OTC: Deadspin’s Greg Howard On Jason Whitlock And The Art Of Being Black Enough

Can Jason Whitlock Save ESPN's "Black Grantland" From Himself?“He couldn’t understand how or why I had betrayed him. He thought we had big plans together.”
Greg Howard, writer and one-time friend of Jason Whitlock, retelling in a vivid and familiar tone his professional breakup with Jason Whitlock after Big Sexy become livid after Howard criticized Whitlock’s comments about RGIII in a feature story on DeadSpin titled, “The Big Book of Black Quarterbacks,” DeadSpin.com
GH: I received an email Tuesday morning from an OTC reader with a link to Howard’s story on DeadSpin. “I thought you might like this article,” he wrote beneath the artwork of Whitlock’s mug and the link to Howard’s story. I was in no hurry to catch up with my old friend Pork Chop so I waited until late that same evening before I clicked on the link to see what he was up to now. I then spent the next hour reading and reliving the man, the myth and the mess that is one Jason Whitlock. I have given Howard’s riveting and well-written piece my Off The Couch treatment in this column. Feel free to read Howard’s piece first and then return to visit my thoughts. 

“I couldn’t understand why Whitlock was so furious, so inconsolable. If anything, we’d gone easy on him… The next morning, my phone rang. It was Whitlock again. Soon, he was reading me my own article, parsing, line by lonely line, exactly which phrases were mine and which were my editors’. 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.”
Greg Howard, DeadSpin
GH: Whitlock is like a lost puppy ever searching for those who will love him and make him feel safe forever. Sounds crazy when talking about a football-sized man who specializes in rip writing but that is Big Sexy. Every friend is eventually his enemy. 

“And that’s how I fell out with Jason Whitlock, the most prominent black sportswriter in the country. 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.”
Greg Howard, DeadSpin
GH: As I read this excerpt, I smiled knowing that a large part of Whitlock would enjoy being referred to as, “the most prominent black sportswriter in the country,” despite the other dings. Whit is the guy who would call me from NFL press boxes on Sunday afternoon and ask, “Have they mentioned me or my column on the broadcast?” 

“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. … ‘Look,’ one writer said to me. ‘I don’t use the term Sambo lightly. But fuck Jason Whitlock.’”
Greg Howard, DeadSpin
GH: I, unlike Howard and the black sports writers he spoke with, am not black. My perspective of Whitlock cannot be the same as theirs. But that said, I could not disagree more with these young writers. Whitlock is not an Uncle Tom, a Sambo or any of the derogatory names other blacks want to cast at his tiny feet. Whitlock doesn’t think that far ahead to have an agenda. Whitlock just reacts. Whitlock is not an originator. Whitlock is an instigator after the fact only because he has some odd ways of looking at things. His plan is that he has no plan.

“I met with John Skipper (president of ESPN). It was everything I’d wanted to hear. ‘For lack of a better description—I hope this isn’t offensive—but I’m going to get to do something along the lines of a black Grantland. … This is something you and I have talked about a lot. Where are the young, up-and-coming African-American sportswriters? Where are they?
Jason Whitlock, in an interview with Bill Simmons in August of 2013 after ESPN’s president offered to make him the Carl Peterson of “Black Grantland.”
GH: I am sure Skipper is a talented and sharp guy. But choosing Jason Whitlock to organize, run, plan and get off the ground even a lemonade stand is so removed from his skill set that it is gut-busting ridiculous. Whitlock is a guy who is so lazy he refuses to get out of bed at night to urinate. He would rather soil his sheets and just roll over then head to the bathroom. His mother tells stories of how he continued to shit his pants up to the fifth grade. Can you imagine the aroma of a Whitlock dump circulating about a classroom full of 11 year olds? These are stories that Whitlock tells about himself – not the made-up stuff from another’s imagination!

“Just as the head of Grantland handpicked his disciples, so would the head of black Grantland. Simply by existing, Whitlock’s site would considerably bolster the ranks of minorities writing on a national platform, and its founder would have the ability to select and mold the next generation of black reporters, editors, critics, and commentators. Last August, Skipper made Whitlock perhaps the most important African-American writer in the country, sports media’s Black Pope.”
Greg Howard, DeadSpin
GH: Whitlock always saw himself as the guy who should be directing the newspaper, its stories and how these stories were researched, written and presented. He just never had the faintest idea how to do any of that or the energy. Whitlock was so disorganized in his days covering the Chiefs that he almost never made his return flight to Kansas City. He simply slept in and caught a later flight. Because Jason never understood he was not the center of the universe. In his world, he was the sun. And man could he burn people. 

