‘The Undefeated,’ Beset by Controversy and Staff Changes, Finally Launches

By Sameer Rao May 17, 2016

Nearly a year after Jason Whitlock’s departure left its future in limbo, ESPN officially launched its long-awaited website The Undefeated today (May 17). The site will focus on the space where race, sports and culture intersect.

"It’s never a good sign for a news organization when the number of articles written about it far exceeds those written by it," ESPN’s public editor Jim Brady wrote in a letter preceding The Undefeated’s launch. "But that’s been the case for The Undefeated during its tumultuous 33-month history."

As Brady noted, controversy has surrounded The Undefeated ever since infamous sports journalist Jason Whitlock rejoined ESPN in 2013 to launch what he envisioned as "the Black Grantland," referencing ESPN’s now-defunct sports and pop culture analysis website. Deadspin’s Greg Howard wrote a series of incisive pieces critiquing Whitlock’s leadership, interviewing writers and citing leaked emails and internal documents to argue that Whitlock’s mix of respectability politics and poor interpersonal skills threatened to tank the project. Whitlock ultimately left both The Undefeated and ESPN, but the network move on with plans to launch the website. 

Editor-in-chief Kevin Merida reinforced the website’s editorial goals in a letter published today:

We won’t shrink from challenging subjects: the image and depiction of Black athletes, Black ownership in professional sports, the evaluation of Black coaches. But we also need more on how Black athletes think and dream, their views about love and leadership. Speaking of leadership, senior writer Michael Fletcher is authoring a series of essays on the first African-American president that will be unlike any others you’ll read.

Take us seriously, but we’ll also make you laugh. We’ll have some fun, go a little crazy from time to time. You know about Trap Karaoke? We’ve got something for you. Senior writer Clinton Yates is writing our lead blog, "All Day," which features news you can’t live without and interesting stuff you’ll want to share. General editor Kelley Evans is anchoring "The Uplift," a daily stream of inspiration guaranteed to make you smile. Our culture team is so insightful, our production team extraordinary, our sports group hungry.

Check out The Undefeated here.