To the dismay of some of his peers Jason Whitlock will (hopefully) be to ESPN’s new web venture, theundefeated.com, what Bill Simmons is to web-hit grantland.com. The web page pictured below was launched on February 12th. It is the homepage of ESPN’s new web venture theundefeated.com. The website that former Fox, AOL Sports and FoxSports.com columnist Jason Whitlock was chosen to lead. This homepage arrives 17 months after Whitlock was brought back to ‘The Mothership (ESPN)’ (as former employee Dan Patrick routinely calls the sports conglomerate) and states in regards to its launch, “coming summer 2015.”
Along with some notable stops as a columnist, Whitlock has held employment for years as a radio commentator, and in both his written and spoken words there is a permanent record of the never-ending narrative of the intersection of race, culture, and sports.
According to Whitlock, “Through the lens of sports, The Undefeated will be the premier platform for intelligent analysis and celebration of black culture and the African-American struggle for equality. The Undefeated will challenge, engage and advocate for people of color in a manner consistent with the black-press pioneers, such as Sam Lacy, who led the charge for Jackie Robinson’s civil rights-sparking baseball career.”
As a former columnist and radio commentator, Jason Whitlock has understandably built a reputation for himself that isn’t without controversy. When he departed ESPN.com’s ‘Page 2’ column for AOL Sports, Whitlock had been unafraid for some time to call it like he saw it, even if that meant consequences. On his way out the door at ESPN Whitlock defined fellow ‘Sports Reporters’ co-host Mike Lupica as ‘an insecure, mean-spirited busybody,’ and Scoop Jackson — an african-american ESPN.com writer, as a “clown.” Whitlock added that Jackson’s ‘ghetto posturing’ in his articles that published on ESPN.com were ‘an insult to black intelligence.” In 2007, after radio shock jock Don Imus made racially insensitive remarks about the Rutgers women’s basketball team Whitlock made it a point to quell the media backlash in regards to Imus’ comments, saying the shock jock’s remarks were ‘insignificant’ among other vivacious hot-takes in regards to black culture.
Needless to say, the network known for employing fans—ESPN—knew they had quite possibly one of, if not the most preeminent voice of sports and black culture under their umbrella. Well, not until Whitlock made those remarks about colleagues Mike Lupica and Scoop Jackson. ESPN does not take too kindly to in-fighting and the company completely pulled the plug on Whitlock in his 2006 move to AOL Sports, after initially displaying the want to keep Whitlock doing television appearances on their networks.
Not quite a year after joining AOL Sports Whitlock made the move to Fox Sports in August of 2007. What is now the infamous (at least in Fox Sports 1’s eyes) ‘move before the move’ back to ESPN. After writing—with much success—about the intersection of sports and African-American culture for Fox Sports for five years, Whitlock did not show interest in playing an eminent role in the new Fox Sports 1 television network by upping his TV appearances, fearing his writing would fall off as a result.
That’s when the call came from ESPN President John Skipper.
With ESPN fully aware of the burgeoning Fox Sports 1 television channel an arms-race of talent-seeking/acquiring broke out between the two networks. And as soon as Whitlock lost his clear view of a future at Fox Sports, ESPN president John Skipper was able to woo the longtime columnist back to the Worldwide Leader with the promise of his very own website.
Bill Simmons, a former ESPN.com Page 2 columnist himself has a successful ESPN website grantland.com, therefore it’s only right that Whitlock get his, right? Wrong. Well, at least to some it is wrong. Namely Greg Howard of Deadspin.com who wrote a scathing expose—or so he thought—of the longtime race/culture/sports columnist.
Whitlock was reported to be in some stage of discussions with Hoard when a Deadspin article, entitled ‘Can Jason Whitlock Save ESPN’s “Black Grantland” from himself,’ was released. Some of that article reading verbatim; “At least a dozen of Whitlock’s black colleagues have “accused him of attacking black culture generally and young black men and women specifically for personal profit and career advancement,” Howard reported. “What struck me was how many of them outright referred to Whitlock as an ‘Uncle Tom,’” wrote Howard, who had been in talks to work for black Grantland before his prospective mentor accused him of betrayal.
As capitalnewyork.com’s Nicole Levy pointed out, Whitlock characterized the majority of Howard’s article as a “total fabrication and lie, provable by the writer’s emails, text messages and phone messages” to him.
Nonetheless, in spite of the critics who point out Whitlock’s shortcomings, or ESPN’s dragging of their feet to launch the site (now 18 months after Whitlock’s hiring) the ‘Worldwide Leader’ likely has another web juggernaut on their hands. While Stephen A. Smith is considered the sports industry leader of the radio and sports television talk show discussion of african-american culture and sports — Jason Whitlock undoubtedly leads the in-print discussion of african-american culture and sports. And if Jesse Washington’s 9,000 word piece on Charles Barkley’s Alabama upbringing, entitled ‘Up From Leeds,’ is an indication of what’s to come at theundefeated.com, that ‘likely web juggernaut,’ will be a ‘can’t-miss web juggernaut.’
So what are your thoughts on the new partnership between ESPN and Jason Whitlock? Is Whitlock the right guy for “Black Grantland?”
– Cole Bair