What does it take to secure an interview with esteemed columnist Jason Whitlock? After repeatedly dodging our emails, he finally consented to a Q&A – but only after we threatened him with illicit photos of JW fluffing Jeff George before the quarterback tried out with the Raiders. You've read his pot-stirring columns on ESPN.com and in the Kansas City Star, and you've seen the overweight lova co-hosting PTI (where he has actually used lines like, I can't trust a big butt and a smile. Surely you know Jason Whitlock played football at Ball State, Jeff George may be the most famous name in his cell phone, and he's tight with Drew Bledsoe. Oh, and he's not a fan of Scoop Jackson. What follows is a frighteningly candid Q&A with Whitlock (yup, that’s him) about Scoop, race, Mike Lupica, a Civil Rights movement and the iconic photo above.
Q: Why’d you leave Page 2? Did your feud with Scoop Jackson have anything to do with you leaving?
I’ve always disagreed with Page 2 about the value of my column. But when I started, it was an opportunity to write alongside Ralph Wiley, Hunter S. Thompson and Bill Simmons. That’s a great lineup, and I just wanted to be in the middle of that order somewhere. Page 2 had a lot of energy. Ralph and Hunter passed, Simmons got his own page, the editor who kicked me ideas (Jay Lovinger) got promoted and suddenly I was batting in a very different lineup, and the new manager had me hitting a lot lower in the order. I wasn’t real comfortable, but I figured I’d let things play out. I quit doing radio and had more time to focus on my weekly ideas. The column was already game tight, but the frequency, consistency and content all improved. The compensation didn’t, the place in the batting order didn’t and the team started shopping for talent in remote locations.
Q: What about Scoop? Based on the way you bitch-slapped him in the KC Star, you couldn’t have liked working with him.
We didn't work together. But, yeah, there’s a big dropoff from being associated with Ralph, Hunter and Bill than being linked to someone doing a bad Nat X impersonation. It pissed me off that the dude tried to call himself the next Ralph Wiley and stated some [bleep] about carrying Ralph’s legacy. Ralph was one of my best friends. I hate to go all Lloyd Bentsen, but Scoop Jackson is no Ralph Wiley. Ralph was a grown-ass man who didn’t bojangle for anybody. Scoop is a clown. And the publishing of his fake ghetto posturing is an insult to black intelligence, and it interferes with intelligent discussion of important racial issues. Scoop showed up on the scene and all of a sudden I’m getting e-mails from readers connecting what I write to Scoop. And his stuff is being presented like grown folks should take it seriously. Please. I guess I’ll go Bill Cosby on you, but it’s about time we as black people quit letting Flavor Flav and the rest of these clowns bojangle for dollars. There’s going to be a new civil-rights movement among black people and the people bojangling for dollars are going to be put in check.
Q: A Civil Rights movement? In 2006?
Dude, it’s in the air. Black people are tired of letting idiots define who we are. It’s dangerous. I grew up loving hip hop music. But the [bleep] is way out of hand now. Flavor Flav went from fighting the power with Chuck D to a minstrel show on VH1. You have all of these young rap idiots putting out negative images about black men and black women, and it’s on us to stop it and say enough is a enough. It’s not on white people. And it’s not on old black people like Cosby and Oprah. We have to police our own. W.E.B. Dubois talked about the talented 10 percent leading the black masses. We’re letting the Ignorant 5 lead us straight to hell. The Ignorant 5 are telling white folks, “Yeah, this is how we really is. Let me bojangle for ya, boss. You say step and I’ll show ya I can fetch.” And what's even more dangerous, the Ignorant 5 are telling black kids, it's cool to be locked up. It makes a man out of you. And don't embrace education. Dealing dope and playing basketball are better career choices. The Ignorant 5 is the new KKK and twice as deadly. That's why you don't hear about the KKK anymore. The Klan is just sitting back letting 50 Cent and all the other bojanglers do all the heavy lifting.
Q: Will you remain a sports columnist? And isn’t it time you moved out of the sticks in Kansas City?
Yeah, I'm always going to keep a hand in the sports world. Writing about sports is a great platform to write about the rest of life. Plus, the sports world and the entertainment world are where much of the bojangling is taking place. I haven't left the Kansas City Star because I'm treated well there, enjoy the freedom, love the city, the Internet makes the world much smaller and, most important, I have a good boss. Most sports editors want to be at home by 4 p.m. or three Martinis down by 6 p.m. My boss (Mike Fannin) likes to work. He understands what diversity is. It's not a bunch of different color faces. It's long debates and occasional heated arguments and forgetting about it the next day. I come at things from a totally different perspective from most columnists. I throw heat, and I throw a knuckleball. The sports editor is going to have to flop around in the dirt once or twice a month. Most people don't want to work that hard. They'd prefer to get handed an 88-mph feature story right down the middle of the plate, and they want it by 3 p.m.
Q: Why AOL Sports? Sportsline and Yahoo are emerging as players. SI.com?
