Until his propensity for burning bridges and getting fired lead to a nasty split with the Kansas City Star four years back. The falling out left a twisted trail of acrimony and ugly accusations, similar to how most of Whitlock’s media divorces have gone down.
Whitrlock continued to blog for Fox Sports – albeit sans the seven figure paycheck he was rumored to be receiving – until ESPN recycled him last August with the intention of Jason lording over a blog for promising young, black sportswriters.
“It sounds like an unrealistic concept,” a former Star editor told me at the time. “Pretty bizarre to set Jason up as mentor/role model, unless he’s matured some. Hopefully Jason will put these younger writers on a good path, not a path to getting off-track.”
A year later and Big Sexy has yet to debut the so-called Black Grantland and the term Uncle Tom is beginning to surface among fellow black sportswriters.
“Whitlock left Fox for ESPN last August,” USA Today‘s Jason McIntyre wrote in April. “It’s been eight months. Where is his ‘Black Grantland?’ ESPN hired Nate Silver from the New York Times in July of last year to launch his new 538. His site launched in March after months of breathless updates on new hires. Has Whitlock’s site hired anyone? Is there a tentative launch date?”
That same month sportswriter/broadcaster Jay Mariotti claimed the real reason ESPN rehired Whitlock – one of ESPN’s fiercest critics while blogging at Fox – was to mitigate Whitlock’s likely testimony in a libel/slander lawsuit against the network by the wife of former Syracuse assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine.
Fine, you may recall, was accused of child molesting, but after a year-long investigation prosecutors declined to press charges and dropped the case because the statute of limitations had run out. Still the accusations cost Fine his job after 35 years with the team.
“ESPN makes some dubious hires,” Mariotti wrote. “None was more dubious than Whitlock. Not only has a strong, fearless voice in sports media been systematically quieted by the ESPN machine — I rarely see his content on the ESPN.com site — but when he does write a piece, it’s usually about an African-American-related subject. I would not appreciate being pigeonholed on topical matter, especially pertaining to race, and I wonder if ESPN hired Whitlock simply to silence him about ESPN issues. Because no one — and I mean, no one — has been more critical of ESPN than Whitlock.”
Mariotti has a point.
In November of 2011 Whitlock wrote on Fox: “It’s morally criminal what…ESPN did to Bernie Fine…Vigilantism killed Trayvon Martin, and it ruined the career and life of Bernie Fine. Martin and Fine were not perfect; no human or victim is. They likely made mistakes in judgment that contributed to their demise. But, in my opinion, they did not deserve their fate.”
The latest: Deadspin writer Greg Howard‘s lengthy hit piece on Whitlock yesterday, Can Jason Whitlock Save ESPN’s Black Grantland from Himself?
In it Howard talks of waking up in a hospital bed and “Jason Whitlock was yelling into my ear” after he’d criticized Whitlock in a piece about Washington Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III.
“I couldn’t understand why Whitlock was so furious, so inconsolable,” Howard writes. “If anything, we’d gone easy on him, adducing his tired arguments in service of a broader point about the evolution of black sportswriting….The next morning, my phone rang. It was Whitlock again…I could tell he was offering me a way out. He just needed me to grovel, to beg his forgiveness, to massage his ego. But I was fucked up; I was all out of guilt. I finally told him the truth: I meant every word. And that’s how I fell out with Jason Whitlock…”
“It was a classic Whitlock encounter, hitting all the themes of betrayal that figure prominently not only in his life and work but in the many criticisms of both,” Howard continues. “Betrayal is what led to his defenestration from ESPN the last time around. Betrayal is why his best piece of writing never found the audience it deserved. And betrayal is at the heart of why the most prominent black sportswriter around is also the most hated sportswriter in the black community, and why, 10 months after Whitlock first announced his new endeavor, a black sports and culture site that he’ll run under the aegis of his old enemy ESPN, the project is still struggling to get off the ground.”
Therein lies the question.
Was Whitlock actually hired for the unlikely job of mentoring promising young black writers or to get him of ESPN’s back or to mitigate his possible testimony against ESPN in the Bernie Fine trial or maybe just to bounce about as a guest from show to show on the network?
“I spoke with dozens of his black colleagues over the past few months, and what struck me was how many of them outright referred to Whitlock as an “Uncle Tom,” accusing him of attacking black culture generally and young black men and women specifically for personal profit and career advancement,” Howard writes. “Uncle Tom. The second-worst thing you could call a black man. How many times did I hear it? I stopped counting around 15.
” ‘Look,’ one writer said to me. ‘I don’t use the term Sambo lightly. But fuck Jason Whitlock.’ “
With his return to ESPN, “Whitlock went from a columnist to a kingmaker,” Howard says.
Just one problem, the sites never got off the ground and there are serious concerns about Whitlock’s ability to attract young African Americans.
Whitlock was perceived by many at his post Oprah show appearance peak as “the racist right’s unwitting attack dog, here to explain how black people were the problem,” Howard says. “He became a bona fide, nationwide cash cow, even as his credibility as a writer and a thinker was beginning to crumble.
“The problem wasn’t really that Whitlock was preaching social conservatism or criticizing blacks. His views…lined up neatly with those of Bill Cosby, or The Boondocks’s Uncle Ruckus, or your own uncle, sparring across the table with you at Thanksgiving dinner. They weren’t all that crazy…The difference between Whitlock and your uncle sitting next to you at Thanksgiving dinner (is) your uncle isn’t belting out his antiquated, inaccurate beliefs to a mostly white, mostly male audience of millions.”
All of this from a young writer who Whitlock courted for the yet-to-launch ESPN site.
“While Whitlock has lashed out at everyone over the years, his greatest hits have all had something in common: They involve him criticizing some combination of women, young black men, and black culture,” Howard writes. “There was the Serena Williams is fat column. There was the let’s all leer at Erin Andrews and Elisabeth Hasselbeck “catfighting” column. There was the Serena Williams crip walked at Wimbledon because black people don’t demand she act better column. There was the Jay-Z shouldn’t be a sports agent because he is a rapper who says “nigga” column. There was the Lolo Jones needs to stop crying when she loses at the Olympics column. There was theRobert Griffin III needs a lesson in humility column. It’s so routine that when Donald Sterling was caught on tape talking about how he didn’t want his mistress bringing black people to Los Angeles Clippers games, blacks took to Twitter to speculate on just how Whitlock was going to use this opportunity to explain that black people are the problem.”
Howard has serious doubts about Whitlock’s ability to head the blog.
“I talked to a dozen writers and editors whom I’d heard were being recruited,” he says. “Over and over they related the same story, of young talent having to decide between taking the opportunity and paycheck of a lifetime, and working for a man who made his bones disparaging people like them to an audience of approving racists. That’s the bitch of it for Whitlock.”
Clearly Whitlock’s got his work cut out for him and the clock is ticking.
Look, Jason’s been burning bridges for a long time and just about anyone who’s ever worked with him has seen his dark side. And while Howard makes excellent points to illustrate Whitlock’s throwing blacks under the bus to appeal to whites, Jason also loved to pimp the Star’s white readership.
Jason Whitlock is an enigma.
He’s a troubled man who has serious difficulties getting along with pretty much anybody and everybody. Yet he continues to make his mark as a lightning rod.
Trouble is, lightning rods don’t always make very good mentors.