Before ESPN’s The Undefeated site on race and culture even officially launched, it’s separated from the man the site was supposed to be based around. That would be long-time controversial figure Jason Whitlock, who was at the center of the plan for the site, but whose management practices were soundly destroyed in a 10,000-word April Deadspin feature from Greg Howard entitled “How Jason Whitlock Is Poisoning ESPN’s Black Grantland.” Richard Sandomir of The New York Times tweeted Friday afternoon that Whitlock will still write for ESPN, but is no longer heading up The Undefeated:
Jason Whitlock out as head of the Undefeated, replaced on interim basis by Leon Carter.Whitlock will stay at ESPN, mostly to write
— Richard Sandomir (@RichSandomir) June 12, 2015
ESPN issued its own statement on the change:
As we continue to move forward in the process of creating The Undefeated – a new ESPN site focusing on race and sports – we have collectively decided to make some structural adjustments that will maximize the skill sets and strengths of our team, leading to the best possible output for the site and for all of ESPN. To that end, Jason Whitlock will now be entirely focused on what he does best: creating distinctive and compelling content, which will live across various ESPN platforms. Jason’s thought-provoking perspective has always been a hallmark of his work and this will allow him to completely devote his time and energy to that. As a result, he will make significant contributions to multiple ESPN entities and programs. Since returning to ESPN, Jason has been instrumental in assembling the foundation of a strong editorial team, formulating the vision for the project and collaborating with our digital product team to develop the blueprint for the site.
Leon Carter – an experienced leader in journalism who officially joined the site in January after leading staffs at the New York Daily News and ESPNNewYork.com – will assume all day-to-day management of the site’s editorial processes and personnel on an interim basis.
Despite all the bad publicity for Whitlock’s work at The Undefeated in recent months, this is still a reasonably-shocking move. The entire concept of the site was based around his approach, in an effort to develop something similar to what Bill Simmons had created with Grantland. Howard’s report made it seem that Whitlock never learned what Simmons did, though; the key to a site like this isn’t to get everyone on it to think like you, but to find new writers and new ways of storytelling that deserve wider exposure and fit with your approach. Perhaps this is ESPN cutting its losses and realizing that Whitlock isn’t well-served in the editor-in-chief role. It’s going to be fascinating to see what becomes of The Undefeated in the coming months now that it’s moving forward without the man it was centred around.