A rising tide lift all boats and it’s time we threw Jason Whitlock’s ilk overboard

Image for article titled A rising tide lift all boats and it's time we threw Jason Whitlock’s ilk overboard

Choosing between women’s and men’s sports is a false choice. If you’re a certain blogger for Glenn Beck’s conservative Blaze media, revisionist history can be a comfort zone that vilifies feminism in sports as your woke sports boogeyman, but makes you look like a headass instead. Jason Whitlock’s resentment-driven tweet on women’s basketball’s place at the bottom of the sports hierarchy eventually led to a longer missive against women’s societal advancements and the fall of masculinity.

Oddly enough, in a link I don’t care to share, Whitlock proceeded to blame feminism for everything ranging from drag queens, to the degradation of the nuclear family, and the decline of biblical values. In Whitlock’s opinion, the glass ceiling wasn’t sturdy enough.

He pontificated in his Wednesday column: “As technology advanced and curbed the natural hardships of basic survival, American men led the world in granting freedom and autonomy to women. Feminists have taken advantage of man’s instinct to please women, casting themselves as long-suffering victims of male supremacy, and reshaped American society into a culture that favors the weaker sex.”

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In fairness to Whitlock, let’s analyze all the excellent points he made.

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Hold on a second. I read the entire screed. Something will squeeze out soon…

Whitlock spews more garbage

He did attempt to trace a crooked link between modern society and early man’s roles as hunter-gathers, but it doubled as a rant against evolution. Imagine beginning your argument for a return to medieval masculinity by bemoaning women’s sports on TV. As usual, the intellectual cupboard is bare. Whitlock’s fragility over women’s sports is indicative of the obstacles women in workplaces have always faced. For a contingent of dudes who take his word as gospel though, women’s sports are their bête noire.

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Battling over an alternate view of history that makes a case for how sexism was good or opining that the women from the Greatest Generation who took occupations in defense plants and factories during the war effort of the 1940s defanged American culture is a fascinating insight into how a twisted mind justifies itself. Don’t give yourself hemorrhoids trying to mine wisdom from those thought turds, and never roll with a pig in his sty.

Women’s leagues have helped usher in sports’ golden age

If you’ve browsed the front page of Deadspin’s space lately, or any industry leaders like Fox Sports, ESPN, CBS Sports, or Yahoo Sports, you’d know the myth of the feminist agenda pushing men’s sports aside is a pile of crap. America’s Big 4 leagues, plus NASCAR, Formula 1, college football, and college basketball have reigned supreme since being given a 50 to 75-year year head start over organized women’s athletics.

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In a few short months, the U.S. Women’s National Team will defend their World Cup so you can expect to see their faces plastered all over ESPN screens between now and then. The USWNT has won half of the first eight Women’s World Cups FIFA’s held, but had to grapple with U.S. Soccer for pay commensurate with men last year. Their decades-long push was reminiscent of Billie Jean King and the “Original Nine’s” early enterprising. Their revolutionary founding of the WTA is one of the impetus for women’s tennis being on a more equal footing with the men’s tour.

The most prominent leagues have had to share space in an increasingly crowded room (pickleball has entered the chat), but this is the golden age of live sports. The continued growth of women’s leagues has been nearly as monumental as streaming has been to prestige television. The only downside to the panoply of options at our disposal is the paradox of choice.

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Dawn Staley and Kim Mulkey are college basketball titans

Today men’s college basketball is in a rut. It’s as rife with parity, as it is empty in name-brand, blue-chip talent, or upper-echelon teams. The inverse of men’s hoops’ suboptimal tornado of middle-of-the-road teams, is happening in the division where Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks are cruising toward a repeat. Fans love dynasties and one may be building in Columbia.

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UConn is still a threat on Feb. 5, however, its biggest obstacle resides within the SEC.

Kim Mulkey and Staley have taken the baton as college basketball’s preeminent rivalry. The juiciest storyline in college basketball, regardless of gender, is the upcoming tilt between the only undefeated teams left in the nation. Hopefully, someone informs Alfalfa’s He-Man Womun Haters club not to switch on the late-night SportsCenter shows on the night of Feb. 18.

