Response to Manning report shows beef is FOX Sports’ business plan

Feb 22, 2016, 9:19 AM | Updated: 9:46 am
FOX Sports' Jason Whitlock (pictured) and Clay Travis resorted to personal attacks against Shaun King in their criticism of his column about an alleged sexual-assault incident involving Peyton Manning. (AP)

Beef as a business plan.

That’s the only way to explain how a story that was about Peyton Manning and his bare butt morphed into a debate over the ethnicity of the man who authored a story about just where Manning put that butt back in 1996.

Actually, calling it a debate is inaccurate. Baiting is a better description of what two FOX Sports employees did to Shaun King, an activist and social-justice columnist for the New York Daily News.

Clay Travis of FOX Sports offered to donate $20,000 if a DNA test determined King was part African-American. Later, Jason Whitlock posted grade-school photos of King when he had a mullet, adding the taunt: #WhiteLiesMatter.

Those were just two instances from a week’s worth of online barbs that demonstrated the direction a specific wing of FOX Sports seems to be taking with behavior that is more akin to online trolls than traditional media members. Yep, one of the largest, most important sports broadcasting entities in the world is employing people whose function is no more complicated than the anonymous person that pops up in the comments section or on Twitter or via email and utters vile, combative statements with the primary aim to evoke a reaction.

Conflict works.

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It’s more than Colin Cowherd’s tagline in an advertisement for his FOX Sports radio show. It’s how FOX Sports drew King – the author of the most talked-about story in the sports world last week – into a radio interview Friday that devolved into an argument over who was blacker. What in the world that has to do with Manning and what he did with his undeniably white buttocks is anyone’s guess, but before we get to that, let’s give you the timeline of just what happened.

On the Saturday after the Super Bowl, King wrote about a 2002 defamation lawsuit against Manning that included allegations that Manning had sat, bare-butted, on the face of an athletic trainer at the University of Tennessee. Not only that, but there were witnesses alleging a cover-up in which Manning lied in order to characterize the incident as a mooning of another player.

The suit was covered in 2003 by no less a paper than the USA Today. Some of the details were recited as recently as the week of the Super Bowl by the website For whatever reason, it was King’s report that gained traction and shot the story back to the front of our national sports conscience in one of the slowest sports weeks of the calendar year.

King is a former pastor and someone who has been involved with the Black Lives Matter movement in addition to writing a column in the New York Daily News. His story offered endless room to debate, from the increased awareness of sexual assault and domestic violence in football to the question of why this is being discussed now, almost 20 years after the fact. There were valid criticisms to be made of the way King constructed the article, including how he characterized a plaintiff’s filing as an explosive court document and how he mischaracterized a judge’s finding in Manning’s request for a summary judgment.

For the life of me, though, I can’t figure out what King’s ethnicity has to do with the story. Not the writing. Not the reporting. Certainly not the implications.

But King’s personal life was drawn into the conversation. He has been involved prominently in the Black Lives Matter movement. He’s faced allegations that he cannot account for the donations made to different charities he is involved with, and several websites have questioned his ethnic background, citing his birth certificate to dispute that King’s father is African-American as he says.

None of that has any bearing on King’s story about Manning. None. The only way you could argue that it did would be to say King’s reliability as a narrator would be undermined by the fact that he wasn’t truthful about his ethnicity. Except King’s story is based entirely on court documents that he included in black and white. There are no anonymous sources, no unattributed quotes. If you want to dispute King’s retelling, you can do so by showing that the documents he cited are only part of the story. Not only that, but King fundamentally mischaracterized a judge’s ruling as Mike Florio of pointed out.

There was no need to bring King’s ethnicity into the scrutiny of his story, but that’s where Travis and Whitlock enter the picture. Travis is a lawyer turned sports personality who usually focuses on college football while behaving like a pro-wrestling bad-guy manager while Whitlock is an egotist of unparalleled proportions. His need to be a contrarian is rivaled only by his desire for attention.

Their criticism of King was unmistakably personal.

They trolled him. They took something as personal as ethnic identity and turned it into a joke complete with childhood pictures. And finally, on Thursday, King reacted. He cursed at Whitlock on Twitter.

That’s the moment FOX Sports’ approach prevailed. Insults drew the author of the week’s most controversial sports story into a one-on-one confrontation with a FOX Sports personality. The Twitter spat gave way to a radio interview when Whitlock sat in for Cowherd on Friday.

The interview itself was actually pretty awful. Whitlock tried to make it into a lesson on journalism, talking down to King to explain what a news story is and making it clear that King’s story had broken no new ground. King tried to turn it into a forum to illustrate how many people loathed Whitlock, especially in the black community.

Whitlock muted King no less than three times before giving in to a producer who said King should come back on and say his piece about Whitlock. It got personal. Whitlock implied King was a white reporter from the New York Daily News. King said that Whitlock would always have a job because he’s a black man who says the kind of things white people want to hear.

The actual quality of the interview was immaterial, though. Conflict worked. The personal attacks from Travis and Whitlock evoked a reaction from the subject that ultimately benefited FOX Sports.

This wasn’t an incident so much as an approach. A formula that you can expect to be repeated unless we all wise up and stop providing the trolls that FOX Sports employs the reaction and the attention they’re craving.

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Response to Manning report shows beef is FOX Sports’ business plan