Jason Whitlock is a guest columnist who writes for Foxsports.com. He graduated from Ball State in 1990 and has previously written for the Bloomington Herald Times, Ann Arbor News, Kansas City Star, AOL Sports and ESPN.com. His views do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.
Years before Gatorade launched its iconic “Be Like Mike” ad campaign, I embarked on my own journey to be like Mike.
I wanted to be like Mike Royko. I still do.
Tuesday, I found out it will never happen. My career goal of winning the Pulitzer Prize for commentary and etching my name alongside the greatest newspaper columnist in history is an impossibility. I’m ineligible because I work for FOXSports.com.
Dear Mr. Whitlock:
Broadcast media and broadcast media Web sites are not eligible for participation in the Pulitzer Prize competition. Our rules have spelled that out for many years. I’m sorry to disappoint you but we cannot accept your entry.
That was the email I received Tuesday. I suspected it was coming since I sent my entry in two weeks ago. But each day that passed gave me a tiny bit of delusional hope the Pulitzer board would ignore its rules and recognize me as a journalist and my work in journalism.
Gissler’s email hurt. I didn’t know the Pulitzer’s rules until the day I began filling out the entry form. I’m stubborn. I entered my work anyway and wrote a defiant, pleading cover letter begging the Pulitzer board to evaluate my work on its merits. It was my Hail Mary. I’ve been writing sports columns for 20 years with the mission of reaching Royko status as my inspiration.
For me, the Pulitzer rejection was the equivalent of Ravens safety Ed Reed showing up in New Orleans for Super Bowl week and finding out on Media Day the league suspended him from playing.
I know. It’s egotistical to admit in writing that I wanted to win a Pulitzer Prize. It’s delusional for a sports writer to make such an admission. But it’s the truth. I believe in transparency. I swing for the fences. During my fifth year of college, when I joined the Ball State Daily News in 1989, I vowed to become the sportswriting equal of Mike Royko. I wanted to be the best.
To me, being the best equated to winning the Pulitzer.
I never had much interest in winning the writing awards reserved for sports writers. I was so Royko-focused as a child and college student, I didn’t know anything about writing awards for sports writers.
The annual Associated Press Sports Editors awards do not generally and/or consistently recognize the kind of columns I regard as courageous, honest, original and opinion-driven. The APSE prefers storytellers. Its awards also consistently reflect the anti-minority-perspective bias pervasive throughout the sportswriting industry. Sportswriting is a good-old-boy network. It’s very difficult — perhaps impossible — for a person of color who writes from a minority perspective to be recognized as the best at anything in sportswriting.
That’s not a charge of racism. It’s a charge of bias, an affliction we all have.
As best I can tell, no non-white has won the APSE’s column-writing contest. Google “African-American winners of the Pulitzer Prize.” The list is deep and goes back many years. The Pulitzer Prize is far more prestigious and competitive than an APSE.
You can examine almost every aspect of writing as an art form and find examples of minorities being recognized as the best in any given year. Sportswriting is the exception.
Oh, there have been great minority candidates. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, the Miami Herald’s Dan Le Batard (a Cuban-American) was as talented, insightful and provocative as any columnist working in America. Before Michael Wilbon became a television star, he wrote some of the best sports columns I’ve ever read. Bryan Burwell had a run in the 1990s and is strong again in St. Louis. Shaun Powell laid it down at Newsday. When I showed up at the Kansas City Star in 1994, I shook the entire Midwest and eventually the country.
None of us has ever been quite good enough to reach the top. It’s my belief that our minority perspective is off-putting to predominantly white male judges.
I had a different end game. I wanted the Pulitzer. I never compromised who I am or what I believed to get one. In fact, I’ve probably done many things (my Twitter feed, railing against the media establishment, including publicly criticizing a Pulitzer judge) that have damaged my chances. I just hoped that one year I’d have a year’s worth of columns that I thought were Pulitzer worthy.
It happened twice in 20 years. In 2007, I asked my bosses at the Kansas City Star to enter my work in the Pulitzer competition. That year I wrote my infamous Don Imus-Rutgers-nappy headed hos column and a few other columns that reverberated nationally. Unbeknownst to me, my bosses entered me in several non-sportswriting-specific competitions. I won the Scripps Howard National Journalism Award for Commentary that year. It’s a prestigious award. Leonard Pitts and several others won it before winning the Pulitzer. The Pulitzer for commentary can be a bit of a lifetime achievement award.
Last year, it’s my belief, I had my best year as a columnist. It all came together. I perfected my column style. For years, I’ve tried to take sports headlines and transform them into lessons about American society at large. Royko’s columns helped shape my view of America. In 2012, I was like Mike.
I thought I had a one percent chance of winning the Pulitzer. Two sports writers have won the award before — Dave Anderson and Jim Murray. It’s been 23 years since a sports writer won it.
I’m crushed. I’m not objecting to the Pulitzer’s rules. I’m devastated and sad my dream has been stolen. OK, I gave it away unwittingly. Whatever, it still hurts. I spent 20 years chasing something that I can no longer obtain. Even if I moonlighted or worked for an organization that was eligible for Pulitzer consideration, there’s no guarantee I’ll again produce a body of work I deem worthy of Pulitzer consideration.
Pursuing the Pulitzer in an honest, transparent fashion has been one of the things that has kept me from selling out and simply pursuing money and fame. I pride myself on being a journalist. I feuded with and never made peace with ESPN because I see the Worldwide Leader as the enemy of sports journalism.
ESPN is the very justification for the Pulitzer’s stipulation forbidding broadcast media outlets from entering its competition.
Sig Gissler’s rejection email politely stated that I’d already sold out. Damn.
I’d like for you to read the 10 columns I submitted for Pulitzer consideration. Yes, I’ve been reduced to begging you to tell me I did not sell out my goal of being like Mike Royko.
Jovan Belcher Murder-Suicide/Gun Culture 12/03/12
Joe Paterno Biography Deconstructed 09/06/12
Gabby Douglas Olympic Hair Controversy 08/03/12
Saints Bounty Scandal Reflects America 04/10/12
George Zimmerman-Trayvon Martin: OJ Simpson Part II 04/02/12
Vigilante Journalism Destroys Bernie Fine 04/23/12
Sneaker Company Exploits Prison Culture 06/21/12
NFL Replacement Refs Expose American Greed 09/25/12
ESPN’s First Take Panders To Victims Of Mass Incarceration 12/21/12
Penn State/College Football Too Big To Fail 07/12/12