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Bill Simmons Says NFL Forced Him Out of ESPN

Bill Simmons, the sports host who has just recently re-emerged with podcasts and public appearances after several months of silence, says the NFL forced his ouster from ESPN last spring after a 14-year run.

In an interview Thursday with WFAN New York sports-talk mainstay Mike Francesa, Simmons recalled a "mostly happy run" at ESPN. "I got to do a lot of cool stuff."

When he delivered a blistering podcast attack on NFL commissioner Roger Goodell over his handling of the Ray Rice assault on his then-fiancee, however, ESPN responded by suspending him for three weeks. The decision to part ways permanently with Simmons, which ESPN then blamed on an inability for parties to agree on non-financial contract terms, came soon afterward. "It was pretty abrupt," Simmons said. "I found out about it on Twitter. That’s probably not how you want to find out."

The ouster, which was revealed on the eve of the network's upfront in May, stemmed from NFL pressure, Simmons claimed. The league "is their biggest business partner by far. … I just didn’t think Goodell was being honest about" the Rice affair.

Simmons is now at HBO, podcasting three times a week and planning a TV show set to debut next spring. He said the pieces are still falling into place for the latter, but the structure and feel of it are far from set. "I don’t want to say too much," he said. "I want to find an inner circle (of collaborators). … I want to let it breathe and figure it out."

With 4.7 million Twitter followers, hundreds of thousands of podcast listeners and blogger cred dating back to the Web 1.0 days, Simmons was a marquee acquisition for HBO. The network is avidly pursuing a multiplatform strategy and sees Simmons as helping bolster the value of its stand-along HBO Now OTT service for younger viewers. "That’s where their whole business is going," Simmons said.