Well, there were immediate ramifications from Lord Vader: Whitlock was officially banned by ESPN yesterday afternoon because of his comments.
James Cohen, an executive at the network, called me Monday and asked me whether the comments attributed to me in the interview were true. When I said "yes," he informed me that I could no longer appear on ESPN television shows and that my November appearances on "Pardon the Interruption" would be canceled.
I wasn't surprised. ESPN, a terrific network, has always been hypersensitive to criticism, especially when it comes from its independent-contract employees. Over the six years I've worked for ESPN, I've received complaining phone calls from its executives almost every time I've written a critical word about the network.
This was inevitable. ESPN does not tolerate criticism. Sportswriters far more distinguished than yours truly — Tony Kornheiser, John Feinstein and T.J. Simers — have been banned/suspended for comments perceived to be detrimental to the World Wide Leader. I'm sure my move from ESPN .com to AOL Sports was viewed as an act of disloyalty by some within the network.
It wasn't. It was just the act of a guy who values his ability to think, act and speak independently more than he does seeing his face on ESPN.
Honestly, Jason? We're not convinced the firing is the end of it. We have a fear you're going to wake up one morning with a mascot head in your bed. You see, this is what happens when you skip the ESPN orientation seminar, in which you are strapped to a chair, your eyes propped open, watching "Teammates" on an endless loop while the screen subliminally flashes "BEHAVE" and "YOUR NETWORK IS DOUBLE PLUS GOOD." Can't skip that, Whitlock.