The Instant Historian: The Great NFL Draft Twitter Debate, The Great Jason Whitlock Debate


The NFL Draft is here. Thus, the great media water cooler had its now annual kvetch about reporters tipping draft picks on Twitter. Sources leak. Reporters tweet. Opinion sets in before Herr Goodell reaches the podium. It kills the contrived drama.

ESPN and NFL Network already silenced their own reporters (though you can’t stop Adam Schefter from grinding). This year, the NFL pressured its other broadcast partners to do the same. The first round has come and gone. The picks still leaked.

As with most media debates, arguments have kept going long after the question has been resolved. Those who want a surprise can turn off the Twitter. Most recognize watching talking heads pretend they don’t know the pick for three minutes isn’t compelling either. Technology has changed since 1995. So has the NFL Draft. The next “Kyle Brady to the Jets” moment will happen via retweet.

This “controversy” overshadows the true Twitter scourge: play-by-play tweeting. Writers are watching the game. Devices are opened to Twitter. Writers (or team accounts, or media outlet accounts) become rote conduits for play outcomes.

These tweets are mindless and pointless. Those interested are (a) watching the game or (b) on a device with a myriad of better ways to track the game’s progress. They are counterproductive. Tweeting distracts attention from both watching the game and writing about it, a writer’s job. Most importantly, the tweets are awful for anyone trying to watch the game.

“Live” TV broadcasts can be on a few second delay, which means those in the press box can tweet before the TV audience has seen something. Those with wives and children “live streaming” may be a full 20-30 seconds behind. Doing so on occasion may be advisable, but no one should have to leave Twitter to watch a “live” sporting event unspoiled.

We’re all guilty. Even the Instant Historian can be prone to a “Messi!!!! 1-0.” Perhaps, a good rule of thumb would be to make sure your tweet contains a thought. That few seconds it takes you to check your grammar and make sure that snark is tight (and not offensive enough to ruin your professional life) make a world of difference.

On Starting a Website… Deadspin’s Greg Howard wrote another lengthy critique of Jason Whitlock and his yet-to-launch website. Manifest, from both the piece and the responses, is that a number of smart, professional people don’t like Jason Whitlock. Some do. That’s a natural outgrowth of his honed iconoclasm.

We’ve never worked with or for Whitlock. We can’t attest to what that would be like. He sounds difficult. Many who achieve things are. Frankly, we hope our own work e-mails are never excavated.

What we can say, from personal experience, is Whitlock spends an inordinate amount of time engaging with younger writers. He does it in public. He does it in private. Sometimes it’s to tell you you “did the damn thing.” Sometimes it’s to inform you you just ruined your damn career. Sometimes it’s helpful. Almost always it’s unsolicited and thoughtful.

Writing for a website is easy. Starting one is difficult, even at ESPN. Formulating a coherent vision is hard. Executing on one is harder. Doing it takes tremendous ego. The toughest lesson is knowing when to let that ego go. Satisfied you found the right formula? You’re already falling behind.

Whitlock is going (mostly) uncharted with The Undefeated. He wants to do quality, long form journalism at a time when #longform is mostly navel-gazing with greater wind. He wants to write just about race, at a time when opinions are calcified and minor slights can cost livelihoods. He is doing so for the most visible, mainstream outlet in sports media.

Whitlock may skipper that site right off the world’s edge. Doubtless, many want and expect him to do that. He may just do that damn thing. Whatever happens with him, it has always been interesting (and worth blogging about). At least let him get off the damn dock.