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The halcyon yesteryear of the UConn-Tennessee rivalry is long gone in the Vols’ post-Pat Summitt era. Even with former Naismith Player of the Year Paige Bueckers on the mend for the entire season and phenom Azzi Fudd in and out of the lineup, UConn has been firmly entrenched in the top 10. Tennessee is still on the road back to prominence under Kellie Harper and was promptly smacked down by the Huskies on Thursday night.

While we’re on that note, contrary to the Blaze TV blogger’s soliloquy about women’s advancements coming off the backs of men’s work, the infrastructure for modern women’s basketball was originally built by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. At its peak, the AIAW’s membership consisted of 280 colleges that held championships across 19 sports, including women’s hoops. The AIAW was a women’s collegiate sports organization founded by women, but in 1981, the NCAA took over from the AIAW after 120 schools left for the more economically advantaged NCAA.

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Breanna Stewart’s free agency

Over in the WNBA, free agency is in full bloom. Candace Parker is vacillating on whether to wind her career down in Chicago or with one last hurrah in Los Angeles. Free agent center Brionna Jones, the reigning Sixth Player of the Year, is essentially seeking to branch out after her second Finals appearance. Think of a bigger James Harden in 2012, trying to loosen himself from Oklahoma City’s bench.

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The bulk of WNBA free agency attention is trained on Breanna Stewart’s movements. Reportedly, Stewart has whittled her choice down to approximately four teams, including her home state New York Liberty, a pairing with Elena Delle Donne in Washington, running it back with a depleted Seattle Storm roster, or zagging unexpectedly to the Minnesota Lynx.

There’s no planned primetime TV special starring Jim Gray, or Hannah Storm for the internet Whitlocks to carp about, but the Liberty are what everyone in the league office is undoubtedly rooting for. Imagine if LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh had chosen the Knicks in 2010. Or if Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and Harden had been a more well-adjusted collection of personalities. Stewart linking up with 2020’s No. 1 overall pick, Sabrina Ionescu, recently acquired 2021 WNBA MVP Jonquel Jones, and free agent Courtney Vandersloot would be the culmination of an arms race with the Las Vegas Aces.

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In addition to looking out for her own future, Stewart is using her clout to engineer solutions to funding charter flights for the league’s 12 teams. Stewart’s efforts have reignited the discourse around the WNBA’s problematic travel arrangements. We’ve long known that cramming long athletes onto commercial flights dozens of times a season is a hindrance to peak performance, but the WNBA hasn’t quite taken it to heart yet and Stewart’s not keen on waiting until the CBA expires in 2028 to address it.

Ultimately, for every sports fan with Whitlock’s attitude, there’s Kobe Bryant. Kobe and others understood that a rising tide lifts all boats. In his final years, Kobe became an advocate for women’s hoops. Then, three years and a day ago, he perished on his way to coach his daughter’s AAU team. But if you’re having trouble choosing between living in a shared reality where the Black Mamba’s noblesse oblige spirit is considered ruinous to culture or one where internet Whitlocks signify strength, your worldview is bass-ackwards and you’ve got your head on the wrong side of your torso.

Should Brian Kelly have to give $1 million back to LSU over a clerical mistake?

Brian Kelly

Louisiana State University (LSU) reset the college football coaching market in 2021 when they signed former Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly to a 10-year, $95 million contract. Kelly responded by winning 10 games in his first season in Baton Rouge highlighted by a home win over Alabama and an appearance in the SEC Championship Game. This is the work of a man that deserves a generous tip. So then why is Kelly giving back the extra million dollars that LSU gave him?

Only rich people can shrug their shoulders about seven-digit clerical errors.

According to a recent audit, somebody in Baton Rouge messed up and gave Kelly an extra $1,001,368, as someone forgot to stop transferring the money to his bank account instead of an LLC in his name.

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This is why you should always check your accounts, even if you have automatic bill pay.

Given that Kelly paid twice, the sides have reached an agreement in which he’ll technically keep the money as he’s signed off on a reduced payment schedule until the school recoups their money.

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Dollars and sense

The discussion about whether or not Kelly did the right thing by “giving the money back” was just the hook to get you to click on/read this story. Because what I actually want to discuss is how Kelly’s situation is an example of how folks never seem to care about the money that college coaches make, but then will turn around and lose their sh*t when it comes to NIL money.

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Don’t you find it funny that nobody batted an eye when it was announced earlier this week that Tennessee head football coach Josh Heupel’s contract extension came with a raise that will pay him $9 million per year?

