The feedback on my columns about ESPN broadcasters Katie Nolan and Maria Taylor is growing more interesting and misguided.
NBC sideline reporter Alex Flanagan said my persistent media criticism is a “sexist” and “shocking” shtick. Former NFL tight end Benjamin Watson chastised me over Twitter for failing to respect women, “especially our women.” Here’s Watson’s tweet.
Tuesday, Flanagan posted a column on her personal website reliving a couple of tweets I posted criticizing her work as an NFL sideline reporter in 2011 and 2012. Here’s a link to her column. Former MSNBC political firebrand and ESPN legend Keith Olbermann tweeted support of Flanagan’s narrative that my criticism is driven by sexism.
Here’s Olbermann’s tweet. He ends by saying that “@whitlockjason remains a misogynist fool.” Olbermann apparently has no recollection of Suzy Kolber’s account of what it was like to work alongside him. Olbermann’s alleged abuse was chronicled in the classic ESPN book “Those Guys Have All The Fun.” Olbermann’s defense was that Kolber matched his level of toxicity. Here’s an old Deadspin piece that will get you up to date on warm-and-fuzzy Olbermann.
I digress. Let’s return to Alex Flanagan.
I don’t blame her for being angry with me. In 2012, after I criticized her work a second time via Twitter, she tweeted an invitation to meet and discuss her work.
Here’s the tweet. I missed it in 2012. In the column she wrote Tuesday, she justifiably complained that I ignored her invitation, writing:
“I invited Whitlock to come on the sidelines with me for a game so he could suggest questions. I also asked him to have a cup of coffee with me so he might get to know me, face to face, before ripping me in public forums. He never responded.”
This is a bad look on my part. Flanagan handled my criticism like a grown-ass woman, head-on with integrity. I missed it. My bad.
Tuesday night, I refreshed my memory on why I criticized Flanagan. I rewatched the end of the 2011 Seahawks-Saints playoff game that Flanagan worked. She conducted the postgame interview with Seattle coach Pete Carroll and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck.
Seattle won a thrilling game. Marshawn Lynch iced the game with an incredible “Beast Quake” run for the end zone. Flanagan blew the postgame interview. It was terrible. She never asked Carroll or Hasselbeck about Lynch’s game-deciding run.
She asked Carroll two questions: 1) What’s your emotion? 2) Really?
She asked Hasselbeck two questions: 1) Did you expect to win the game? 2) How big of an upset is this?
The entire game and postgame interview are available on YouTube. Here’s a link. Normally postgame interviews don’t matter. But this game ended so dramatically that fans wanted to hear Carroll and Hasselbeck react to Lynch’s heroics.
Flanagan’s column repeats my two critical tweets about her postgame performance.
“Alex Flanagan has no clue what she just watched. NBC knows that. They pay a producer to explain to her. Producer should be fired. Period.”
“Fire Alex Flanagan’s sideline producer. Sideline Barbie didn’t ask Hasselbeck or Carroll about the whole team going downfield to block on “Hit & Run.”
At the time, I did not know Lynch’s run would be called “Beast Quake.” I called it “Hit & Run.” Then-NBC color commentator Mike Mayock marveled at the fact that Seattle’s entire offensive unit ran downfield and threw critical blocks that allowed Lynch to score. The Seahawks were a 7-9 team with no business in the playoffs. It took a remarkable team effort to beat the heavily-favored Saints.
Here’s the deal. I’m a critic. Have been for 25 years. I criticize everybody, including myself. I’m not politically correct when it comes to criticism. I’m bluntly honest. I criticize the media. Ask Scoop Jackson or Mike Lupica. Ask Mitch Albom. When I worked in Ann Arbor, Michigan in the early 1990s, I ripped Albom’s Fab Five book.
Stephen A. Smith hasn’t spoken to me since the 2012 column I wrote blasting him for twice using the n-word on ESPN. I like Stephen A. I consider Mike Wilbon one of the great sports journalists of my lifetime. I consider him a friend and mentor. I wrote an entire column criticizing a piece Mike wrote for the Washington Post about Ball State University and John Thompson’s son Ronny Thompson.
Does anyone remember my takedown of Joe Posnanski and his awful Joe Paterno book? Posnanski was the Katie Nolan of sports writing. I torched him and his work. We previously worked together at the Kansas City Star.
I wrote a couple of tweets about Alex Flanagan. Tweets. Not columns. Tweets.
Maria Taylor? How much more praise can I lather on her? I called her a unicorn. I expressed concern that she might undermine her career by pandering to Twitter in the same fashion as Michelle Beadle and Jemele Hill.
Katie Nolan? I treated her the same way I treated Joe Posnanski. She’s far less accomplished and credible than JoPo.
Over Twitter, someone accused me of using my platform to tear down women. Really? I’ve tweeted more than 50,000 times since 2009. What percentage of those tweets have anything to do with women? What percentage of those tweets are critical of women?
I’ll guarantee you it’s less than 1 percent.
You know the woman I’ve criticized the most over Twitter? Sarah Palin. No one cared. I couldn’t stand Palin when she ran for the vice presidency and was a political pundit. Anytime someone tweeted me something I considered stupid, I responded by calling them a “Palinite.” This went on for several years. I wrote a column for the Huffington Post shredding Palin. No one cared. No one called me sexist. Deadspin didn’t use my criticism of Palin as proof of my rampant misogyny.
There’s a certain species of women who can’t be criticized publicly. Palin isn’t part of that group. What’s different about her? Oh, she’s not a feminist icon. She’s not liberal. This whole push for a criticism-free safe space for women is about protecting woke women. It’s part of the culture war to disrupt the patriarchy with a liberal matriarchy.
Serena Williams? She’s untouchable. My critics are still mad about a column I wrote a decade ago saying that Williams was blubbery and needed to drop weight to reach her full potential. I’d say the same thing about myself and have. I’ve certainly said the same of male athletes. I criticized Williams for Crip-walking at the 2012 Olympics. My critics are still pissed about that.
I believe in equality and try to practice it. In my world, women don’t live in some protected space where it’s illegal and immoral to criticize them. I criticize men on a daily basis. I occasionally criticize women.
I’m not going to pretend that ESPN, Fox Sports, NBC Sports and CBS Sports do not intentionally hire beautiful women to ask coaches and athletes inconsequential questions along the sideline. They apply the beauty standard, not me. They invented Sideline Barbie, not me.
I’m the bad guy because I don’t ignore what’s obvious to everyone. Flanagan needs the support of a strong producer to do her job at a high level. Same was true for me when I worked as a television host. Producers helped me formulate questions for guests.
Tuesday night, I watched the Nuggets beat the Lakers in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals. Throughout the game, TNT broadcasters Chris Webber and Reggie Miller trended over Twitter. Much of the conversation was critical of their work.
Criticism is the background music of success and performing in a high-profile profession. Criticism goes along with the equality women say they want.
You can’t whine about sexism every time someone tweets something negative about your performance. It’s a tweet. It’s not COVID. It won’t kill you.
I apologize for not responding to Alex Flanagan’s authentic outreach eight years ago. She made an attempt to handle the criticism like a professional, like someone woman enough for the responsibility.
I don’t apologize for the content of the tweets. I don’t apologize for criticizing women. That’s a privilege I won’t grant them. It’s a privilege I don’t enjoy or give to men.
Why should women have it?
If you want Jason Whitlock for your TV or radio show or podcast, contact email@example.com.