Bill Simmons began the Friday episode of his podcast by addressing a recent story published in The New York Times that detailed the increasing internal concern about the lack of diversity at The Ringer, a digital media company he founded in 2016 and sold to Spotify earlier this year.
“I only wanted to say two things,” he said to start the episode titled, “Talking Movies with Don Cheadle and Rob Lowe.”
Simmons, a 50-year-old Massachusetts native, acknowledged he knew The Ringer had not done “well enough” with diversifying its staff. When he launched the website four years ago, the founding editors were all white. According to a June 1 Twitter thread by The Ringer Union, the company still has no Black editors.
“I wish it had been a bigger priority for us to really make a bigger commitment to diversity than we did,” he said. “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.”
Simmons reiterated he is committed to using his platform to “raise the profile and platform of other people,” something he says he also tried to do at Grantland, an ESPN-owned blog he started in 2011.
According to Simmons, one of the reasons he wanted to sell The Ringer to Spotify was because of the “resources and know-how” Spotify could provide in regard to diversity. He said he wanted to “tap into” Spotify’s human resources and diversity teams to try and “reshape” The Ringer — a plan he didn’t intend on talking about openly.
“We’ve known for a while we wanted to reshape what the company was,” Simmons said. “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.”
The Ringer recently hired Kaelen Jones, a Black writer to cover the NFL. Per the union, Jones will be the fourth Black writer on the editorial staff, which consists of about 90 employees. The union’s June 1 Twitter thread noted they are “currently bargaining for practices to improve [their] diversity and inclusion.” Simmons asked Friday for listeners to give him time.
Simmons then addressed a specific quote — “This isn’t Open Mic Night” — attributed to him in The New York Times story, in an effort to contextualize the remark, which was heavily criticized on social media. He read the reporter’s question and then the entirety of his response, saying both were “not about diversity.”
The question, as read by Simmons, was: “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’s full response, he says, was as follows: “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 took about four minutes to share his thoughts on the situation, before transitioning to his interview with Cheadle. In the days since The New York Times story, other reporters, including Drew Magary for The San Francisco Chronicle and Henry Abbott of TrueHoop, have published similar pieces about Simmons.
“When you fall short in some way,” Simmons said, “it hurts, but there’s truth to it.”