But yet, people acted like the world was going to end because Jaden Rashada had the good business sense to ask for a release from his letter of intent to play at Florida after a $13 million NIL deal fell through. The highly touted quarterback will have multiple suitors as he’s looking to make the best business decision for himself and his family — which is the same line that coaches use when they change jobs for better paydays.

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And if you don’t want to receive this message for me or think it’s overblown, here’s a link from NPR in which Nicole Auerbach, senior writer for The Athletic, is describing how the NCAA has been practically begging Congress to help them out with NIL because a non-profit agency like the NCAA — which annually brings in a billion dollars in revenue — is in a state of hysteria because college athletes are making too much money for their liking.

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Brian Kelly did the Christian thing by making sure that LSU recouped the extra million that they accidentally gave him. But the actual Christian thing to do would be for the Christians who are involved in collegiate sports to upend a system that’s built on injustices, unfair labor practices, and cruelty. 

They see me trollin’

Image for article titled They see me trollin'

Are you a single-celled organism? Do you feel like too much contemporary sports talk is just a bunch of nerds and women screaming about analytics, or that everyone on the TV talks too fast? Do you miss smoking in hospital wards? Then, Jason Whitlock has dug up some stale, low-hanging fruit disguised as sports takes, just for you.

Two decades ago, Hunter S. Thompson opined in a column that, “the downward spiral of Dumbness in America is about to hit a new low.” In 2023, look no further than Whitlock. On Tuesday morning, Whitlock used his platform to whine about the visibility of women’s basketball on SportsCenter.

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Another bad take

Of all the things to get riled up about, ranting about women’s hoops being too front and center is almost cartoonishly misogynistic. When Whitlock’s not running around bearing his dark soul, Whitlock is on a trolling spree. Twitter has provided him with a new avenue to test out his bad takes. Whitlock is a dark soul. There’s no depth to him besides but an insidious desire to pile on, show solidarity to supremacy movements and see everyone as miserable and grievance-filled as he is.

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For every obnoxious Stephen A. Smith rant, Whitlock is a few levels of hell beneath stirring up the lowest common denominator to remain relevant. At a time when women in sports are facing threats of violence in increasing volume, Whitlock is the rabble-rouser with a platform ginning up anger over their presence on SportsCenter. The responses to his grievance tweet are a series of delusional complaints about how women’s sports are receiving more prominent placement than male athletes.

But here’s the kicker. For all his complaining, he’s still watching SportsCenter. Nobody told him women’s basketball comes with the package? Whitlock is the only one kicking up dust about women’s basketball leading off SportsCenter’s because it’s his modus operandi.

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Deals in place

His twisted mind conjured up some anti-masculinity, feminist agenda at work within the largely male-operated confines of ESPN because their highlight menu expanded on a Monday night, because he’s a simple-minded head-ass. ESPN struck a half-billion dollar deal with the NCAA in 2011 that stipulated the network air highly ranked women’s games. Caitlin Clark is the best player in the country and her leading-off highlights during a career night when there’s no prominent story to take the lead is common sense to anyone with adequate critical thinking skills.

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The Worldwide Leader also has a multi-million dollar deal with the WNBA to air two dozen regular season games a year and Clark is expected to be one of the brightest new faces in the league next season. Watching her and a slew of other women’s basketball highlights won’t poison minds as much as listening to Whitlock’s spiel will.

Variety is the spice of life. ESPN leads off every debate show with the Dallas Cowboys, or a silly segment where Stephen A. Smith mocks “America’s Team.” Jalen Rose, recently subtweeted on the subject of Stephen A’s tired jubilation after every Cowboys loss. There is so much more to mine than the latest out of JerryWorld or the superficial trappings of rearranging the quarterback hierarchy after every matchup. There’s also a world outside of men’s sports.

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Whitlock is the same journalist who championed Kyrie Irving and Kanye West during scandals revolving around their antisemitic comments, screaming about agendas and women’s sports isn’t surprising. He’s got a history of this sort of thing. He’s perfect for the fringe audience on right-leaning Blaze TV where his conspiracy theories can thrive in darkness. Whitlock is a bottomfeeder catering to the market where his bread is buttered. If anyone has an agenda, it’s him and his obsessive admiration for Ron DeSantis and the extreme right has crept into his work. He’ll continue to spew nonsense because Whitlock is a joke without a punchline seeking attention.

