Two years ago, Jason Whitlock was hired at ESPN and charged with creating a black sports and culture site, originally billed as a “Black Grantland” and eventually named The Undefeated. Last month, he was ousted as the head of the site after failing to get it off the ground, undermining the entire project in the process. Whitlock’s minder/nominal lieutenant, Leon Carter, was named the interim EIC, and ESPN president John Skipper announced that the company was still committed to launching a black-interest site. Since, there’s been little news.
Behind the scenes, however, Skipper has been making moves. Just a couple of weeks after Jason Whitlock was relegated to substitute PTI duty, Amy DuBois Barnett, one-time executive editor of The Undefeated, was also cut.
The site’s future appeared bleak, with ESPN sources saying that some in Bristol have wondered why a site focused on race should exist at all. Instead of killing the project, though, Skipper has decided on what appears to be a full revamp. Earlier this month, Skipper flew to London for Wimbledon. On July 7, he met with ESPN The Magazine columnist and author Howard Bryant, who was covering the event. Skipper asked Bryant to help lead the relaunch.
Skipper and Bryant are still early in talks, so for now, the role is being described as “editor-at-large.” Bryant still has his magazine column. Carter is still the head of a dead website, but there’s no word on what this means for the interim EIC down the road, or for the rest of the staff that Whitlock hired. That staff consisted of Whitlock friends and allies—some of whom share his politics, which are broadly unpopular in Bristol—and a gaggle of talented young writers who haven’t published a single word since joining.
We’re told, though, that there’s real excitement among ESPN minorities. One of Whitlock’s biggest obstacles as EIC was that he had so alienated blacks and women throughout his career that ESPNers who otherwise might have been interested in a site like the one he was tasked with launching flatly refused to work with and for him. With him out of the way, though, the site is once again attractive. This network rakes in billions, burns millions, has a stranglehold on sports coverage, and has real talent at least interested in this project; it would seem almost impossible to fuck it up again.