On the last day of the shortest month of the year, (that’s supposed to be dedicated to the contributions that Black people have made to this country), America’s largest entertainment and sports programming network decided that it would announce that they were changing the name of the highest-profile Black sports and culture website’s name from something that was unapologetically Black to something no one has ever heard of.
The Undefeated — which was inspired by a Maya Angelou quote — is now “Andscape,” or whatever that is.
“This is what Andscape means to me: AND is for the infinite ways we define Blackness, and SCAPE is for our inclusive, eclectic and deeply dimensional view of the world. I can’t wait to see what Andscape will mean to you and your Ands,” wrote the site’s editor-in-chief Raina Kelley about why a name that has nothing to do with Black people or culture had to be chosen.
Was the “Noir Angle” not available? Or what about the “Melanin Perspective?” Look, I know those names suck because I just came up with them off the top of my head, but they’re better than “Andscape,” and at least they give off and feel… Black. Andscape sounds like a combination of buttons you push to correct an error on Microsoft Word.
“With The Undefeated, we began a dialogue that will be continued and broadened through Andscape to include more topics, more perspectives, and more ways to engage,” ESPN’s chairman Jimmy Pitaro said in an email to the New York Times.
The real reason the site’s name had to be changed is due to ESPN and Disney not fully owning The Undefeated trademark. There is a sneaker and apparel company with the same name, and if the site wants to expand into other areas like music, live experiences, books, films, and TV like the company says, then a name change was needed. But, why couldn’t Disney and ESPN expand the site when they were the Undefeated? Because every time Pitaro makes an announcement about “broadening the scope” of the site, it always reads like he’s trying to water the site down of its Blackness, while mentioning everything new they will be covering and conveniently omitting race.
“Now the company intends to try to expand its coverage to fashion, music, arts and technology,” Pitaro wrote in a memo to staffers in 2020 which was reported by Variety. As you can see, the 2022 version of expansion for the site mirrors the comments that were made in 2020, as both have less of an emphasis on race.
In 2018, I wrote a column asking if Pitaro and ESPN were going to give The Undefeated the Grantland treatment. At the time, Pitaro was (and still is in some ways) viewed as the “stick to sports” leader of ESPN that had taken over for John Skipper, a huge proponent of diversity who was running the company when it had Grantland, gave bigger platforms to ESPNW and FiveThirtyEight, and oversaw the creation of The Undefeated. This was also during the time in which The Undefeated lost at least six high-profile Black women on their staff within a matter of weeks, as outsiders — like myself — wondered about the site’s future. My column upset many people at the time and played a huge role in why I’m banned from appearing on the network’s airwaves, but the question needed to be asked as I felt like the site needed to do better. But, more importantly, ESPN needed to do a lot better by the site and its employees.
“ESPN doesn’t have to do anything at this point, The Undefeated might die on its own,” one former employee told me in 2018.
That sentiment was also shared by another former ESPN executive who also grew frustrated with the site. “While at the beginning it started out strong, since the first few months it has fallen far, far below expectations,” they said.
Since then, the site has been able to survive and thrive in some areas, and that’s not easy to do for any online publication, especially one with a majority Black staff in today’s time, given all that’s happened over the last few years when it comes to race relations in America. But, the work of talents like Clinton Yates, Kelley L. Carter, David Dennis Jr., Jason Reid, Justin Tinsley, and Marc Spears could not be denied. This is why the name change feels like such a slap in the face to those people, their readers, and Black America in general, as it’s been rebranded with a name that’s so bland when it has employees that give it flavor.
Everything about this announcement, and it taking place on the last day of Black History Month, feels off. Because if ESPN actually wanted to expand the site’s reach, they would have poured more into their Black employees and the people of color that work there, as well as their audience. Whitewashing the name and trying to delicately eradicate race from their coverage isn’t the answer. Promoting their work and highlighting it more on the ESPN.com homepage, is.
“Where Blackness is infinite,” is the site’s new slogan. And if ESPN wants Andscape to be a hit for the company and its audience, the work that the Black people at that company have created need to be infinitely endorsed in every space that ESPN owns. If not, it means that this was nothing but a ploy to silence powerful Black voices at a time in which we need even more of them.