Few American sportswriters perplex a greater number of people than Jason Whitlock, the Kansas City Star and Fox Sports columnist.
Jason is very, very, very, very good at pissing people off. He writes a lot about himself, and often takes positions that leave meâ€”and myriad othersâ€”scratching their heads. He has a lengthy history of writing about issues involving race, class, gender, etc. During my time at ESPN.com, Jason engaged in a public battle with Scoop Jackson, a fellow columnist at the website, that turned rather ugly (My take: Jason was right). I know many in the business who loathe Whitlock’s work, and loathe even more his apparent need for attention.
I, however, really dig the guy.
Whitlock, to me, defines what a great columnist should be. He’s passionate, strong-willed, stubborn, decisive, well-informed. While I strongly disagree with his take on Selena Roberts and the ARod book, he presents his case well. While I’m not in love with the way he often offers himself as some sort of guiding moralistic force, I do, usually, believe in his moralistic takes. His writing on the whole Rutgers-Don Imus controversy was brilliant. I didn’t 100% buy his take, but I was riveted by it. Absolutely riveted.
As many of you surely know, one of the biggest problems with covering sports is the cliche-ness of it all. Everythingâ€”absolutely everythingâ€”is a cliche. The scrappy underdog overcoming the odds. The arrogant high-priced veteran. The rookie having to wear some embarrassing outfit. “He’ll run through a wall.” “He’ll take one for the team.” “He’s a gamer.” “He’s a scrapper.” “I’d go to war with that guy any day of the week.” We reporters only accentuate the cliches by using them, nodding along with them, buying them, even becoming them.
Well, the best of the bestâ€”the Tom Verduccis, the Howard Bryants, the Jon Wertheims, the Steve Buckleys, the Mark Kriegelsâ€”see through all that. And nobody sees through it more than Whitlock. The guy simply does not allow cliche to enter his work. Especially when it comes to race. As one of the two or three highest profile African-American sports columnists in the country, Whitlock is supposed to (society says) take certain stands. He knows it, the public knows it. Yet Whitlock refuses to go along just to go along. I was mesmerized by his piece regarding Matt Vasgersian, the MLB.com on-air “talent” who recently had a really weird moment, confusing a black security guard at Coors Field for Donovan McNabb. Vasgresian apologizedâ€”a needless move that was dumb, uncalled for and, clearly, corporately mandated. Whitlock said as muchâ€”that, truth be told, the dude did look like McNabb; that confusing one African-American man for another isn’t always racist. That’s an uncomfortable point for a white guy like myself to make … and it’s even more uncomfortable for a black man to make. Yet Whitlock makes the points, PC be damned.
Anyhow, I’m babbling. After I mildly took Whitlock to task yesterday for the Selena column, he wrote a lengthy response, which I’ve posted at the end of this link. He later sent me a kind e-mail, making sure I wasn’t offended. I told him the truthâ€”I wasn’t. Not even slightly. My admiration for Whitlock dates back several years, when I realized he was one of the few posters on sportsjournalists.com to write under his real name. The dude has guts.
I was suspended for the New England fiasco. Wrote an apology column. Since that 1998 incident, have never shied away from bringing up the incident in subsequent newspaper columns and on my own radio shows.
Iâ€™ve written numerous â€œI was wrongâ€ columns about things Iâ€™ve been wrong about.
Do you still think the analogy between her Duke lacrosse columns and me getting into a taunting incident with fans still works?
Your analogy to your Rocker story is equally lame.
And as for Cynâ€™s mischaracterization of my opinion, Iâ€™ll restate it in full:
Social agenda does not trump truth. Al Sharpton was wrong when he let his social agenda to stamp out racism lead him to support Tawna Brawley despite contradictory evidence.
Selena was wrong to let her social agenda to stamp out sexism cause her to ignore the obvious truth in the Duke lacrosse case.
I say all of this much better in a foxsports.com column.
Itâ€™s late, Iâ€™m sleepy and Iâ€™m half looped on Stoli Dolis from Capital Grill.
Take care, Jeff.