Keith Olbermann and Bill Simmons Keep Trying to Out-Do Each Other's Pomposity

There have been some great media feuds in our time, but the ongoing tete-a-tete between Bill Simmons and Keith Olbermann could be, to borrow a phrase, "the most fascinating running sports feud of my lifetime." The only thing that comes close: the bad blood between Dick Young and Howard Cosell. ↵

↵Don't you dare try and prove me wrong, as I have 3,000 words at my fingertips to tell you why I'm right just itching to get out. Cosell was not well liked by many of his media contemporaries, but he never came even 10 percent close to facing the scrutiny, vitriol and 24/7 blog and Twitter microscope that our current media feuds face. (How great would Cosell have been on Twitter, by the way). ↵

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↵This one has gotten to the boiling point so quickly that yesterday Olbermann wrote that Simmons has lapped the field as, "the most uncontrollable, unmanageable talent in the history of ESPN" and is openly wondering if, based on correspondence with ESPN brass, the World Wide Leader won't eventually dump The Sports Guy. Now, the particulars: ↵

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↵Simmons was lambasted by virtually everyone after saying in an ESPN chat last week that Tiger Woods will have a harder time in his return than Muhammad Ali did. Rather than realize how historically inaccurate he was and move on, Simmons penned a lengthy "I'm right and here's why" column, backed up with a podcast conversation with Rick Reilly on the topic. ↵

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↵It's one thing to make an erroneous comment in a chat, but it's entirely another to fight back against all semblance of reason and write the column Simmons tried to write in an effort to prove his ridiculous point that Tiger Woods will face more scrutiny than Ali because, as paraphrased above, the 24/7 news cycle won't let Tiger be. Simmons tried to make points that were not only outlandish, but a white-wash of history, so much so that Keith Olbermann has become a voice of reason. You know when people start openly agreeing with Olbermann's take on anything involving a feud between pompous journalists, you've done something terribly wrong. ↵

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↵Olbermann fired a missive at the Sports Guy on his MLBlog post on March 5 that included the following: ↵

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↵⇥If the writer can let me know when Woods is punitively drafted by the military even though he is about eight years older than almost all the other draftees, I'll begin to take him seriously. In the interim I am again left to marvel how somebody can rise to a fairly prominent media position with no discernible insight or talent, save for an apparent ability to mix up a vast bowl of word salad very quickly. ↵
↵Point, Olbermann. Simmons took to the tweets to fire back, with his most damning retort coming in the shape of: ↵
↵⇥KO, please know the feeling is mutual. You're my worst case scenario for my career in 12 yrs: a pious, unlikable blowhard who lives alone. ↵
↵Point, Simmons. ↵

↵Now, to the point of the issues. I'm not sure for one second that Simmons actually believes what he originally said in that chat. I contend that Simmons boxed himself into the comment and rather than apologize and move on – thereby admitting he was (gasp) wrong about something – Simmons challenged himself by thinking he was a good enough writer to get out of that box. As good as he is, and he's one of the best of our sports-loving generation at stringing together words to form sentences, he's not a good enough writer to get out of a situation like that. ↵

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↵He should have known better, and has been crushed by better writers out there. Consider Olbermann one of them. Simmons is infinitely more popular as a writer than Olbermann, but when it comes to stringing words together to form sentences, Olbermann will win that fight and say good night and good luck to you every single time, sir. ↵

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↵So, thusly, Olbermann shot back on his MLBlog yesterday: ↵

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↵⇥This assumes that Mr. Simmons' career now is where mine was twelve years ago (anchoring SportsCenter, then my own MSNBC political show, anchoring NBC Weekend Nightly News, writing a best-selling sports book, etc). In fact, this assumes that this is Mr. Simmons' career, which is remarkable. Also, anybody who could write as many words without saying anything of consequence really should throw around the word "blowhard" as frequently as he would a street sewer cover. ↵
↵And then comes the biggest blow in the entire back-and-forth, when Olbermann offers that high-ranking members of ESPN, including people Simmons works for, gave him virtual high-fives after his direct shot at the column. In fact, Olbermann intimates that some at ESPN are so sick of Simmons they may just let him walk at the end of his current contract: ↵
↵⇥I am surprised, however, to be able to shed some light on something that has been a prominent topic of late around the internet: the prospect that Mr. Simmons is leaving ESPN. Admittedly I am something of an authority on this process. Nonetheless, I was stunned to receive several emails from some of Mr. Simmons' bosses there, thanking me for pointing out the absurdity of, and the embarrassment to ESPN provided by, the Woods/Ali comparison. ↵⇥

↵⇥About five years ago, I guess, somebody said Tony Kornheiser was the most uncontrollable, unmanageable talent in the history of ESPN. I was, of course, crushed (although I believe I got honorable mention). When ESPN bosses are writing me for helping them about somebody they claim has now lapped Tony and myself, I am left to conclude only that if Mr. Simmons does leave ESPN, it may not be entirely of his own choosing. ↵⇥

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↵To this point, Simmons has chosen to take the public high road, saying, "I've said enough. This was not why I got into writing." Rob King, EIC of ESPN.com, however, did take the time to respond, telling Mediaite:
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↵⇥To be clear, John Skipper, John Kosner and I are the three people at ESPN responsible for determining how this all plays out. We believe Bill’s a uniquely gifted writer and thinker who makes us great and meaningful to sports fans. And we hope to keep him as a central part of what we do for a long time to come. ↵
↵Simmons was not wrong when he called Olbermann an unlikable blowhard, an assertion, I'd suspect, with which Olbermann may agree. But this "hello kettle, my name is pot" situation illustrates just how far off the deep end Simmons can go as he dances the tight rope of columnist in an ESPN-protected bubble with being the everyman. As I said yesterday, I wonder how 1999 Bill Simmons would trash 2009 Bill Simmons. To that end, I wonder how Howard Cosell would trash Bill Simmons.↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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