After weeks of speculation, it looks to be all but official – Jason Whitlock is moving back to Fox Sports. Whitlock’s return comes just over two years after leaving Fox right before the launch of FS1 in a stealthy move to ESPN. It’s a surprise to see Fox welcome back Whitlock with such open arms given the nature of his departure being a blow in the timing of his move back to ESPN, but with Fox embracing debate under Jamie Horowitz, they clearly will welcome back all the big personalities they can get.
Whitlock marked his return in a bit of a peculiar way, penning a lengthy manifesto called The Explanation 2.0 on a tumblr page called “J.School.” And while Fox hasn’t sent out a fancy PR announcement yet trumpeting Whitlock ping-ponging back to the west coast, this tweet advertising his post and an appearance with Colin Cowherd today says all you need to know.
.@WhitlockJason on departing from his last project & what’s next.
— FOX Sports (@FOXSports) October 14, 2015
As for Whitlock’s much-hyped “Explanation 2.0” it, well, covers a lot of ground. And I mean a LOT of ground. Shoot, it takes 18 paragraphs to get to the first Wire reference! Whitlock takes a run at Deadspin, Ta-Neishi Coates, politics, religion, journalism, and pretty much everything in between.
While Whitlock doesn’t touch on his ESPN tenure too much, here’s the meat of Whitlock’s perspective on why it didn’t work at The Undefeated:
Why did I fail at The Undefeated? There are numerous reasons, including my foolish belief I could manage like a football coach. I learned there’s an art to corporate politics that I’m not good at. Another part of the answer is quite simple and rather obvious: 1) ESPN is cost-cutting, undergoing a significant cultural shift that has led to the departures of Bill Simmons, Colin Cowherd, Keith Olbermann and yours truly; 2) If you believe the 2014 reporting of Robert Lipsyte, ESPN’s in-house ombudsman at the time, key ESPN executives disagreed with my vision to build a site as ambitious and well-funded as Grantland and FiveThirtyEight. The analysis of race and culture is far more difficult than the analysis of movies, burritos and numbers.
So why have I been portrayed in countless stories as the black plague of journalism? That’s the deeper explanation, and it begins with understanding the conversation I wanted The Undefeated to provoke among black people. Who are we? And do the black journalists and leaders alleged to represent our views really represent what we believe?
Or are they unwitting pawns handed 30 pieces of silver, 100,000 Twitter followers and a standing invitation on FOX News, CNN and MSNBC to provoke a battle that will ultimately lead to further rollbacks of the victories won by Dr. King, Rosa Parks and our greatest generation?
The self-appointed leaders of groupthink are comfortable basking in the admiration of their neo-liberal, white supporters, uninterested in legitimate discourse and worked nonstop to characterize my vision as irresponsible, anti-black and too revolutionary for Disney. My vision is not out of step with traditional black values. Fair journalism – the kind of work done by Simon and Alexander – would properly analyze black culture.
Whitlock is taking a very high-minded approach in his Fox return in wanting to save journalism and having these very real conversations about sports and race. It’s ambitious and admirable in many ways, but skeptics will abound. Keep in mind that the last time Whitlock was at Fox Sports, this happened. Also this, which may make Fox Sports staff meetings a bit uncomfortable.
Now that Whitlock is back at Fox, it’ll be fascinating to see if this J.School tumblr develops into something more and what direction the network goes. Could Fox try to develop their own site with Whitlock towards African-Americans and beat ESPN to the punch at their own game? Will they try to elevate the national sports conversation? Or, will Fox and Horowitz want to take race to the bottom as quickly as they an and simply turn Whitlock into FS1’s version of Stephen A. Smith or Skip Bayless? I’d like to be wrong about this, but given Whitlock’s history and the direction FS1 seems to be heading, is there any doubt what the expected outcome will be?