We’ve been hearing about the supposed launch of ESPN’s The Undefeated site seemingly since the beginning of time. Of course that is a huge exaggeration, but as the launch keeps getting pushed back, one wonders if the site will ever get off the ground. After Jason Whitlock was relieved of his duties heading up “The Undefeated” back in June, ESPN President John Skipper pledged his support for the site and said it was full speed ahead for the launch.
ESPN’s hope that the site will be a voice for African American issues and be the Black Grantland is publicly being maintained for now.
However, after Leon Carter temporarily replaced Whitlock and then ESPN.com senior writer Howard Bryant looked like he was on track to become permanent editor-in-chief of the site, it now appears that Bryant may not be in position to lead the site after all. The New York Times’ Richard Sandomir reports that ESPN is still searching for an editor-in-chief and a network spokesman says Bryant’s role at the site is still being discussed.
As Sandomir writes, there are just eight stories linked from the front page and plans to have a story posted once a week until the site launch appears to be stalled.
So what is the future of The Undefeated? It appears that a new ESPN rule regarding writers and on-air talent not becoming managers is affecting the search. If this is truly the case, then Bryant may not become the editor-in-chief. So as ESPN continues to look for Whitlock’s replacement, it means the actual launch of the site is delayed once again.
Sandomir writes that an internal memo regarding the delay was circulated to the staff this month:
The uncertainty about the state of The Undefeated was reflected in a memo that ESPN’s public relations department sent to the site’s staff members and contributors in anticipation that some would attend the National Association of Black Journalists convention in Minneapolis this month.
The talking points suggested that if ESPN staff members were asked by colleagues about the delayed start, they should respond, “Given shift in management, timetable has shifted.” To any question about why the site had taken so long to kick off, the suggested responses included: “Taking time to get it right from the start. Unique and sensitive nature of the topic (intersection of race and sports) demands the right staffing.” If they were asked about Whitlock’s departure, part of the proposed response was, “The fact that ESPN’s commitment to this project has not wavered is most important.”
The longer ESPN drags its feet on the project, the more difficult it will be to finally launch. Sandomir reports that one ESPN executive wants to fold The Undefeated into ESPN.com, but that has been officially denied. But with writers wondering each day whether the site will really get launched and as the site spins without a true leader, one wonders if The Undefeated will ever get off the ground.