by Michael Tillery
Love him or hate him, you must trust that Jason Whitlock knows the field of journalism. He’s coming off a controversial transition from ESPN to AOL Sports because he had the temerity to express himself in an age where the media hasn’t any accountability for anything and everything. Sit back and observe the inevitable and seismic media shift that soon will become evident. While I personally don’t agree with everything he says—I’m sure he really doesn’t care—he is uniquely confident in his conviction and makes no bones about it. He deserves props for standing up to the powers that be at ESPN and speaking his mind about the Bonds witch hunt that had the majority of the media running around in circles like a disillusioned dog chasing its own tail.
I initially judged him as the writer farceur, but his recent insight has drastically changed that unfair characterization. He proves that there is a need for more Black voices in journalism with his strong opinionated wit that has to be put on notice. He’s become an influential check and balance. I personally feel that it was his dissent of Mike Lupica and others on Sports Reporters that took the heat off Bonds as the media improperly searches for a singular face to historically attach to the steroids era.
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Michael Tillery: For our readers who are fans of yours on ESPN. Why the switch from the world wide leader to AOL sports? Number 4 or 5 in the ranking of mainstream sports web sites.
Whitlock: It’s a calculated move on my part, a belief that my perspective on issues is totally unique and impossible to duplicate. If you have something original to say, location isn’t as important. I’m confident people will find my work because my work will demand to be found. Neal Scarbrough, the guy leading AOL Sports, will help people find my work. He believes in me and the originality of what I have to say. There was a glass ceiling for my work at ESPN.com. I’m not a backup quarterback. I’m a starter, and I deserve a starter’s salary. I couldn’t get that at ESPN.com. So I signed with a team that was looking for a starting quarterback.
Tillery: What will you bring differently to AOL sports? What is real talk?
Whitlock: Real Talk is a brand of journalism, a style of writing that is honest and free of hidden agendas. It’s a way of discussing and learning about complex issues that will bring good people together and make the comfortable very uncomfortable.
Tillery: What is your overall perception of the Black athlete in the 21st century? Are you comfortable with their mainstream ruffle no feathers attitude?
Whitlock: My perception of the modern-day Black athlete is that he’s an underutilized resource. He’s just like most of young Black America — direction less, in love with money and clueless about what to do with his wealth beyond partying. His consistency in being clueless is a statement about the failure of Black leadership. He doesn’t know what to do because We don’t know what to do. Begging white folks to fix Black problems is not what We need to do. We need to ruffle Our own feathers. Black athletes need to be led. Muhammad Ali was not a leader. He was a follower. Someone told him what to say. No offense to Mr. Ali, but boxers do not moonlight as doctors or rocket scientists. So whatever you don’t like about today’s modern-day athlete is a statement about what you don’t like about our leadership. We haven’t captured their minds. 50 Cent and all the other closet klansmen have.
Tillery: What did you make of the frenzied media assault around T.O. and his accidental overdose/suicide attempt?
Whitlock: T.O. likes to bojangle, so the media treated him like a bojangler.
Tillery: You talk of a new civil rights movement for Blacks in 2006? Please explain
Whitlock: I’m talking about a cultural revolution among the hip hop generation (40 and younger). I’m talking about a total rejection of the negative images and values promoted, popularized and exploited by the Black closet klansmen, the Black men and women making money by defining Black culture as anti-education, pro-violence, pro-crime, pro-drug dealing, anti-fatherhood and totally irresponsible and devoid of morals. Kanye thinks George Bush hates Black people. Not as much as we hate ourselves. Racism definitely created the self-hate mental illness that we are suffering from, but we are responsible for nursing ourselves back to health. I hurt my knee playing football. I went to rehab every day, not the guy who fell on my leg. And when I was in rehab, I didn’t whack a baseball bat against my leg every day. So why are we ingesting music that is based in portraying us as uneducated animals? What other ethnic group does this? Why are we gobbling up Flavor Flav’s minstrel show on VH1?
Tillery: Talk about the elimination of “Bojangling for Dollars” amongst Blacks? What does that mean?
Whitlock: Responsible Black people need to penalize, reject and express displeasure toward the Black people who are profiting by promoting and conforming to a buffoonish and/or criminal Black image. I asked a Jewish friend what Jews would do if a group of Jewish kids started making music that relied on Jewish slurs and bragged about Jews killing Jews and called Jewish women bitches and hoes. Let’s just say the situation would be handled and there wouldn’t be a follow up album.
Tillery: Was there real animosity between you and Scoop Jackson (ESPN contributor)?
Whitlock: Scoop was bojangling for dollars, and I taxed him for it. If he continues, he’ll get taxed again. He was hired for the specific purpose of bojangling — “go write something that has that ghetto feel.” The dude is in his 40s and isn’t remotely street. He should know better. Do I have animosity toward Scoop? No. He just needed to be stopped before he wrote another article suggesting that Black kids stand a better chance of making the NBA than landing a job as a sportswriter.
Tillery: You made the comment about Scoop and referenced the Chris Rock character “Nat X” in your description. Please elaborate?
Whitlock: Nat X was a buffoon who spouted illogical, racist rhetoric in the name of Black power. He was a character created by SNL to make people laugh and dismiss legitimate issues raised by Black people. Replace Nat X with Scoop and SNL with ESPN and the sentence still holds up.
Tillery: You talk about the late Ralph Wiley as one of your favorite writing heroes. What made him unique in your estimation?
Whitlock: Ralph always had an original opinion. He always had to be taken seriously. He was always the smartest person in the room. Ralph was the same person all the time. He didn’t have a personality for white folks and a personality for Black folks. Ralph was Ralph. And Ralph defined Ralph’s value. Sports Illustrated didn’t define Ralph. ESPN didn’t define Ralph. Ralph made me realize at a very young age (when I saw him on the Phil Donahue show when I was a kid) that it’s foolish for a Black man to allow American institutions to define his value. You can’t win that battle. And as soon as you start performing for the approval of the powers that be, you lose your original, authentic voice and you’re a step closer to bojangling.
Tillery: Why do you think Bonds continues to be the “exclusive poster” boy for alleged steroid use and other athletes are constantly been added to the equation?
Whitlock: Bonds is a no-lose proposition for most sportswriters. Bonds doesn’t cooperate with the media, so there’s nothing to lose by attacking him. Plus, it’s an American tradition to put a Black face on whatever negative crisis is getting lots of media attention. Bonds is Willie Horton.
Tillery: You handled yourself well in a Sports Reporters episode when Lupica attempted to manipulate your voice. What is up with brothas not truly being able to voice gut opinions?
Whitlock: I don’t think there’s a movement to stop “gut” opinions. People run into the problems when they start expressing intelligent opinions that make the people in power uncomfortable. That problem has little to do with race. Insecure, sneaky, devious people tend to gobble up power because they are skilled at and enjoy playing the political games that it takes to gain power.
Tillery: Why is there an absence of media culpability when stories are reported in error?
Whitlock: Because most people are way too insecure to admit when they’re wrong.
Tillery: What can be done to create more opportunities for minorities in journalism?
Whitlock: Black people have to accept the responsibility of doing the work it takes to prepare for a successful career in journalism. There’s nothing wrong with working in the sticks for a few years and building a resume. White people in management need a better understanding of what “diversity” is. It’s passionate disagreements and the ability to get over it and continue to work with the person. I’ve seen too many people have their careers ruined because the sports editor was petrified that someone offered a dissenting view.