Bill Simmons Addresses Backlash Over Lack of Diversity at The Ringer

Bill Simmons - Getty - H 2020
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"When you fall short in some way — which I feel like I did, we feel like we did — it hurts, but there's truth to it," he says, addressing a New York Times story about newsroom concerns.

On his podcast Friday, Bill Simmons addressed the backlash over the lack of diversity at The Ringer, which was highlighted in a recent New York Times story that detailed newsroom concern. 

The sportswriter made clear he felt the digital media company he founded in 2016, which Spotify purchased in February for nearly $200 million, had not done “well enough” with staffing diversity. 

“I wish it had been a bigger priority for us to really make a bigger commitment to diversity than we did,” Simmons said at the top of the podcast. “I think, in the moment we’re looking at stuff, you pursue certain people, it doesn’t work out. You feel like you’re trying. And I think the moment that the country is having, in general, these last four weeks, is if you feel like you’re trying, that’s actually not good enough. We’re going to do better.”

Mentioning his former ESPN site Grantland, Simmons noted he has tried to use his outlets to “raise the profile and platform of other people," but admitted, "When you fall short in some way — which I feel like I did, we feel like we did — it hurts, but there's truth to it."

Earlier this month, The Ringer's union called out the company for its lack of diversity on social media. "Diversity in the newsroom is essential to covering police brutality and systemic racism, including in the worlds of sports and pop culture. The Ringer has a lot of work to do," read one post on Twitter. "In 2019, 86 percent of speakers on The Ringer Podcast Network were white. We have zero black editors. We have zero black writers assigned full time to the NBA or NFL beats. Our union is currently bargaining for practices to improve our diversity and inclusion." 

Simmons said Friday, "We weren't doing well enough. We are going to try and do better. We are committed to it. And I have to be honest, it was one of the main reasons I wanted to go to Spotify. I wanted to tap into their HR and their diversity teams and really try to reshape our company." 

Asking for "some time," Simmons admitted, "None of us felt like we did well enough. But the thing is, it’s like football, you judge a coach by your record, you judge me by my record, and the record wasn’t good enough.”

Addressing his highly controversial quote in the Times story (“This isn’t open mic night”), Simmons said there needed to be context, explaining he did the interview over email.

He began by reading the reporter’s full question: “Current and former staffers told us that it got harder for young writers — parenthesis — including but not limited to people of color — end parenthesis — to get more responsibility and visibility after podcasts became a higher priority at The Ringer in late 2017, early 2018. For example, they said that during the first few months of The Rewatchables, there were opportunities for younger, more obscure folks to participate. But by early 2018, it was mostly senior folks like you, Chris Ryan, Sean Fennessey and Mallory Rubin, can you comment on this?”

Simmons then read what he said was his entire emailed response: “That’s absurd. We were a startup those first two years, trying a whole bunch of different things. Eventually, we realized that podcasts were the biggest financial part of our business, so we needed to put our best people in them. Again, it’s a business, this isn’t Open Mic Night. As for The Rewatchables, I created that podcast, and it was built around me and Chris Ryan. I’ve hosted the vast majority of them. It’s one of our most popular and lucrative podcasts, and one of the biggest pop culture podcasts, period. I’m proud of the show and how we manage it.”

Simmons closed the segment with, "I just wanted to get that out there so you actually knew where I was coming from. That's all I have."