After almost four months of what the Kansas City Star was calling a "vacation", the newspaper announced today that their lead sports columnist, Jason Whitlock, was leaving the paper to "pursue other interests".
The aren't many words to describe the loss this is for the Kansas City sports scene, and that's ironic considering Whitlock, the writer. He was never a man of few words.
When Whitlock first came to Kansas City in 1994, he reeled readers in with his thought-provoking and no holds barred approach to writing. He gained local fame with his creative criticism of the likes of Carl Peterson, or "King Carl" as Whitlock would call him, Marty Schottenheimer, and Elvis Grbac. He made us laugh with the infamous 16-0 prediction for the 1998 Chiefs (they finished 7-9), and his unbreakable man-crush on his former college teammate and NFL quarterback, Jeff George.
In the past few years, though, his columns at the Star began to somewhat evolve. His attention seemed to turn from the local to the national scene. Instead of having to open up the sports page to find Whitlock's article, we could now sometimes find it on the front page. Instead of King Carl being the topic of conversation, it was now Don Imus, Jesse Jackson, or Glenn Beck. While his shift of focus didn't seem to change his approach to writing - some of his political pieces are the best he's ever done - it all just seemed a little odd. It wasn't what we had come to expect.
Then there was the fallling out with the sports editor at the Star. There's been speculation that Whitlock was unhappy when one or more of his columns were pulled. Next came the supposed vacation, and four months of nothing from Whitlock, other than his fairly frequent column he writes for Fox Sports. And finally, the news today.
The response from those Whitlock had crossed paths with in the media has been mostly mixed. Many agree he is extremely talented at what he does, but he hasn't always used his gifts in the most sensible manner.
Some have claimed that he lacks humility. Others see him as a great talent with deep insecurities, who lacks the thick skin needed for such a bold voice. Few, though, question his passion and conviction for journalism.
There are even some who don't think his departure from the Star will be felt in the big picture.
“He used to be the first thing I read. The last couple of years, though, he didn’t seem to have the same passion for writing about the local sports in Kansas City that he used to," said Nate Bukaty on his morning show on 810 WHB. "So (his column) stopped being something I cared too much about."
Maybe this is less about Whitlock, and more about the state of newspapers in today's world. The internet has taken over. People no longer get their news from the paper. It's become outdated. There are websites and blogospheres that have the ability to report news and give opinions in a much more timely fashion (I recognize the duplicity in my post today). In the past two years, the Star has lost three nationally renowned sports columnists in Jeffrey Flanagan, Joe Posnanski, and now Whitlock. All three writers are still writing in some shape or form - Flanagan for Fox Sports Kansas City, Posnanski for Sports Illustrated, and Whitlock for Fox Sports. A healthy corporation wouldn't throw away three of its biggest assets.
If the industry is dying right before our eyes, let this day be the reminder of when the virus that has infected its inner-being became terminal. This is a dark day for Kansas City, the Star, and journalism, at least in its traditional form.
Today is the end of an era.
“I think the first 10 years of his career here were extremely interesting and fascinating. He was as big a media star as we have ever seen in this town," said radio-host Kevin Kietzman, who anchors the late-afternoon program on 810 WHB. "Unfortunately, that craft has just gone by the wayside and it’s not particularly relevant anymore."
For Whitlock, it's the end of one chapter and the beginning of a new one. It'll be interesting to see where his path takes him. For our sake, we can hope his opinion on Kansas City sports matters are still expressed in some form or another.
"For 16 years, Whitlock helped the Star as much as he could and all they gave him - three paragraphs," said Frank Boal, formerly of WDAF Fox-4, who makes occasional appearances on Kietzman's show.
It's unfortunate the Star allowed it to end like this. Unfortunate for us, for the Star, and for Whitlock.
At some point, he'll be ready to tell his side of the story, and we'd be smart to listen. We've always listened to Jason, and I believe we always will.