For those of you who don’t know, I’m an African American man in my early 30s. I work a full time corporate job which only allows me to do this site in my spare time. During my 40 minute to an hour commute to and from that corporate job, I listen to a myriad of podcasts. On Thursday’s commute home, the podcast of choice was “The BS Report with Bill Simmons”. And who happened to be the guest? Jason Whitlock fresh off the news that he’s decided to leave Fox Sports and return to ESPN.
The podcast started with Whitlock proclaiming that “this is greatest day in his life professionally” (The podcast was taped on Wednesday after the news broke). From there Whitlock details how he fell in love with ESPN President John Skipper after meeting with him and what ultimately led to his decision to return to the World Wide Leader in Sports.
Whitlock told Simmons that Skipper “carved out a vision for him” that was “everything he wanted to hear.” At the center of that vision, according to Whitlock is that he would “get to do something along the lines of a Black Grantland.” Now my first thought after hearing that Whitlock will be heading something he calls a Black Grantland was, “this sounds intriguing.” Then, I thought about it a little more and I really began to question the idea. If I’m perfectly honest, I’m still pretty intrigued by what a Jason Whitlock led Black Grantland would look like. But I question if we really NEED a Black Grantland.
As an African American man who writes about sports, I’m intrigued to see what another African American man with celebrity and a platform can do with a Black Grantland. I’m also intrigued by Whitlock’s plan to use this venture to mentor and help cultivate young black voices. But does all this intriguing work matter if it doesn’t reach the masses?
When I say the masses, I’m speaking of the people, no matter the race, that won’t be intrigued by a website lead by an African American. Even if it is housed under the ESPN umbrella. The masses are those that assemble each day at the Grantlands, Deadspins, and The Big Leads of the world. The masses are the voices behind the majority of independent sports websites today. The masses are typically already inclined to disagree or even dislike Jason Whitlock because of his prior work. And now, the masses will be given a reason from the very beginning to disregard this intriguing possibility because it’s branded as the “Black” Grantland. Or what it will eventually be twisted into: a Grantland for Black people. Everyone else, you have the Bill Simmons run Grantland; No need to come over to Jason Whitlock’s Black Grantland to read about our ideas and our views of the sports world.
A Grantland for Black people would be nice and all if Whitlock plans on gathering black people together in one place to persuade them that Jay Z has no business in sports day after day, but I’m sure that’s not what Whitlock is looking to do here. I really think he’s trying to do something intriguing, something important. But unfortunately, perception is reality. And the perception is a quickly forming. Just do a search on Twitter for the phrase, “Black Grantland” and read what’s being written. I mean, there’s already a Black Grantland Twitter account with a cotton field as its background. So we already know where this is eventually going.
Frankly, really all we NEED is more black voices writing for Grantland, or any other place where the masses gather. That gets the job done quicker and easier. No need to create something that’s branded for only black people with the hope that everyone else comes to participate.
Whitlock doesn’t need a black branded website to find and mentor the next Michael Wilbon, the next J.A. Adande, or the black Bill Simmons. There’s plenty of black voices online making their way online like Robert Littal of BSO, Eddie Maisonet of The Sports Fan Journal, and Tony Ramsey of Los That Sport Blog just to name a few. And they all could benefit from someone like Whitlock being the face of a project that not only resonates with the Black sports fans, but all sports fans.
Hopefully, I’m missing Whitlock’s vision here and the Black Grantland description was just an oversimplification of something much more meaningful. But as it stand, Whitlock embarking on journey of sports news For Us, By Us really misses the mark for me at least. Especially when you think about what Whitlock could do with all the resources he’ll have at his disposal at ESPN.