He was tapped by ESPN to create and lead “The Black Grantland” and after numerous starts and stops, Jason Whitlock was taken off the project which came to be known as “The Undefeated” and he eventually left the Worldwide Leader to join FS1. But even after the site has finally launched to great fanfare without him, Whitlock is not firing shots at ESPN choosing to take the high road.
For observers, this seems out of character for Whitlock who has taken shots at his former employer since leaving Bristol, CT. But speaking to the Sporting News about “The Undefeated,” Whitlock has actually been gracious. Whitlock said it was important to him that “The Undefeated” got off the ground after he left:
People I respect and care about work for the site. I desperately want them to be successful and secure. In addition, the site and the launch of the site are a great look for me. The worse thing that could’ve happened is the site not launching. The best thing was the site launching with a staff of nearly 50. Holy cow! I spent my first year back at ESPN wrestling with people about needing a staff of more than a dozen. Grantland and 538 had huge staffs.
As for his original vision of the site and his playbook for the site, Whitlock says he sees it when he visits “The Undefeated”:
Our original vision is the site. I use the word “our” intentionally. John Skipper, Jesse Washington, Mike Wise, John Hassan and Amy Barnett helped me formulate the original vision. It was a group effort that eventually included Danielle Cadet, Justin Tinsley, Jerry Bembry, Ryan Cortes and Brando Starkey. But it started with me and Skipper talking before I was hired. Then Jesse, Mike, Hassan and I talked endlessly for a year. Jesse and Mike weren’t even on staff. They were still working at the AP and the Washington Post, respectively. Then Amy Barnett joined the conversation, months before she was hired. For no money, people poured their souls into The Undefeated. Hassan and I were the only ones getting paid by ESPN. But if you read the much-maligned playbook, it’s a blueprint for what The Undefeated is. It’s all in there. It’s comical. People think I’m ashamed of the playbook. I gave it to anyone and everyone at ESPN and people outside ESPN. They all liked it when I gave it to ‘em and they followed it a year later.
Unlike Bill Simmons who criticized ESPN for stealing his ideas after he left the Worldwide Leader, Whitlock has no such thoughts:
No. They paid me for those ideas. And I’m honored and flattered that they used them. They could’ve been petty and small and run away from our plans. I came up with the name “The Undefeated” the day Maya Angelou died. It took eight months to get the name approved. If Skipper and ESPN were petty, they would’ve renamed the site. But Skipper is a good dude. His intentions are tremendous.
Whitlock admits he probably made a mistake in becoming the editor/manager rather than staying as a columnist, but he says he’ll always feel indebted to ESPN president John Skipper for giving him the opportunity. And as for being different than Bill Simmons in being angry at ESPN, Whitlock says he can’t afford to be bitter:
When Skipper removed me from “The Undefeated,” I was devastated for 36 hours. Cried like a baby. Then I got back on task. I didn’t and don’t want to do anything to hurt “The Undefeated.” My relationship with ESPN was different than Simmons’. ESPN made Bill Simmons. The Kansas City Star made me. When I left Kansas City, I was angry and bitter. I never wanted to leave newspapers. I wanted to be Mike Royko. I did a three-hour radio/TV show expressing my anger and bitterness toward KC Star management. I got it off my chest in those three hours and pretty much moved on. Simmons is working out his bitterness. It will pass.
So as far as “The Undefeated” is concerned, Whitlock seems to be rooting for its success and will not take shots at the site. On his way out from ESPN, he still fired some missives at the Worldwide Leader.
Perhaps as more time passes, Whitlock will continue his conciliatory tone with ESPN.