Neal Scarbrough, the head of AOL, doesnï't mind catching knuckleballs. He brought me in over at Page 2. He's good people. And I'm a risk-taker by nature. AOL Sports has nowhere to go but up. I talked with CBS about a year ago, but the guy running the place didn't have a concrete plan. Yahoo and SI have never shown an interest.
Q: Who are your boys in the sports writing industry? Who do you read?
Jeff Chadiha of Sports Illustrated is my boy. We go back to my days in Ann Arbor. Jeff and his wife just moved to Kansas City, and we've been working on a TV pilot for the past two years. The dude is just a rock-solid human being and real freaking smart. Jason King of the KC Star is my dog. He covers the University of Kansas. He's the best beat writer in the country. He breaks news and writes great features. You can't beat that combination. Terrence Harris of the Houston Chronicle is my brother from another mother. We disagree on damn near everything, but that's definitely my boy. Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News might be the coolest cat in the business. If Wojo had my ego, he'd be considered the best columnist in the country. Well, he'd also need to work for a newspaper that actually cared about its product. But that's outside his control. Damn, can't forget JA and Lonnie White out in LA. Greg Couch in Chicago. Who do I read? Simmons, TJ Simers, Wilbon, Deadspin, John Feinstein's books, message boards and Scoop Jackson whenever I've overeaten and want to purge.
Q: In one of your most memorable appearances on The Sports Reporters, you got into a tiff with Mike Lupica and Mitch Albom when you said sports was just ‘entertainment.’ Lupica told you to go work on ‘Entertainment Tonight.’ You haven’t appeared with either of them since. Have the three of you kissed and made up?
I donï¿½t have a problem with Mitch Albom. Lupica is an insecure, mean-spirited busybody. Heï¿½s upset because I put a clown suit on him on that show and in a follow-up column I wrote for ESPN. His little disingenuous overreaction to an opinion Iï¿½d stated previously on the show was staged to try to put me in a bad light. I guess no one had ever informed Mike that the E in ESPN stood for Entertainment. The Little Fella probably wonï¿½t let the producer (Joe Valerio) have me back on the show again. Thatï¿½s cool. Theyï¿½re mostly upset that I wouldnï¿½t participate in their Barry Bonds witch hunt and help them single Bonds out as the creator of steroids. Lupica doesnï¿½t like to be disagreed with, and heï¿½s spoken so abusively to that producer for years that the producer probably doesnï¿½t realize people are allowed to disagree with Lupica. I enjoyed my time on the show. But if the price of admission is stepping to Lupicaï¿½s drum, Iï¿½m more than happy to go without.
Q: Will your departure from ESPN.com impact your status on other shows at the network, like Rome is Burning, PTI, or The Sports Reporters?
I donï¿½t think so. Kornheiser, Wilbon and Rome actually have legitimate self-confidence and donï¿½t mind seeing other people stating opinions. And I donï¿½t have a problem with ESPN. Itï¿½s a great network. The producers I work with on PTI and Rome are great and donï¿½t have a problem with me stating my opinions. I donï¿½t see Lupica having the power to interfere with what I do on other shows. But I could be wrong. And I donï¿½t see the people at ESPN.com caring that I left for a better opportunity. I did five years at Page 2 for next to no money. Iï¿½m not Kunta Kinte. I gotï¿½s to feed my family. I left .com on good terms. No hard feelings.
Q: People say you play the race card far too frequently. Your response?
Black people think Iï¿½m too hard on black people. They write me and tell me Iï¿½m a sellout. White people say I play the race card too much when I question the timing of Charlie Weisï¿½ contract extension. But those same white people write me love letters when I blast off into the way the media and a prosecutor tried to crucify the Duke lacrosse players on the word of a couple of black criminal escorts. Iï¿½m going to write about race because race is an issue in America and my life experience has put me in a position to have something insightful and intelligent to say about race. I donï¿½t have an agenda when it comes to racial issues. Thereï¿½s enough stupidity on both sides of Americaï¿½s black-white dilemma to keep me typing for years. I donï¿½t have a guilty conscience about race. The people in my life know that I choose my friends solely on the content of their character. And I donï¿½t choose sides in my column based on the color of anyoneï¿½s skin.
Q: The photo of you suffocating the sofa is truly hilarious. Whatï¿½s the story behind it?
Love that picture. Makes me laugh every time I see it. Itï¿½s a picture of me after I finished my morning radio show. Itï¿½s from back in the days when I hosted ï¿½Jason Whitlockï¿½s Neighborhoodï¿½ from 6 to 9 weekday mornings. You ever wake up at 4 a.m. Monday thru Friday? Thatï¿½ll have your ass falling out on the first couch you see at 9:05 a.m. I think that picture was taken the day after our charity flag football game. It was a big party the night before (after the game). Iï¿½m not a big drinker, but it was a tradition for my team to lose and for me to drown my sorrows in Crown Royal and then stumble in and talk about it on the radio. That picture puts a smile on my face.