“The site doesn’t yet have a name. ‘Soul Food’ was one candidate, according to an ESPN source. Another was ‘Sons of Sam,’ a reference not to the serial killer but to the pioneering black sportswriter Sam Lacy. (An ESPN spokesman told me today that both names are out of the running.)”
Greg Howard, DeadSpin
GH: I know nothing about this project but I know Whitlock. It would not surprise me at all if the reason this project has yet to get started is JW is vacillating on the site’s name. Judging from those two offerings he’s a ways from nailing down a winner.

“There is no staff to speak of, though I know that Whitlock has approached a diverse array of writers and editors for various positions on the site. … None of those people has signed on, at least not yet. The names, though, might offer a clue as to what Whitlock’s up to. These are mainly young journalists, both black and white—not a hot-taker among them. It seems that Jason Whitlock’s ideal site is one in which nobody writes like Jason Whitlock.” Greg Howard, DeadSpin
GH: Whitlock has no fear of another writer usurping his spotlight. Whitlock’s greatest fear is that he will make a hire that embarrasses him. Whitlock seeks to be surrounded by those who are talented in hopes they meet his standards – and recognize his brilliance.

“One reason (Whitlock) was such a draw (as a Kansas City Star columnist) was because he was an African-American with a sense for the theatrical, working in a marquee spot for a majority-white audience. Twenty years later, Washington Post reporter Clinton Yates described it to me simply: ‘White people want to be entertained by black men.’”
Greg Howard, DeadSpin
GH: This just sounds stupid to this white person. White people are pretty much like black people when it comes to who they want to entertain them – talented people. It appears to me that Howard and some of the black writers he spoke with want to condemn Whitlock for attracting a white audience. How can he be one of us AND liked by them? Whitlock doesn’t see color when it comes to readers – unless that color is green with success.

“(Whitlock) approached his 800 words (in The Kansas City Star) with monkish dedication, and the column became his entire world, his raison d’être. In 1996, the Star hired another young writer, Joe Posnanski. Though they were the same age, Posnanski was Whitlock’s opposite. Joe was white; Jason was black. Joe loved baseball; Jason loved football. Joe wrote with a soft touch; Jason wrote with a sledgehammer. As Candace Buckner—currently one of the few black women covering an NBA team, and formerly a colleague of theirs at the Star—put it: ‘Joe Posnanski was the storyteller. Whitlock was the provocateur.’ The two soon formed one of the best one-two punches in the country.”
Greg Howard, DeadSpin
GH: No writer worked harder than Whitlock in his early years at The Star – including JoPo, who was born to write. Writing was difficult for Jason. He labored at it. But his hard work produced some outstanding columns. I believe he is who he is today because of how he attacked his craft the first five years at The Star. His last five years were a lazy mess. What he’s up to lately is unknown to me. He and his work just don’t cross my line of vision anymore. I can’t say I’m dying to read his work on a Black Grantland as well.

“Though Whitlock was never a great wordsmith, he always knew how to throw bombs. That was his strength. Over the years he earned a reputation, and a lot of attention, as a serial feuder who would hop capriciously from beef to beef with other media personalities around the country—everyone from Charlie Pierce to Deadspin’s editors to ESPN’s Keith Clinkscales to Mike Lupica to Joe Posnanski. Even today, no one really knows why Whitlock does this. Maybe he just gets bored; maybe, as someone close to him suggested to me, it’s his paranoia—the belief that colleagues are forever trying to undermine him, to betray him; maybe he just knows that people like to watch him fight.”
Greg Howard, DeadSpin
GH: Whitlock throws bombs because he truly believes his target deserves to be blown up. Pork Chop is a simple dude. There are not a lot of scenarios playing out in his head. He reads a column, watches a game, sees a TV show – and he forms an immediate and often unwavering opinion. And then he delivers it written in napalm.

“In his interview with Simmons, Whitlock seemed blind to (the realities of being a young writer). ‘Some of those opportunities are limited for African-Americans,’ he said, “or they limit themselves.’ It was classic Whitlock, placing structural barriers on the same plane as the personal failings of young black people. Whatever he thought he was saying, what younger writers heard was, They don’t want it enough.”
Greg Howard, DeadSpin
GH: Man, this one really pisses off the black dudes. They see Whitlock as unwilling to bend down and offer them a hand form his lofty perch. Instead, he spits in their face and wonders why others haven’t followed his path to fortune and fame. Whitlock refuses to use his color as an excuse, which endears him to whites and divorces him from blacks.

