the Washington Post as to why he become part of Simmons site and podcast network. “I like that it combines a little bit of sports and culture. I like how broad that is. And I also think there’s an element of not taking themselves too seriously that’s sort of a Simmons trait and also a trait of a lot of the writers he’s worked with in the past.”
The Ringer brings in more writers and hopes to do what Grantland did: have good stories but also be better by having broader ones. The TV show should be interesting to watch and if the website and podcasts have shown may have wider subjects than what could have been on ESPN.
Sometimes it is good to leave.