With Dave Zirin jumping all over Jason Whitlock’s most recent diatribe against “hip hop buffoons” in NFL locker rooms (a piece previously pilloried by Jason Cohen last weekend), The Austin Chronicle’s Kevin Bass considers Whitlock’s long memory.
“Wasting energy worrying about what white folks think about us is fruitless,” nationally syndicated sports columnist Jason Whitlock, who is black, recently told The Big Lead, a sports blog. To make his point, Whitlock recalled his decision 15 years ago to quit The Charlotte Observer for a job in Ann Arbor. The editor of the paper “made it a point to hunt me down in the main newsroom to tell me that I wouldn’t make it in this business and that I’d return to the Observer and beg for my old job,” he said.
That editor was Rich Oppel, now the guiding light of the Austin American-Statesman.
“Now I have no idea if Rich Oppel is or was a bigot,” Whitlock told the blog. “I just figured he was petty and stupid.”
Whitlock eventually landed at The Kansas City Star, where he writes a sports column, and makes guest appearances on ESPN and The Oprah Winfrey Show. “I’ve run across a lot of Rich Oppels in this business; small, petty people who want to put a glass ceiling on people they don’t like and prop up the people they favor,” Whitlock said. “They can be worked around and ignored.”
Responding via e-mail, Oppel says he doesn’t remember telling Whitlock he wouldn’t make it in the business. “In fact, my intent was to keep him at the Observer, which I wouldn’t have done if I thought he was a loser,” Oppel wrote. Whitlock’s column often appears in the Statesman’s “guest column” spot on page 2 of the sports section, Oppel notes. “We’re delighted to publish his work and I’m personally happy and proud that he’s been so successful,” he wrote.
Asked about Oppel’s response (Oppel sent him a copy), Whitlock said he had “no fight” with Oppel. “Newspaper editors do what newspaper editors do,” he said in an e-mail. “Their ‘intent’ is to retain talent with insults, threats, and disrespect. Other industries retain talent with pay raises and promotions.”
He emphasized that he’s not complaining. “I’m sure Oppel meant well and learned that recruiting technique at a diversity seminar,” he said. “I’ve seen it executed far worse.”
At the risk of telling Mr. Bass that he’ll never make it in this business (and claiming to have treasured his work some years later), it should be stressed that Whitlock’s “guest appearances” are famously a thing of the past, and the circumstances surrounding the split are an awfully big part of Big Sexy lore. Surely Whitlock’s new paymasters would like to see a plug for his contemporary work every now and then?