Earlier this week, we reported that Jason Whitlock had left FS1. Whitlock spoke to Outkick on a variety of topics including his decision, life, Drew Brees, the future of the industry, George Floyd, and much more:
The two biggest winners in media this year are Dave Portnoy and Joe Rogan. Both of them created their own brands that now have massive, dedicated followings. How much of their success is a result of the mainstream media drifting so far away from the average person?
Whitlock: I would attribute 50 percent of their success to exactly that. The other 50 percent is their work ethic, balls and talent. The mainstream media is dedicated to the elites. Portnoy and Rogan cater to the common man and woman. They saw a massive audience that was underserved and built businesses to serve that audience. It’s just smart. It’s Business 101. Both of them have a masculine energy that people are attracted to because masculinity is under attack. It’s why everyone loved Michael Jordan after the Last Dance documentary. Jordan is an asshole but he came off very masculine. People like that.
Can one breakout without any social media presence in 2020?
Whitlock: Excellent question. I think social media is a necessary evil. It’s a great way to push out content. But that’s social media’s sole value. Everything else about social media is suspect and counter-productive. The problem for most people, including yours truly, is we lack the discipline to only push out content. We get sucked into the dopamine high of likes, retweets and replies. We think we’re smarter than the algorithms. We’re not. You can’t make it without social media. Use it to promote content.
At what point did you realize you were going to leave FS1 to write another chapter of your career?
Whitlock: I’m in a text string with a group of guys I played football with at Ball State. We’re always talking about moving without fear even during this pandemic. In late March, one of the guys texted this: “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and a sound mind.” It wasn’t in that moment that I knew I was leaving, but it is that belief that drives my decision-making. I believe in myself. When I was presented parameters for my return to FS1, and then I looked at other options with more upside, control and freedom, it became clear returning to FS1 would be fear-based, not opportunity-based. I reject fear.
What has skipping the newspaper step done to the new era of sports media? At a time, it was rare to make it on TV with an opinion if you didn’t spend years as a columnist.
Whitlock: It’s eliminated qualifications. A lot of the people talking about sports on TV and across the internet have never legitimately covered a sports team or league. They don’t know what they don’t know. The old newspaper model you had to earn the right to voice an opinion. You had to show the ability to develop sources, break news, be informed and be creative before you were handed a column and the right to have a published opinion. Now you just need to know how to hit the send button or spew a hot take. We’re getting hot takes from former bartenders. The takes aren’t informed. Everyone has a take on complicated racial matters and we allow anyone to say what they want. It’s crazy. I’m talking about black and white broadcasters. Everyone is crowd-sourcing their racial opinions through Twitter. It’s irresponsible. It’s a contributing factor to the chaos we have now in America.
What have you thought of the coverage of Drew Brees’ comments that he’d never agree with anybody who disrespects the flag?
Whitlock: It’s sad. Brees has every right to feel that way about the flag and the national anthem. He’s not alone in feeling that way. Trust me, many black athletes and people share his sentiment. His belief in no way diminishes the cause of supporting justice for George Floyd. It’s nonsensical to argue that kneeling during the playing of the national anthem and the flying of the flag has absolutely nothing to do with the flag and the anthem. Athletes are addicted to growing a social media following. Drew Brees’ comments gave everyone an opportunity to use him as a tool to grow their following. There used to be a time when you disagreed with someone’s harmless opinion and you just rolled your eyes and moved on to more important matters. That time has disappeared. We’re all now just fodder for each other’s social media outrage and righteousness. Social media is the real pandemic killing America and freedom. Social media is going to destroy football. People will applaud football’s death/fall until the moment they realize social media mobs will destroy absolutely everything we love about America.
What about how the sports world has reacted to the death of George Floyd?
Whitlock: I think the sports world is being as honest as it can be given our collective addiction to social media. Sports media, athletes and organizations believe Twitter and Instagram are critical to their survival and ability to reach an audience. When you can’t grow TV ratings, you get seduced into changing the way you keep score. Twitter, IG, YouTube subscribers have become the new scoreboard. Those scoreboards are heavily manipulated to reward a certain point of view. What happened to George Floyd is a heinous, criminal tragedy. There is universal agreement on that. There should be a robust discussion on what should happen in the aftermath and what more we can do to prevent tragedies like that from ever happening to anyone living in America. We’re unlikely to have that discussion. And the sports world, a traditional leader in promoting racial progress, won’t be an authentic leader in that discussion. Our collective addiction to the social-media scoreboard controlled by Silicon Valley and influenced by countries interested in destabilizing the United States through the promotion of racial disharmony has disrupted sports as a unifier. Worse, it has effectively outlawed/criminalized public diversity of thought. The risk is too great for most. Saying “all lives matter” can cost you your career. That’s un-American. It’s fascist. It speaks to the power of the social media mob. Freedom of thought and expression is at the very core of American freedom. People are being forced to live in fear of expressing what they think. Our beliefs are being crowd-sourced by algorithms concocted in Northern California and exploited by Russia and China. Twitter is a platform intended to promote outrage, not solutions or honest dialogue. We can’t have honest, robust conversations about difficult subjects because the people leading those discussions in the media, in the sports world and in the celebrity world are way too concerned about their social media following. Social media eliminated role models and replaced the concept with influencers. Influencers sell product dependent on manufacturing and sales in China. Today’s social-media-addicted influencers cannot take the risks of honest, informed, nuanced commentary, especially as it relates to race. There’s a long history of communist-run, highly-racist, non-diverse foreign powers smearing America’s melting pot as ground zero for racial bigotry. Social media is headquarters for that propaganda campaign. America is imperfect when it comes to race. However, we are light years ahead of our foreign critics. Global influencers and their wannabes can’t tell you that. China doesn’t allow it.
