Finally caught up with Bill Simmons’ podcast with Jason Whitlock last week. Aside from the incredible reversal in Whitlock’s view of ESPN (Disney park theme music should have been included in this love fest), the reports of what he will be doing have been underplayed.
Whitlock actually is embarking on a noble mission. He will be assisting in the launch and will be the featured columnist in a new ESPN website that will be aimed at minority sports fans. He referred to the site as “a Black Grantland,” which generated some headlines. But there’s more at play here.
“I want to try to engage all sports fans, particularly minority sports fans, in a conversation about sports,” Whitlock said in the podcast.
Now here’s the kicker: the site will be looking to hire and develop young African-American sportswriters. It’s hardly news that the profession has a dramatic shortage there.
Evan F. Moore wrote a compelling piece about the issue this week at ChicagoSide:
(When) I go to media events around town, I can’t help but notice that I am one of the few African-Americans I see. For example, I went to the media reception at the Cubs Convention earlier this year, and the only African-Americans I saw in attendance were myself and WCIU’s Kenny McReynolds. A couple of months later, I went to a similar media reception for Sox Fest. Laurence Holmes, Micheal Mayden, Ryan Baker and yours truly were the only black media professionals I came across.
I’ve always wondered why there was such as discrepancy between the number of black sportswriters and the number of black athletes. Even though two other African-Americans have contributed to ChicagoSide in the past, I’m the only one who contributes on a regular basis. Come to think of it, I’m one of the few African-American sportswriters at the other websites where I write. I don’t blame the publications, It’s just something I notice. I appreciate those sites for allowing me to add my own ingredients to the mix.
During the podcast, Whitlock talks about the impact Ralph Wiley had on his career as a mentor. Now he wants to do the same for other upcoming African-American journalists.
“I think there are talented, young African-American journalists out there,” Whitlock said. “I just don’t think they have been mentored properly. That falls on people like me, who have had some success, to take it upon ourselves to do that. At the end of the day, we can do better. I hope this website will change some of that.”
ESPN president John Skipper addressed the new site during media day in Bristol Wednesday.
“We have lots and lots of African-American talent at ESPN.com, but we don’t have a place where it’s an African-American-themed, or centric, site, where that conversation can take place…We’re going to do a talent search. We’re going to do what espnW did in identifying female reporters. Jason is going to help us look for new, young African-American sportswriters.”
I have had some issues with Whitlock, and we even had a Twitter spat earlier this year. So he likely will be surprised to see some praise coming from me.
However, any initiative that looks to provide opportunities and help diversify press boxes and newsrooms ranks high with me, and I’m sure others in the profession.
Skipper said the site still is in the planning stages. He added, “It won’t be titled ‘The Black Grantland.'”
How about “Wiley?” Sounds good to me.