Monday, February 13, 2012

Jason Whitlock's decline isn't something to be celebrated

Jason Whitlock's decline isn't something to be celebrated

Posted By on Mon, Feb 13, 2012 at 12:24 PM

Its becoming hard to remember why we read Jason Whitlock.
  • It's becoming hard to remember why we read Jason Whitlock.
The longer I read the sports pages — in print and online — the more I become convinced that the window for great sports writing is as fleeting as that of athletes performing at their peak abilities. During his 16-year career with The Kansas City Star that ended in August 2010, Jason Whitlock was a bombastic, sarcastic columnist who forced people to consider opinions that made them uncomfortable. He was a beautiful counterpoint to Joe Posnanski, a columnist who has defined the art of covering transcendent athletes and games by refusing to give in to the easiest of instincts: mockery. Both were earnest — one in his pursuit of challenging stereotypes and the other in search of the next great moment. It worked because they had each other.

To see Whitlock at the center of a storm of a controversy is nothing new; however, the way he got there — courtesy of this tweet about New York Knicks' sensation Jeremy Lin — is a bit disheartening.

Whitlock was never a columnist who chased down stories or even sought to break news. He was part of a generation of sports columnists that managed to blend fandom and critical thinking. Boston had Bill Simmons. Kansas City had Whitlock. And for a time, we were the better for it.

Twitter doesn't come with subtext. It's hard to know what Whitlock was (or was not) thinking. At its worst, the tweet is racist — which is difficult to accept because of Whitlock's propensity to call people out for their own insensitivity. At its best, well, there really is no best. Whitlock's subsequent apology on Sunday in the wake of a wall of criticism will rightly not engender much sympathy for him.

But what should have been a medium built for his louder-than-life personality has instead rapidly torn his hinges off — beginning with his hourlong local radio rant about his parting with the Star. And at age 45, he's gone from cranky to crank. Last year, he dismissed the Yahoo! investigative piece that broke the scandal of Miami boosters and was called out for "having no soul,"

Perhaps a younger, less embittered version of the sports columnist would have thrived in this media climate with immediate access to fans and the chance to cleverly trade barbs with athletes and owners. Instead, his decisions just continue to call into question exactly what it was that I liked about him. When he was on, Jason Whitlock never had to manufacture controversy. It came calling of its own accord. And perhaps that is what is most pathetic about the weekend storm that followed his tweet. It means his heart is no longer in it or, even worse, that we never really knew what was in his heart.

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