It’s been a long and winding road for The Undefeated. And while former Editor-in-Chief and current Fox Sports employee Jason Whitlock has gotten all the headlines (first for his demotion, then for his leaving ESPN, now for his blood feud with Deadspin’s Greg Howard, whose reporting had a role in bringing down the Whitlock Era), the site that was made for him has been lost in the shuffle.
Since Whitlock’s demotion, The Undefeated has still been stuck in neutral. The homepage of the site still shows less than 20 articles under its banner in over two years of wandering through the proverbial wilderness. The site that was formulated upon Whitlock’s arrival in the summer of 2013 still has not yet officially launched, leading some to speculate if it will ever be fully formed.
After (literally) years of questions and clouds looming over The Undefeated, today represents the day where they may be finally starting to lift. ESPN has hired a new Editor-In-Chief pegged for the site and it’s Washington Post managing editor Kevin Merida. Howard reported Merida’s interest in the position last week.
Whoa. Kevin Merida to ESPN pic.twitter.com/Kg5rrf3dZa
— Dan Steinberg (@dcsportsbog) October 19, 2015
An announcement Monday morning from ESPN made it official:
Kevin Merida, managing editor at The Washington Post, has been named editor-in-chief for “The Undefeated,” ESPN’s upcoming site that will provide in-depth reporting, commentary and insight on race and culture through the lens of sports. Merida will be a senior vice president and responsible for the editorial direction, tone and policies of the site, and provide oversight for key initiatives undertaken by “The Undefeated.” He will report directly to Marie Donoghue, ESPN Executive Vice President for Global Strategy and Original Content, and be based in Washington, D.C.
At The Washington Post, Merida serves as managing editor for news, features and The Post’s Universal News Desk since February 2013. He helped lead The Post’s digital transformation that has resulted in one of the largest increases in audience growth of any media outlet in the country over the last two years. Merida oversaw key sections – National, Foreign, Metro, Business, Sports, Investigations, Outlook, Style, Travel, Food, Local Living and Weekend/Going Out Guide and The Washington Post Magazine. Merida is the first African American to hold a managing editor position at The Post. During his tenure, The Post won three Pulitzer Prizes.
“Kevin is a remarkably accomplished journalist, editor and leader whom we have long admired and desired to join ‘The Undefeated’,” Donoghue said. “Today’s announcement represents a key step in the evolution of the site and ESPN’s commitment to this ambitious project.”
Merida definitely has the bonafides to resurrect The Undefeated with a long and successful journalism career, spending over 20 years at the Post. Most importantly, he’s someone with actual real-life editing experience and an ability to lead a staff and shape a vision. In other words, he probably won’t be the type to put his own inspirational quotes alongside Maya Angelou.
After being named Editorial Director, Leon Carter had been serving in an interim capacity for The Undefeated as Editor-in-Chief until a new hire was made. Carter will stay on with ESPN as the network says he’ll help with the transition and have “additional management responsibilities within ESPN.” The network had reportedly been in conversation with columnist Howard Bryant to take on the leadership role at The Undefeated. Bryant even tweeted that he’d been “outed” and listed a number of other prominent ESPNers as future Undefeated contributors.
At this point, it’s unknown what direction ESPN will pivot with the affinity site that has been under construction for so long and just who will be involved when the site finally launches. But with Merida on board, it’s the best sign yet that The Undefeated will actually come to life have a launch date. Given the roller coaster ride that the site has experienced and the lingering doubt over whether or not it will ever get off the ground, that may be the most important thing of all.