“Whitlock knew me from Deadspin, for which I began freelancing in February 2013. … We spoke on the phone a couple times. … When he asked me about my favorite sportswriters, I told him Whitlock. We got along just fine.”
Greg Howard, describing his job interview process with Whitlock, DeadSpin

“Honestly, though, I didn’t know anything about Jason Whitlock. I’d never read his columns, and I’d rarely spoken to anyone who had. In our conversations, he didn’t divulge much of anything about himself. Instead, he spent his time laying out a vision for me and for his site that was too good to pass up. I could write at length about whatever I wanted.” Greg Howard, DeadSpin
GH: These sentences made me chuckle in that I KNOW as Whitlock read them – and you can bet he’s read this story multiple times – he refused to believe that Howard or any sports writer of any color could not be not only familiar with JW’s columns but able to recite their top 10 from memory.

“The difference between Whitlock and your uncle sitting next to you at Thanksgiving dinner, though, is that your uncle doesn’t influence shit. He doesn’t have so much as a megaphone to voice his opinions, let alone a website with national reach. And more important, your uncle isn’t belting out his antiquated, inaccurate beliefs to a mostly white, mostly male audience of millions. … 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.”
Greg Howard, DeadSpin
GH: Could it be that Whitlock’s most ardent critics – black members of the media – are just as paranoid and thin-skinned as Big Sexy? We write what we know. Whitlock knows being black. Whitlock knows being black and successful. Whitlock writes to share his thoughts with us not to demean blacks or whites or Royals fans. He writes because he thinks his opinion is the best opinion. Whitlock is far, far simpler than Howard depicts.

“Whitlock isn’t a Tom; he’s a low-information guy, infinitely suggestible, learning on the fly, joining in on a conversation in a language he has no interest in learning.”
Greg Howard, DeadSpin
GH: Here Howard nails who Whitlock is. NAILS IT! Whitlock is poorly-read, ill-informed and a short-fuse away from proving it in one of his columns.

Twitter @greghall24

About Greg Hall

Software guy who has been writing my Off The Couch column in KC newspapers, publications and websites since 1994. Has been bounced from some of the finest media establishments this side of State Line Road. Dad first and everything else second...and there are a lot of everything elses.
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28 Responses to OTC: Deadspin’s Greg Howard On Jason Whitlock And The Art Of Being Black Enough

  1. Mike says:

    I think that Howard, in this unbelievably thorough deconstruction of Pork Chop, first used fellow writers’ characterizations in order to tell of the mess JW had become professionally since his final year(s) at the Star, then told the basis of his career ‘redemption’ by spinning the too-easily-explained arcs of black youth culture (cynically, I believe, for money and elevated prestige among media ‘stars’), to the stalled figure he is now.
    It isn’t that Greg Howard sees JW the same as the writers he questioned; with his close, I figure Howard sees JW pretty much identically to your view, Greg.
    It was an incredible profile of a very conflicted man.

  2. Fred Flintstone says:

    Christ, I’d rather read about you running in a marathon, than anything about Jason Whitlock.

  3. The Independent Rage says:

    I think some great radio would be a handpicked roundtable of sports writers and talking heads who are completely thin-skinned about anyone disagreeing with them. I would start with Whitlock, KK, Lupica, and Mike DeCourcy and then go from there. The format might have promise for TV as well, but they’d probably need to introduce an option of the combatants climbing inside a cage to settle their differences the old fashioned way if things came to that.

  4. Joe Blow says:

    I don’t like Whitlock’s writing, but it’s hard to make it through even the beginning of the linked article without thinking it’s so fucking one-sided and fake..

    • Joe Blow says:

      That article is a giant snoozefest to boot. Who told that guy he was a good writer? It just goes on and on and on…and on..and on..

      • Big D in the O says:

        Yep…I took two naps just to get through this meandering piece of crap.

  5. Ed Weissenbach says:

    Greg I have told you this before – you need a bigger stage, a bigger megaphone. Your insights are incredible. Whitlock could have been the star he sees himself as, but he couldn’t get out of his own way.

  6. Greg's Glory Days says:

    Your first lie. Deadspin story came out at 4 p.m. ET. No one emailed you Tuesday morning with the story. You did not wait. You start with a lie and just continue to lie. Carry on.

    • Greg Hall says:

      Glory, Your note made me go back and check my email. The reasder’s email came in at 8:00 PM Tuesday night. Not sure why I thought it was in the AM. I didn’t click on the link until after 11 PM and it took me a good hour to wade through Howard’s story and answer some tweets on it after midnight. It was a late night.

      • Greg's Glory Days says:

        You didn’t think it was in the AM. You simply lied because you wanted to pretend you were not interested rather than admit you stayed up until 2 am because you were fascinated. You feigned indifference rather than admit obsession. Greg Hallward. You’ve been a Whitlock stalker for 20 years. Greg Howard is the new Whitlock stalker. Fatal Attraction.

