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Sports Analytics Controversy Sparked by ESPN’s Michael Wilbon


By Gary A. Johnson, Black Men In

March 28, 2016

The latest buzzword in sports these days has to do with “analytics” also known as “sports metrics.”  Sports analytics is a big deal.  If you listen to sports talk radio or watch sports on TV, someone during the broadcast is going to make a reference to analytics.

ESPN’s Michael Wilbon started a firestorm earlier this week with his article in the ESPN backed magazine “The Undefeated.”  “The Undefeated” was originally marketed as a magazine with a mission to focus on race and sports.  Sports journalist Jason Whitlock was tapped by ESPN to lead the charge of “The Undefeated.” Wilbon’s article is Mission Impossible: African-Americans & Analytics: Why blacks are not feeling the sports metrics movement.”


“The Undefeated” was ESPN president John Skipper’s idea. It was Skipper who hired Whitlock and made him Editor-in-Chief.  The site suffered numerous and sometimes curious delays for over a year and a half.  Whitlock, who was not known for being a manager of people appears to have “shot himself” with a bunch of rants and bad management decisions.  In describing his vision for “The Undefeated,” Whitlock was quoted saying:  “I wanted to build a website, The Undefeated, dedicated to examining the intersection of sports, race and culture because I believe locker rooms, stadiums, arenas, and teams epitomize and best utilize America’s diversity.”

Jayson Whitlock

Jayson WhitlockIn late April, Deadspin ran a 10,000-word story titled How Jason Whitlock is Poisoning ESPN’s ‘Black Grantland,’” which detailed Whitlock’s difficulty attracting talent to the site, and the striking dysfunctions in his management of those who had joined it.

Every major professional sports team either has an analytics department.  Any team that doesn’t have a robust analytics capability is thought to be at a competitive disadvantage.

Everyone is not on the sports analytics bandwagon.  Take NBA great and now TNT network studio analyst Charles Barkley.  Barkley hates analytics.  Listen to what “Sir Charles” had to say:

Stephen A. Smith

Stephen A. Smith

Now check out ESPN “First Take” co-host Stephen A. Smith talking about Michael Wilbon and his column on sports analytics column.

For a real expert opinion, check out sports pioneer Harold Bell’s column on this subject:


Harold Bell and Muhammad Ali

Harold Bell and Muhammad Ali

By Harold Bell

It does not take a genius to count from zero to two or to understand pro sports and major media outlets are the last plantations in America.

For example, in 2016 the NHL has zero ownership, MLB has zero ownership, NFL has zero ownership, NBA has one black owner and many in the black community thinks he should be designated as “Other.” It is not about jobs in the black community its about ownership.

The NHL is led by a racist by the name of Gary Bettman and this is not based on he say, she say. I was up close and personal with Bettman (NBA Counselor), Ron Thorn (NBA VP) and Horace Balmer (Head of Security) in NY City in 1978.

I was there with John Phillips who was the Director of Basketball Marketing representing Nike.

In 1977 Nike sponsored a trip to the Bahamas, the home of NBA star Mychal Thompson of the L. A. Lakers (son Klay Thompson). The trip was in conjunction with a charity All-Star Game with other members of the NBA that included Magic Johnson.

The league balked at the 1978 game and John was called to New York City for a meeting in the league office. This is where I met Bettman and his henchmen, Thorn and Balmer.

The meeting got off to a cordial beginning with everyone smiling and shaking hands, but once the discussion started, Bettman claimed the game could not be played. When John asked the question, “Why?”  Bettman’s response was, “Because we own the players!”

I jumped up from the table and said “I beg your pardon, are you saying the players are slaves”? All hell broke loose and the meeting had to be adjourned to a later time and place. We never met again and that is how I remember Bettman. He showed his true colors. It was then I understood why Irving Johnson was named “Magic” he disappeared like a puff of smoke leaving me and John Phillips holding the bag.

In 2016, there are no “major media” outlets own by black folks (newspapers, radio and television). The 1% who control all the wealth can be found in their Ivory Mansions and luxury suites in sports arenas throughout America enjoying combat between the lions and their slaves. If you have any doubts that the plantation mentality is a figment of my imagination, look no further then Washington, DC, the Nation’s Capitol—its taxation without representation!

Wilbon, has been called “One of the most respected sports journalist in America and a pioneer”??? He would have us to believe, that the reason behind this country’s racist charade are ‘Analytics’? Come on man!

For example; was it analytics that got winning coaches Tony Dungee, Mark Jackson and Lionel Hollins fired.  Sonny Hill got kicked to the curb by CBS back in the day?

Remember, this is the same Michael Wilbon who as a sports columnist while at the Washington Post, claimed his sports editor George Solomon looked over his shoulder and told him what to write and what not to write. Why should we think anything has changed?

Michael Wilbon and Harold Bell

Michael Wilbon and Harold Bell

Remember, this is the same Michael Wilbon who volunteered and told me in the NBA Wizards’ press room, “ESPN wants me to appear on a segment of “Outside the Lines” to discuss the “N word,” but I have decided not to appear because the white host has no horse in the race”!

I was impressed, because he was finally taking a stand. He had been “A go along to get along Negro his entire media career.”

The following Sunday, who do I see sitting on the set of “Outside the Lines,” with the white host who had no horse in the race discussing the “N-word?  Michael Wilbon.

Major media outlets like “The Undefeated,” are still trying to dictate to us who our heroes are and who they are not. Our heroes are definitely not “Go along to get along Negroes.”

Nine out of ten barber shops in the inner-city will say “No” to Michael Wilbon and his partner in deceit, Stephan A. Smith, because they speak with ‘Fork Tongues’.

Want to read the rest of the article? 

Click here to go to Harold Bell’s blog, “The Original Inside Sports.

Photo credit:  Jason Whitlock photo courtesy John Amis/AP

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