Thursday, October 2, 2008

Move Over Sliced Bread, It's Jason Whitlock

Uhhh, this could get undignified. In fact, it probably will so I'll apologize in advance. Jason Whitlock should be canonized for journalistic excellence. And I'm not talking sports journalism, which is becoming an absurdly meaningless term. I'm talking general journalism. I mean put him in the echelons of Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd.

If he wrote for the New York Times, he would be one of the most influential voices in print. I don't even think he gets that respect in the sports world, which is criminal. Full disclosure - I don't pay too much attention to ESPN or Fox Sports or popular culture, but I am aware of most of the big stories in each - it's almost impossible not to be. Maybe the truth is he does, but I don't think so.

You can pick any of his columns and each one is a masterpiece. I have found no other writer who can start a piece on one sensational topic then so fluidly transition into an objective and reasonable analysis of a much more socially-substantive issue.

His observations on race are among the most profound. But that is a tired and generally hollow compliment to an African-American commentator - he/she is black so the party line is he/she has unique racial insight. Think Chris Rock's infamous bit on Colin Powell - he's so well spoken, he speaks so well.

Even so, Mr. Whitlock deserves immense praise for pulling zero punches when discussing the hot-button topic. For instance, he was one of the few African-Americans brave enough to point out that the Jena Six Civil Rights warriors were actually a bunch of black dudes who stomped out one white teen. He also rightly condemned the mental midgets who hung nooses in trees, then claimed ignorance to such an act's significance (apparently, they've been able to dodge that little nugget of info in the 21st Century's information deluge). Side note - I'm all for stomping those kids out, but it should've been one-on-one (maybe two-on-one) and it should've been one of the kids who did the hanging.

And lest you make the claim, like his other critics, that he is overly critical of African-Americans just to get ahead in White America, I offer this piece. It includes an observation about the racial double-standard that persists in American society. Or his comparison of the Wall Street to welfare. The man is honest and astute, which means he is also fair.

All this while still managing to be self-deprecatingly funny and entertaining. It is so refreshing to see a prodigious talent that does not take itself too seriously.

Of course, Mr. Whitlock is not perfect. Nor is anyone. I don't always agree with him, but why should I? Or him with me? For example, I think he is overly critical of JeMarcus Russell and Vince Young. Plus I think he's just wrong about Russell's probability for success in the NFL. But you know what? Mr. Whitlock played the game at its penultimate level; I played tackle with my friends in the park (in my defense, I was an elite high school basketball and baseball player). I'm prepared to concede he may have insights that I do not.

His latest NFL truths column revolves smoothly around the wide receiver virus currently infecting the NFL. No surprise, it is priceless stuff and a perfect illustration of my previous comments. He starts with a piece about the most sensational athletes in the game today, and ends with an absolute evisceration of Sarah Palin. An accurate and timely one at that (this is going to be unintentional comedy on a grand scale).

Along the way, he drops fabulous insight about the root of the WR problems (rule changes protecting them) and Al Davis (failing under him is actually a success on your resume). His analysis of WRs in general (single greatest threat to the NFL) and specifically (TO, Burgess, Ocho Sinko, Moss, Smith) is stellar. As are his assessments of Aaron Rodgers (would be unwise to play through his injury, but he might be pressured into it) and Tennessee Titans (would be equally unwise to overreact and extend Kerry Collins).

His integrity and racial insight is also on display. Here I will elaborate because it is subtle. First, you have to have seen Spike Lee's "Bamboozled" and I would bet good money I am one of the few white people to be so lucky. It is without a doubt the finest acting hour for Damon Wayans, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Mos Def, Canibus, Paul Mooney, Tommy Davidson, Michael Rappaport, and Charli Baltimore. It should have made Savion Glover a supernova. Plus "Blak iz Blak" is one of the more powerful rap songs I have ever heard.

If you haven't seen the movie and you're a reasonable person, you should. Suffice it to say that Mr. Whitlock's is not a flattering characterization of TO or Ocho Sinko.

But for those of you who need superficial evenness to prove equality, he includes the white Matt Jones, Tony Mandarich, Kerry Collins, and Derek Anderson in his crosshairs. I assume Michael Lombardi is white as well. Plus he goes to bat for the black (minus Ditka) ESPN crew as well as the white Aaron Rodgers and Monte Kiffin.

Again, the substance of Mr. Whitlock's arguments proves his objectivity and wisdom. The above one-for-one is only for those of you myopic enough to miss the substance.

Finally, his sense of humor peppers the entire article. I'll let the other readers choose what is funny since dissecting humor is, by definition, an autopsy.

That ESPN ran him out proves the depths to which that network has atrophied. It was the straw that broke this camel's back and drove me to the netherworld of Fox Sports.

Jason Whitlock is the best sports writer out there. It is time that he gets that recognition.

I warned you it would be undignified.

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