When ESPN hired Jason Whitlock, they knew they were getting in one of the most outspoken sports columnists in America. Less than a month after hiring Whitlock from Fox, ESPN has reportedly already had to step in and walk back Whitlock's criticism of rival journalists.
After Sports Illustrated released the first of their five part series on Oklahoma State football, Whitlock couldn't wait to go on Oklahoma radio and put former Fox colleague Thayer Evans on full blast via Tulsa World:
“But then in addition to that, having worked with Thayer Evans at Fox Sports, having followed his work for some time, I am completely and utterly flabbergasted that a legitimate news outlet would allow Thayer Evans to be involved in some type of investigative piece on college football that tears down a program, and particularly one that tears down Oklahoma State when it is no secret what a huge, enormous, gigantic Oklahoma homer Thayer Evans is. This is just incredible. Knowing the lack of competence that’s there with Thayer Evans, knowing the level of simplemindedness that’s there with Thayer Evans, to base any part of the story on his reporting is mind-boggling."
"Let me end by saying this and I honestly mean this without malice. It wouldn’t shock me if Thayer Evans couldn’t spell cat and I say in all seriousness.”
Ok, that last line is pretty funny.
Jason Whitlock is far from the first to call out Thayer Evans, who among other things left Johnny Manziel off his Heisman ballot last year due to his arrest last summer. However, that is quite the astonishing attack from one sportswriter to another. Whitlock made some decent points in the interview about the entire brand of investigative journalism in college sports doing the work of an ineffective NCAA for them which are worth discussing from a media point of view. In fact, it's a sentiment largely shared by Dan Wetzel after Yahoo published yet another report into improper benefits with 5 SEC players. At some point the individual cases and investigative reports lose their appeal and significance because the broken system isn't changing.
But those comments about Evans? That's what drew ESPN's attention. According to the Sherman Report, ESPN has released a statement saying Whitlock's been called into the principal's office and his comments were "unacceptable"…
“We have discussed Jason’s comments with him. They were personal in nature, they do not represent ESPN and they are not acceptable based on the standards we have set.”
One area ESPN does not wish to "Embrace Debate" is with criticism of fellow media companies. It does ESPN no good to have writers involved in fights with other outlets because it brings them down from their pedestal at the top of the sports world. That's why ESPN has to pull in big personalities like Bill Simmons and Jason Whitlock to toe the company line. Given Whitlock's history and nature, this story is as surprising as the fact that elite college football players received money under the table. The real interest here is whether or not Whitlock's outspokenness causes the relationship between columnist and company to come to a bitter end like it did the first time around.