Sports

Jason Whitlock and the Messy Saga of ESPN’s ‘Black Grantland’

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Reeves Wiedeman, NEW YORK MAGAZINE

 
(New York Magazine) — In the ESPN solar system, the network’s Bristol, Connecticut, headquarters is the sun, which makes its Los Angeles office something like Pluto — many miles away, and its status as a planet recently up for debate. In early May, ESPN parted ways not-quite-amicably with Bill Simmons, who founded Grantland, the pop culture and sports site based out of L.A. That office is also home to the Undefeated, a not-yet-launched site meant to explore race, culture, and sports. In 2013, John Skipper, ESPN’s president, hired Jason Whitlock, a prominent and controversial sports columnist, to launch the site. Whitlock agreed, and, in a moment he would come to regret, went on Simmons’s podcast and declared that the site would be, for lack of a better descriptor, a “Black Grantland.”

It took only hours for a mock “Black Grantland” Twitter account to be created — “Our articles are 3/5ths shorter!” — but nearly two years later, the actual site still doesn’t exist. It was supposed to launch in August 2014, February 2015, sometime this May, and, most recently, June 24. In late April, as explanation, Deadspin ran a 10,000-word story titled “How Jason Whitlock is Poisoning ESPN’s ‘Black Grantland,’” which detailed Whitlock’s difficulty attracting talent to the site, and the striking dysfunctions in his management of those who had joined it.

 

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