Pickleball proves sports networks will invest in just about anything before building a framework around women’s sports

Riley Newman at the 2022 Margaritaville USA Pickleball Nationals Championships

In a sign that ESPN and other networks can choose to devote broadcast hours to new and emerging sports, the American sports cable channel announced that it was adding pickleball to the lineup.

Pickleball, the racquetball of our era, is Crossfit without the tattoos and supplements. A sport that takes abandoned tennis courts and repurposes them as ping-pong Coliseums. It’s barely even a professional sport at this point, but here you have the broadcast deal.

The details: CBS Sports will show 12 hours of matches and highlights, and ESPN will have eight hours of action and recaps on ESPN2 plus 200 hours of coverage on the streaming platform.

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But what about women’s sports?

Full disclosure, I don’t really mind pickleball. And I don’t actually begrudge the new league a broadcast contract and additional exposure. But that’s not the only young league that has landed a broadcast window. LIV Golf also announced a broadcast deal with the CW Network after the usual sports outlets passed.

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The point here is that sports networks often take a flier on young sports leagues. As long as those leagues are men’s. In fact, what might be most notable about pickleball is that the Association of Pickleball Professionals has women’s divisions.

“But Jane,” you might say, “look how many people are playing pickleball!”

And to that I would answer, wait until you hear how many girls play soccer in this country. And yet the U.S. Women’s National Team game vs. New Zealand was not broadcast on a traditional sports network, it was shown on HBO Max.

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“Pickleball has celebrity owners!”

And you should see the lineup for the National Women’s Soccer League — Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka, Natalie Portman, Sarah Spain, Mia Hamm… Women are investing in their own games like never before.

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Slow to embrace coverage of women’s sports

American sports broadcasters have been slow to embrace women’s sports coverage. Even when they have been broadcast, networks haven’t built a suite of programming around those properties, like pre- and post-game shows or weekly roundups. Despite being one of the better networks in this regard, ESPN hasn’t had a women’s sports-specific recurring program on the network. This NFL Insiders for the WNBA or women’s tennis. Several studies also note how infrequently traditional sports outlets include women’s sports, with estimates ranging from four to six percent. Considering that U.S. women have been dominant in tennis for two decades, it’s a huge missed opportunity to cover the WTA as a sport, rather than cover individuals like Serena and Venus Williams, Naomi Osaka, and those who came before.

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So, as Kathleen Schmidt, a public relations executive, tweeted on Monday:

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May pickleball find all the success, but the announcement is more proof that traditional sports networks are gatekeepers that effectively marginalize women’s sports. Let’s take baseball. MLB has an average fan that is well in his 50s. The audience is aging and shrinking even as the architecture of sports coverage remains the same. Meanwhile, look at women’s basketball both professional and college. You have younger fans and a potential for more audience growth.

“It seems like the incremental progress gets a lot of attention,” said The Athletic’s Bill Shea, who writes about the business of sports. “We’re still in a ramp-up period that we probably should have been through years ago.”

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The truth is that a bulk of the pickleball deal is on ESPN’s streaming platform. That’s a low-risk way for a network to try out a sport and see how it does, Shea said. Many streaming numbers aren’t released publically and there isn’t a standard way of noting them, so it isn’t clear what the comparable audiences are across platforms and leagues.

“We’re in such a chaotic era for coverage of sports with cord-cutting,” Shea said, “because the model is basically collapsing.”

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The audience is there

Women’s sports have surged in interest in the last decade. U.S. women’s soccer routinely outperforms the men’s game in the World Cup. Serena Williams can pull 4.8 million viewers to the U.S. Open, and the NCAA women’s tournament has about the same size audience for the finals. Those are strong audiences in the era of viewer fragmentation, and they are improving year to year.

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But women’s sports waiting for their due since before the era of televised poker are still waiting. Cornhole, beer pong… broadcast sports are about not disturbing an audience of young men more than they are about actually broadcasting sports.

Women in the sports audience have been growing, and now account for 47 percent of the NFL’s audience. Meanwhile, the ratings for sports talk radio don’t even count the women in the listening audience.

