If Jason Whitlock were a character on Game of Thrones or The Wire or even Insecure, we’d presumably have a better understanding of the mélange of context creating the sad person he is today. We’d be able to point to a conversation from season 1, or perhaps a relationship gone awry from season 2, or a terrible incident in season 4, or a particular ambition foreshadowed and alluded to throughout the series. Maybe, if the series were based on a book, we’d be able to reference parts of the text that didn’t make it to the screen adaptation.
Unfortunately, none of this exists. Sure, we can read pieces such as Greg Howard’s brilliant investigation of Whitlock’s almost-torpedoing of The Undefeated before it was The Undefeated; we can find his Wiki page; we can devour the hundreds of pieces he’s published in the last 20 years on various platforms; we can watch him on TV; and we can read his tweets, but none really provide the type of epiphanic discovery necessary to understand why he is the way he is.
We know who he is. We know that he is the type of black man to carry and continue a vendetta against Colin Kaepernick; a grudge so freakin’ bizarre that Whitlock thought dressing up Christopher “Kid” Reid from Kid ’n Play in Kaepernick Afroface for a skit was a good idea. We know that he exists in a singular bubble of low information and ill-fitting hats, and that he frequently escapes from said bubble to say strange things about hip-hop and Serena Williams’ weight.
But why is he who he is? How did he become such a paranoid and self-loathing weirdo? Was it a conscious choice? Or perhaps it was predestined; a fulfilling of a century-old prophesy about a man in a porkpie hat who’d emerge to deliver the hottest of takes about blackness, Ball State, feminism and barbecue.
Of course, the easiest—and perhaps the best—answer is that he is who he is because it’s financially and socially lucrative. He presumably makes in the midsix figures (perhaps more) and has been able to create a comfortable and relevant life by becoming the Black Best Friend of the White Guy Who Claims He Has a Black Best Friend and Therefore Can’t Be Racist.
He is one of the few black sportswriters with a nationally recognizable name, even if that name is mud. But there are myriad ways to achieve prominence and relevance without sacrificing all integrity; the devil’s advocacy works only if the devil already has your ear. Money and fame are just social condiments accentuating the taste of who and what you already are.
It feels counterintuitive, perhaps even irresponsible, to suggest that Whitlock’s plight and position are tragic. But it is nothing short of tragic when a presumably intelligent black person chooses to mock sincere and desperate calls for safety, spiritually aligning himself with those who believe we don’t deserve it.
And if we knew exactly what inside this man led to his allowing himself to become who he is, perhaps characterizing him as tragic would feel more natural. Now, though, all we can do is guess and wonder. And maybe just mute him, too.