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Whitlock Out As Head of ESPN Website

Jason Barrett

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Jason Whitlock was replaced Friday as the head of The Undefeated, ESPN’s website about the intersection of race and sports, just weeks before its planned kickoff.

He will be replaced on an interim basis by Leon Carter, the site’s editorial director.

The site was built largely around Whitlock, who has written for years about race, sometimes provocatively, sometimes angrily. He had been fired from a previous stint at ESPN in 2006.

But John Skipper, the president of ESPN, rehired him in 2013 to fulfill the company’s hope for a site that would be a hub to discuss race and sports. In late March, Skipper praised Whitlock for “being unafraid to take unpopular stands, to challenge the perceived wisdom of any community.” As for bringing Whitlock back, Skipper said, “Talent and intellect can overrule past problems.”

But it was not to be. Whitlock had no management experience but returned to ESPN as part of the hierarchy that had a role in hiring and strategy. He was also editing articles and writing columns.

In a statement, ESPN did not cite any recent incidents that prompted the change but implied that he did not have the management skills to run the site.

The company “decided to make some structural adjustments that will maximize the skill sets and strengths of our team,” ESPN said. The statement also said Whitlock “will now be entirely focused on what he does best: creating distinctive and compelling content, which will live across various ESPN platforms.” ESPN praised his work building the site’s editorial team.

Asked in March how he felt he was evolving as a manager, Whitlock replied, “I think it’s going well because I’m taking it seriously.” He added, “You’ve got to have enough self-awareness to know that you’re going to make mistakes. You can’t let your ego tell you, ‘I’m smarter than everyone, so I don’t make mistakes.’ I’m not smarter than anyone. I’m still the guy with a 2.3 G.P.A.”

A lengthy story in April about The Undefeated on Deadspin — which drew on internal documents, including emails — painted Whitlock as a “catastrophe” as a manager and said, “Before it’s even launched, this site is already doomed.”

The site’s staff, based in Los Angeles, was given the news about Whitlock in a telephone call with Marie Donoghue, the ESPN executive who oversees The Undefeated.

Despite the announcement, the home page of The Undefeated still read: “Presented by ESPN & Jason Whitlock. Coming Summer 2015.”

The turmoil caused by Whitlock’s departure — and the search for his permanent successor — will most likely require a further delay of the site’s debut.

Whitlock declined to comment on the matter, as did Skipper.

Whitlock’s ouster means that a second major site created by ESPN needs a new leader. Last month, Skipper decided he would not renew the contract of Bill Simmons, the editor in chief of Grantland, the sports and culture site that was home to his columns and podcasts. Explaining the decision, Skipper said: “It’s about what he wants to do, what value that creates, what we want to do together and deciding whether there was going to be a match. We decided ultimately there wouldn’t be.”

An agreement was soon reached for Simmons to be paid through the end of September, when his contract is to end, but he will no longer run Grantland.

Chris Connelly subsequently took over as the site’s interim editor in chief.

Nate Silver, around whom the FiveThirtyEight site is built, remains atop its masthead as editor in chief.

So far, only five articles have been published by The Undefeated — including one about Charles Barkley’s Alabama’s roots — all with links on its home page.

Credit to the NY Times who originally published this article

Sports TV News

Rece Davis Believes Final Regular Season College GameDay Show Typically Most Hectic Due to Coaching Changes

“There were so many coaching changes and decisions, and we’re getting people on the phone. That was before everybody got comfortable with FaceTime.”

Jordan Bondurant

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Rece Davis

College GameDay was in Columbus this past weekend ahead of Ohio State’s annual rivalry game against Michigan, and host Rece Davis said a number of head coaching announcements throughout the show made for some pretty chaotic moments.

Luke Fickell being named the new head coach at Wisconsin and former Carolina Panthers head coach Matt Rhule being hired at Nebraska were among the marquee hirings announced over the weekend.

On the College GameDay Podcast, Davis said trying to get information confirmed and incorporated into the show in real time was exhilarating.

“It was a bizarre, fun show that we’ve had over the years when we’ve gone to Ohio State/Michigan,” he said. “I remember the ’16 year that we extended the show to five hours. It was really fun, and then a really great game followed it. And there were so many coaching changes and decisions, and we’re getting people on the phone. That was before everybody got comfortable with FaceTime. But there were a lot of bizarre things going on.”

Podcast co-host and senior college football reporter Pete Thamel echoed Davis’ sentiments, saying he would do a hit on the show, then take out his earpiece and immediately get back on the phone to work on getting the most up to date information.

“It was whoa,” he said. “We did the first segment…and normally I would’ve stayed and watched to see what the guys had to say, but I just walked off the stage and went back and started making calls.”

In addition to the Wisconsin and Nebraska hirings, Thamel was also working on trying to figure out the situation at Auburn. He helped get Rhule on the show as well, and he said it was cool the show’s team was able to book guests so quickly from different locations in the country.

“We literally went coast to coast on GameDay with good interviews on Saturday,” he said.

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Sports TV News

Disney CEO Bob Iger: Company Will Chase Profitability Over Growing Subscriber Base

“We have to start chasing profitability. It will be demanded of us.”

Jordan Bondurant

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Change is abound at Disney, but it’s welcomed change. CEO Bob Iger, who was announced as the replacement for Bob Chapek last week, said his goal is to help get the company’s financial ship righted.

“We have to start chasing profitability,” Iger told employees and executives at a town hall. “It will be demanded of us.”

Iger announced one of his first moves in returning to the CEO role was to shake up its digital media and entertainment distribution division. That branch of the company oversees its streaming services like Disney+, Hulu and ESPN+. Disney+ boasts tens of millions of subscribers, and Chapek focused heavily on reaching as many people as possible.

But Disney stock price has shrunk sharply over the course of the last year, and there have been other areas of the company in which there has been discourse. There was some belief that Disney could be up for sale.

Iger hopes things at the company can be turned around in due course, but he made one thing for certain: Disney and its properties are not for sale.

“Nothing is forever, but I’m very comfortable with the set of assets that we have,” he said. “I think they can serve our company, don’t expect any headlines soon about deals.”

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Sports TV News

YES Network Considering Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly for Analyst Roles

“I have something else burning fairly hot right now,” Mattingly said. “Depends how that goes.”

Jordan Bondurant

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Could Yankees fans see and hear from two of the franchise’s most beloved former players on TV next season? It’s not out of the realm of possibility. The New York Post reported Monday the team’s YES Network appeared to have an interest in bringing in Derek Jeter and Don Mattingly.

But according to the network’s president of programming and production John Filippelli, it’s all speculative at this point.

“We haven’t had any in-depth discussion with either,” he told Andrew Marchand. “If they are A) available and B) interested, you probably at least have to have a conversation.”

Marchand reached out to Mattingly, who finished his run as manager of the Miami Marlins at the end of the 2022 season, and the former Dodgers manager seemed to indicate that there is another potential opportunity in the works.

“I have something else burning fairly hot right now,” Mattingly said. “Depends how that goes.”

Jeter will likely be a hard sell on getting into the booth. The understanding is the legendary former shortstop doesn’t have a big interest in getting into broadcasting like his former teammate Alex Rodriguez.

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