We were originally planning to have Deadspin’s Greg Howard on the podcast to talk about race and sports journalism — with our peg being the series of articles he wrote about the woes of The Undefeated, the troubled, much-delayed race, culture and sports site from ESPN helmed by Jason Whitlock. Whitlock had been one of the most famous and controversial sportswriters in America, having built his polarizing career on his essays connecting sports to the evils of black pathology. He could be petty and ugly, like when he wrote that Serena Williams would never be one of tennis’s all-time great because she was too fat and lazy (“[S]eriously, how else can Serena fill out her size 16 shorts without grazing at her stall between matches?” Whitlock said) or when he weirdly joked that Jeremy Lin had a small penis. (Because he’s Asian, get it?) And he could be simplistic and scolding, as in screeds about the evils of to female basketball players dunking or black people’s use of the word nigger.) Howard’s Deadspin articles argue that the enmity Whitlock earned from his fellow black journos and writers for this schtick made it next to impossible for him to find staffers for his site despite ESPN’s deep pockets. It’s hard to say how much Howard’s articles mattered in this, but this summer ESPN removed Whitlock from The Undefeated, although it let him remain at ESPN as a columnist. The future of The Undefeated, whose launch has been pushed back for nearly two years, was even murkier than ever.
So that’s we wanted to talk about with Greg, as well what all this meant for these kind of big, black-focused projects at mainstream media outlets. But then, earlier this month, ESPN finally fired Whitlock altogether. Since then he’s has landed at Fox Sports, and he’s spent a lot of his time going after the people he thinks he were responsible for the end of his ESPN career — especially Greg, whom he called “Deadspin’s black mascot, a clever, updated Jayson Blair.” Whitlock surfaced an old police report in which Greg was arrested for a violent encounter with a female bartender in Baltimore. (Greg, in turn, responded with an blistering post on his personal blog: “To be an Uncle Tom is to adhere to a specific kind of evil, one that requires foresight and intent. You’re not evil. You just don’t know what you’re talking about, and you’re too lazy to go find out.”) So we do get to some of those big questions about race and sportswriting in this episode, but not before we dig into this bizarre beef. Greg has been on the Whitlock beat, in some capacity, for more than year, and it was clear from the conversation that he had with Terryn, Joel and me that he was a bit tired of it. “This is the last thing I’ll ever say about Jason Whitlock,” Howard told us. Guess we finna find out.