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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

Ian Rapoport: I Have Never Thought It is Me vs Adam Schefter

“I don’t even think that, it’s just I report what I know, and he reports what he knows.”

Jordan Bondurant

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In terms of NFL insiders, Ian Rapoport and Adam Schefter are the two biggest names out there. And sometimes it can be a race between the two to get the biggest scoops first. Especially now with the NFL coaching carousel in full swing.

This week two teams hired new head coaches – the Broncos traded two first round picks to the Saints to acquire the rights to Sean Payton and the Texans signed DeMeco Ryans.

Rapoport tweeted that Denver had pursued Ryans up until the day they announced the trade for Payton.

Not even 15 minutes later, Schefter appeared to clarify the information out there with the two teams.

On The Pat McAfee Show on Thursday, Pat McAfee referred to the conflicting information as a “source off.”

Ian said he stood behind what he put out there.

“I know it’s fun to call it a source off or whatever, but for me I reported what I had based on the best information I can get – based on talking to many, many people throughout the course of the last month,” Rapoport said from the Senior Bowl. “And then whatever happens as a result of this I don’t really mind.”

In terms of any sort of rivalry between him and Schefter, Rapoport doesn’t view it as a head-to-head matchup.

“I don’t even think that, it’s just I report what I know, and he reports what he knows,” he said. “And everyone can sort of judge for themselves whichever way to go.”

McAfee gave kudos to Rapoport for his reporting on the Ryans situation. He also said it’s a good thing Rapoport doesn’t worry himself too much about what other insiders are doing.

“I think you should feel good about it, but I do like a good source off,” McAfee said. “And I appreciate the fact that you don’t view it as you versus Schefter. But you two are at the top of the game. So that’s a compliment more so than anything.”

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Sports TV News

AEW Considers Launching Streaming Service

“It’s possible an AEW streaming service could be independent, but many are hopeful AEW’s offerings would be available on HBO Max or Discovery+ akin to how WWE Network is now available on Peacock.”

Jordan Bondurant

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All Elite Wrestling is looking into launching its own streaming service.

According to reporting from Bloomberg, a source “familiar with management’s thinking” said AEW is looking to strike a deal with broadcast partner Warner Bros. Discovery.

Since launching in 2019, AEW now puts on two weekly shows on Warner channels TBS and TNT and airs two shows on YouTube.

Last year AEW acquired Ring of Honor from Sinclair Broadcast Group. As part of that deal, AEW took ownership of RoH’s extensive content library Honor Club. So much like WWE did with WWE Network when it launched in 2014, AEW could launch its streaming service and have all of Ring of Honor’s content in a one-stop shop.

It’s possible an AEW streaming service could be independent, but many are hopeful AEW’s offerings would be available on HBO Max or Discovery+ akin to how WWE Network is now available on Peacock.

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Sports TV News

NBC Officially Unveils Noah Eagle, Todd Blackledge as New Big Ten Booth

“With their collective college football experience and great enthusiasm for the game, Todd, Noah and Kathryn join a production team that can’t wait to kick off the Big Ten season.”

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It’s officially official: Noah Eagle, Todd Blackledge, and Kathryn Tappen will join the Big Ten on NBC booth when the network begins airing the conference’s football package in 2023.

NBC made the announcement Thursday, after weeks of speculation about the moves.

“We are excited to showcase Big Ten Saturday Night on the NBC Sports’ primetime marquee,” said NBC Sports Executive Producer Sam Flood. “When you hear Todd’s voice, you know it’s a big college football game. It has been that way for decades.

“Noah is one of the industry’s rising young play-by-play commentators, who has excelled calling numerous sports across multiple platforms for a wide range of audiences. We are thrilled to pair him in the booth with Todd.

“Kathryn has told the stories of so many memorable Notre Dame Football moments over the last decade in her on-field reporting and interviews,” Flood continued. “With their collective college football experience and great enthusiasm for the game, Todd, Noah and Kathryn join a production team that can’t wait to kick off the Big Ten season.”

Blackledge joins NBC after working as a college football analyst for the network for the past 17 seasons. Previously, he was the an analyst for CBS and ABC, making 2023 his 30th consecutive season covering college football as an analyst.

Eagle is the son of broadcasting legend Ian Eagle, and currently serves as the radio voice of the Los Angeles Clippers. He comes to NBC after calling college football games for FOX Sports in 2022.

Tappen has spent the past nine seasons working NBC’s college football coverage with Notre Dame. Eight of those nine seasons were spent as the network’s sideline reporter before anchoring the studio coverage from South Bend in 2022.

2023 will mark the beginning of a seven-year contract for NBC to air Big Ten football games in primetime. The move is one of the biggest notable expansions in the college football arena for the network since its partnership with Notre Dame began in 1991.

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