Monday, January 14, 2008

Jason Whitlock is the Crazy Uncle in the Attic

I'll admit that at one stage in my life, I enjoyed Jason Whitlock's commentary, mainly because he was the one counter-point to the Northeast-obsessed middle-aged white guys on the Sports Reporters. He was also a guy who was willing to discuss race, which is subject to so many taboos that the topic has become almost impossible to cover. Lately, Whitlock has completely lost me, as he's become an eccentric blowhard. Specifically, he's become the go-to guy for prejudiced white people to say "see, I'm not racist when I say [insert prejudiced statement here]; Jason Whitlock says the same thing!" Sports Media Watch absolutely destroyed Whitlock on this front:

Whitlock's articles supposedly tell black America to sit down, shut up, and take responsibility. 'Real talk', apparently. Which would make sense if black America was one individual person, instead of a race of millions of individual people, each with their own mind. One of the main tenets of prejudice is the stripping away of individuality from the group being targeted. Whitlock certainly excels at doing this, as his articles frequently depict black America as one indistinguishable mass, especially young black America. It is this lumping of black America into one group that can allow Whitlock to so foolishly suggest that All Star Weekend was a calling people felt in the pit of their stomach, and to suggest that hip hop music is the cause of every ill within black society...

His articles are designed to get attention, to be controversial, and to always please the majority. Whitlock is considered the “rational” black man, the one who can see beyond his race, and look at things from the right point of view. He never plays the race card, and doesn’t blame white America for everything -- or anything at all, for that matter. He is a true 'credit to his race'; sadly, one imagines that he would beam with pride upon hearing such a statement. He tells it like it is, in that he tells the majority what they want to hear.

Even if one agrees with what he says, one must concede that he is transparent. Whitlock has no interest in the fortunes of black America, and is simply giving people what they want – validation. And that validation has resulted in multiple copycats. Whitlock has awoken a sleeping giant, one that took one look at what he wrote, and realized: “If he’s doing it, I can do it too.”

Jason Whitlock, worst of the sports media in 2007.

I like the idea of African-Americans (or just about any group) engaging in collective self-criticism. I'm also receptive to the idea that the standard for blacks being racist is much higher because of the historical context that colors race in this country (read: 250 years of slavery followed by a century of Jim Crow). All that said, it's hard to argue that this statement by Whitlock is not racist (HT: Mayhem in the AM):

Pete Carroll might be the one guy who could handle the special problems unique to coaching a professional football team in Atlanta, the hip hop capital of the Dirty South.

Carroll has built a college powerhouse in Snoop Dogg and Suge Knight's backyard. Maybe Carroll could do the same thing in the house that T.I. built.

To me, there's a reason Atlanta's basketball and football teams consistently stink. There are just too many distractions for young, rich black athletes and the look-at-me, bling-bling attitude that permeates Atlanta isn't conducive to building a team atmosphere.

This comment is so bad on so many levels. First, the generalization involved are truly striking. Atlanta is collectively written off has having a "look-at-me, bling-bling attitude" that acts as an explanation for why the Falcons and Hawks aren't good. Whitlock's comment personifies lazy journalism. Instead of actually analyzing why the Falcons and Hawks have been bad, which would require evaluation of a variety of bad personnel decisions, Whitlock opts for a one size fits all, pop psychology generalization that would make even Kirk Herbstreit blush.

Second, the comment doesn't make any logical sense. Unless you assume that Atlanta has excessive distractions and a look-at-me attitude, but Los Angeles doesn't, then USC's success refutes the argument entirely. The most successful college football program of the decade resides in the nation's capital for distractions, glitz, and superficiality. How is USC able to handle these distractions, but the Falcons and Hawks aren't?

Third, if you view Michael Vick's downfall as the cause (or at least a microcosm) of the Falcons' failures, then Whitlock's point is factually inaccurate. I have no doubt that Whitlock was thinking about Vick when he wrote that passage. As George Dohrmann and Farrell Evans of Sports Illustrated described in a well-done piece on Vick, Vick's problem was precisely the opposite of what Whitlock describes. Vick never made friends in Atlanta, he never put roots down, and he never made any effort to integrate himself with one of the preeminent African-American communities in the country. Instead, he kept his old friends from Newport News and he flew back to Virginia when he had free time. The problem for Vick wasn't that he was influenced too much by the city; it was that he made no effort to integrate to his new home. But why pay attention to actual facts when you can denigrate a metropolis and two of its sports franchises with a sweeping, unsupported, prejudiced generalization?


LD said...

Generally, I agree with this post...

But I do think that your second bullet point kind of missed what Whitlock said. I think what Whitlock meant was that Atlanta and LA both have a ton of distractions for young athletes, but because of Pete Carroll, USC has been able to succeed in spite of the distractions. He admits that LA has the same problems, but that there's some magical spell that noted humanitarian Pete Carroll has cast that allows the Trojans to be great. Now, I disagree with the assertion (I think there's a massive distinction between college and pro athletes, [insert Reggie Bush joke here]). I don't really agree with the argument on any of the levels, but even if one assumes that the city is the problem, I don't see how Pete Carroll could solve it - but that I think is what Whitlock thinks.

peacedog said...

The SI piece was really good, not sure how I missed it previously.

I agree with LD, both on what Whitlock was trying to sy and that it is a problematic assertion.

Anonymous said...

I agree about the Whitlock piece. I would add that the article is an insult to the ninety-something percent of African American athletes who have played for the Hawks and Falcons without incident. To me, the most high-profile "problem player" for the Falcons before Vick was none other than Jeff George, whom Whitlock has championed in other columns (Whitlock has seriously wondered why no NFL teams have shown an interest in George given his arm strength and the fact that he is still in good shape). The piece is also insulting to the African American community in Atlanta. As you point out, Vick never became part of the Atlanta community. Andrew Young, for example, tried to reach out to him several years ago but was ignored. Instead, Vick stuck with his Virginia friends, and that contributed to his undoing.

Jason Clinkscales said...

I was never a fan of Whitlock, going to his days with Page 2, doing the "NFL Truths" column, but because he had extensive coverage of the league for many years, I'd glance through. Maybe it's because I'm a young black sports media head from NYC [I am a Braves fan, so I'm not so bad ;)], but he does more than ruffle the feathers. If you've ever seen the cartoon "The Boondocks", he has been likened to many to the character 'Uncle Ruckus'.

By the way, I've never been to Atlanta (although I would love to go sometime), but even before everything went down for Vick, it's a little disappointing to know that he didn't embrace the city as much as the town embraced him.

peacedog said...

Altanta would offend your sensibilities Jason. It's not a bad town - au contrare - but it grew outward in hideous fashion. There's so much to do and see beyond metro Atlanta, but getting to and fro can be a chore. Alas.

Jason Clinkscales said...

Been rather behind, but thanks for the response, Peacedog. Someday, I'll go, but I know I won't go alone. I never liked going to a place if I didn't know anyone who is from or lives in the area because (s)he would make it easy to get around.