An excerpt from my latest column for Poynter:
To gain perspective on the two biggest stories in sports journalism in 2015, you need to dial up a podcast from two years ago.
On Aug. 15, 2013, Jason Whitlock was Bill Simmons’ guest on his “BS Report” podcast for Grantland. Yes, it can be found, and in light of what happened this year, the interview sounds laughable and more than a touch ironic.
Back then, Whitlock was beaming in rejoining ESPN after leaving in 2006. “This is one of the greatest days of my life,” he said.
Whitlock discussed how he “fell in love” with ESPN president John Skipper. Skipper wanted Whitlock to oversee a new ESPN aimed at African-Americans. Whitlock called it “the black Grantland.”
“Skipper carved out a vision for me,” Whitlock said. “It was like he talked to my mother…It was everything I wanted to hear.”
Indeed, the podcast was an ESPN lovefest with Simmons welcoming Whitlock to join him on the thrones in Bristol, Conn. Does it get much better for a writer than getting to develop and then run your own site on the biggest platform in sports?
Whitlock, who repeatedly bashed the network during his hiatus, called his previous employer, FoxSports.com, “off Broadway” compared to ESPN.
“ESPN is Broadway,” Whitlock said. “It’s the big stage. All the spotlight is on you.”
And then ESPN turned off the spotlight on both of them in 2015. Whitlock was relieved of his duties in developing The Undefeated site. He eventually left ESPN. Meanwhile, ESPN decided it could live without Simmons, saving big money by not renewing his contract.
In both cases, the downfall of Simmons and Whitlock at ESPN likely was due to big-head syndrome. Deadspin documented how Whitlock, with his bizarre and grandiose pronouncements, clearly lacked the leadership skills to run a major site.