Nobody has been harder on Colin Kaepernick than you — what do you say to his supporters today?
Whitlock: What was he right about? That police brutality is bad? I’ve never met anyone who believes police brutality is good. Police brutality is a societal issue that impacts all demographics. Police brutality is an abuse of power and authority. Racializing the discussion of police brutality prevents us from framing the discussion properly and framing it in a way that moves us toward progress. It’s a mistake to trivialize the heinous crime that happened to George Floyd by making it a discussion about a quarterback who used the issue to promote his Nike brand and a signature gym shoe.
The media has mostly protected LeBron James when he speaks up on off the court issues. Particularly, his comments on China this past fall. You’ve been critical of him and were once again for his tweet about Ahmaud Arbery. Talk to us about that.
Whitlock: I don’t regret the criticism of LeBron. The first sentence in his tweet was dishonest and intended to promote outrage. He said we (black men) are hunted every day, every time we step out of the house or something close to that. It’s a ridiculous statement, not supported by a single fact. It’s a statement that promotes an irrational fear. Fear and emotion are the enemy of rational thought and rational behavior. Social media promotes an anecdote-driven worldview rather than an information-and-fact-driven worldview. Social media says: “Look at these 15 anecdotes we’ve strung together over the last seven years. These 15-20 anecdotes prove that you should live in fear of being killed by police. Ignore the seven years of evidence, data and research that prove you’re just as likely to be killed by a bolt of lightning.” Let me repeat. What happened to George Floyd is a heinous, criminal tragedy. The two guys who killed Ahmaud Arbery are criminally wrong, in my opinion, based on what I’ve seen of the video. Social media, its primary influencers, the blogosphere and the mainstream media all seem determined to promote irrational fear. They seem to want all people emotional and irrational. Irrational and emotional people surrender their rights more easily than rational and non-emotional people. Irrational and emotional people, especially when 40 million of them are newly unemployed, will choose rioting, violence and looting rather than a strategic response to injustice. Irrational and emotional people will unwittingly allow themselves to be used as cover for the violent, destructive behavior of anarchists. Irrational and emotional people will more easily buy propaganda spewed by communist countries trying to destabilize America. Is LeBron an effective voice? Yes, I think for his primary employer, Nike, LeBron is an effective voice. He’s an influencer for Nike. If you believe Nike, a global corporation with enormous ties to China, is an authentic champion of human rights and justice for poor, working-class people, then LeBron is an effective voice for social justice. If you think Nike is a global corporation interested solely in its bottom line, then you might question LeBron’s actions as it relates to social justice.
Do you believe athletes will kneel again once sports resume?
Whitlock: Yes, I expect athletes to lean into public gestures. Social media will demand that they do and they will follow orders. But I also think many athletes will involve themselves in actions behind the scenes that will promote genuine progress. The on-field gestures will no doubt bother some traditional sports fans. Police brutality is a complex issue that cannot be improved by symbolism and gestures on a football field.
Why do you believe you take so much heat, particularly racial heat, on Twitter?
Whitlock: I take a lot of heat from “Black Twitter” and the people fearful of “Black Twitter.” Black Twitter is an algorithm controlled by white liberals in Silicon Valley. Black Twitter is a tool used to police the thoughts of the media. White media is scared of being labeled racist by Black Twitter. Black media is afraid of being labeled a sellout by Black Twitter. I don’t think Black Twitter is an accurate representation of the black community. Stevie Wonder can see the people and things I’ve empowered when given influence. From The Undefeated to Speak For Yourself, my support for black creators, thinkers, athletes, broadcasters, etc. is exemplary. From Jesse Washington at the Undefeated to Uncle Jimmy at SFY, I’ve tried to give everyone — regardless of point of view — a seat at the table. The power of social media is to render the truth irrelevant, to make what’s obvious a mystery.
I think Twitter has made it very difficult for sports-media executives to support sports writers and broadcasters who don’t adhere to left-wing talking points. The noise of Twitter drowns out common sense and hard data. Twitter would make you believe my point of view is despised by sports fans. Yet SFY has been growing an audience while most others have been losing audience. My understanding is Clay Travis’ radio show is experiencing amazing growth. Sports fans are thirsting for an honest point of view, free of the agenda dictated by social media.