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Go ahead pickleball. Have your day. Just do us all a favor and put some of those women’s matches in the premier windows now that you have a platform. Having a good balance of men’s and women’s games has been a formula for the U.S. Open’s success. And if sports entities like the NCAA and FIFA assigned more value to their own women’s divisions, they might be able to bypass network inertia.

Meanwhile, I’m going to check out the “trash-talking, sight-fishing” coverage this weekend on ESPN2.

NCAA to Congress: Stop us before we NIL again

Gonzaga University men’s head basketball coach Mark Few testifies during the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee hearing titled “NCAA Athlete NIL Rights” on Wednesday, June 9, 2021.

The NCAA needs a reality check. This week the vanishingly relevant college athletics institution has once again asked Congress to help it stabilize the college sports system, but unless Hunter Biden is suiting up at linebacker for LSU next season, it’ll be hard to motivate the people in charge to fall in love with this cause.

This isn’t 1922, and the NCAA isn’t America’s Pastime. Baseball’s Antitrust Exemption is 100 years old, but trying to get some bespoke version of that for a college sports labor market instead of crafting it through deliberative policy is like deciding not to work for a living and buying a lottery ticket every week.

Name, Image and Likeness

The provocative issue is the arrival of Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL), which allows college athletes to make money off their status without drawing a salary from schools. It’s been a boon for many players, a bane for schools, and the chaos of a new market means that it isn’t a level playing field, so the NCAA would like Congress to nationalize the rule. Anyone could have seen NIL coming, but rather than trying to get ahead of the storm, the NCAA spent the last decade pouring cash into lawsuits that eroded the institution’s authority and options.

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(Full disclosure, I am the executive director of Seton Hall’s Center for Sports Media.)

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After current president Mark Emmert announced he was stepping down, the NCAA tapped former Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker to take over. Choosing a politician to head the organization speaks volumes.

You know who else wants Congress to save an industry from itself? Mark Zuckerberg signaled he was open to legislation starting in 2018 and now is lobbying around Section 230 in a way that would preserve Facebook’s advantage. And professional sports leagues have been clamoring for federal legislation around sports betting as most U.S. states have now legalized it in some form or another.

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As unsympathetic as Zuckerberg and most professional sports leagues are, there is broad agreement that both social media and sports betting would greatly benefit from sound legislation. Social media has been found to have some damaging side effects for young people, and sports betting is a snarl of different state rules and little independent oversight.

But even those issues aren’t what’s in line in front of the NCAA’s request. Instead, you have things like HR 263 being brought to the house floor, proposing to ban rules that would outlaw gas stoves. It’s straight culture war nonsense.

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Is protecting the NCAA offering the same kind of red meat to the base of these lawmakers? Unless Nick Saban is diagramming plays using Critical Race Theory, or the server with all of Hillary Clinton’s missing emails is buried under the 50-yard line at Ohio Stadium, this is just not a cause that will resonate with this cast of politicians.

But to be fair, this Congress is having trouble just paying the bills already. And it took 15 rounds of voting just to get a Speaker of the House.

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Politicians are all about performing their fandom for the voters. In 2018 the mayors of Athens, Ga., and Tuscaloosa, Ala. bet some craft beer and charitable donations on the outcome of the Alabama-Georgia CFP title game. And who can forget Rudy Giuliani’s famous affinity for the Yankees when he was New York’s mayor?

And in some cases, those loyalties can greenlight stadiums and infrastructure. But as Boland notes, plenty of politicians are fans of teams, but a USC allegiance probably doesn’t mean any affection for the NCAA. No one has a Mark Emmert rookie card in a shoebox under the bed.

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In fact, there might be more enthusiasm for individual athletes these days now that they can express themselves on social media. Face it, the model of amateur athletics is on the way out.

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Glory days, well they’ll pass you by

So here comes the NCAA, asking us to look back to the glory days of your favorite era, as long as it came before the O’Bannon decision, and rewind the hands of the clock. But nostalgia isn’t the solution, although it has preserved the revenue-generating machine long beyond its expiration date.

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A system that pays men’s football, and basketball coaches millions while refusing to compensate players is no longer a business model. There is way more money in the game now, and the trade that athletes make for tuition is more restrictive than what other scholarship students are asked to do. NIL is actually a pretty elegant solution since it generates revenue for players from outside the colleges.

Looking to Congress for the Hail Mary won’t change any of that.