        • Big D in the O says:

          Shouldn’t you be working on Black
          Grantland’s title?

        • Troll says:

          You sound as obsessed with Greg as you claim he is with Whitlock. Who gives a fuck when he received the email? Other than your bitch ass of course. What did trolls do before the internet?

  7. Kyle R says:

    Good stuff today Greg. I read the whole thing last night, though it was agonizingly long. Your lines above about Whitlock not really having a plan made me immediately thing of this scene from The Dark Knight: http://youtu.be/MGXwJREgmgM?t=1m10s Who ever thought the Joker and Whitlock would be similar?

  8. R.H. says:

    The last quote about Big Sexy being a low-information guy does nail it. That’s all is needed to describe him.

    • Karl says:

      Exactly! And that seems to be Howard’s final verdict — not that he is a Tom. but that he is a very talented writer who is lazy and too intellectually incurious to inform himself before he throws his next bomb.

      Yes, Whitlock is/was quite successful, but he also got some huge breaks and a lot of help along the way. First off, he was hired at a very tender age for a coveted columnists slot at the Star — and made the most of that opportunity. Then he caught the eye of the late Ralph Wiley, and that opened some doors to the national stage. And when that happened, he began to get lazier and lazier the higher he rose, and his columns in the Star began repeating themselves. In other words, he got boring — the cardinal sin of a columnist.

      Finally, he went supernova with his column that blamed Don Imus’ “nappy-headed hoes” comment on black culture. Say what? It was a very pleasing story to white audiences, and the next thing you know, there he is expounding on it further on the O’Reilly Factor.

      And that’s where the “Tom” charges come from, charges that Howard himself doesn’t agree with, but duly notes. Whitlock panders to the basest instincts of a white audience.

      Howard says he does this not out of any personal, deeply held convictions (of which Whitlock apparently has precious few), but because it is the easiest, laziest way to maintain his position on a national stage.

  9. rkcal says:

    Never have so many words been written about someone who matters so little. JW wins.

  10. Phaedrus says:

    “Lazy” isn’t the word I’d use to describe someone that shits their pants and pisses in their bed.

    Whitlock seems like an insecure guy that is starving for attention. His schtick of blaming black culture for everything got him the attention he wants, so he sticks with it.

  11. Smith says:

    If there’s a more inconsequential profession than sportswriter in the year 2014, I’d like to see it. Most of them are unoriginal and sloppy, impressed by themselves and their grandiose self-perception of what they consider “wit and insight.” If you’re breaking a story or have actually done some real journalism in putting together a long-prepared story, chances are you’re a rare breed of sportswriter. Yahoo has some talented writers on their staff, to be sure, who’ve done some fantastic work. Deadspin makes waves off of tips from other sources and puts hay in the barn by being first, in which case prose proficiency is typically secondary to headlines and salaciousness.

    Jason Whitlock is a has-been. He was good once, before the internet. Today, nobody cares anymore.

  12. Herb says:

    I’m sorry that, by writing/reading columns like Howard’s and this one…we are giving Craplock exactly what he wants: attention.

  13. Brummy says:

    Greg, nice way to end. Was JW really that dumb? That seems to be the point both you and Howard make (without saying it).

    I’ve never respected JW b/c he has no principles. How can someone argue a point without them? On the other hand, I can respect those with the exact opposite view than my own if they believe in it. He always bored me.

    • Karl says:

      Not dumb. Lazy. And with an ego the size of his boxer briefs, with a huge dose of immaturity thrown in for good measure.

  14. The Word says:

    All you have to know about Whitlock is this:

    Mark Mangino’s weight, former UMKC AD Bob Thomas, a video game column in the middle of baseball season, CMSU being the greatest D2 football program of all time, and his non Tom Watson column a few years back.

    • Joe Blow says:

      Hey now…CMSU is the greatest D2 football program of all time. So I’ve heard..

  15. satico says:

    Note to Self…avoid garage sales with mattresses in Whitlock’s old OP neighborhood!

  16. CM70 says:

    “Whitlock refuses to use his color as an excuse, which endears him to whites and divorces him from blacks.”

    No, Whitlock refuses to ACKNOWLEDGE the help that he received. He seems to think that he would have been a huge success without getting mentoring? Without getting assistance from others? THAT is what makes other young writers (black OR white) angry at his attitude. In essence, Whitlock sounds a lot like Clarence Thomas.

  17. Under The Dome says:

    Word has LEAKED OUT that the new show is titled: Black Guy’d Pees

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