Clinton Yates is the latest Washington Post journalist to get poached by ESPN’s The Undefeated. He’ll be a senior writer at the publication.
Former Post managing editor Kevin Merida announced in October that he planned to leave the Post to run The Undefeated. Since then Soraya Nadia McDonald, Michael Fletcher, and Lonnae O’Neal have joined. Former Posties Steve Reiss and Jason Reid have gone over, and former sports section star Mike Wise announced in November 2014 he’d join the publication, which was at the time headed by Jason Whitlock.
Reached by instant message, Yates says he has been in talks with The Undefeated before: “The truth is that when Jason Whitlock was first planning to start the site, I was approached to write for it, and I considered it.” When Merida joined, he says, “my interest in it was resparked.”
Merida, “a guy I’ve considered a friend and mentor for quite some time,” Yates says, reached out to him about leaving. Asked what he plans to write about there, Yates was unable to say for sure, but said “the thing about being a black writer is that people always add the label to whatever’s being written. I’m hoping to be one of the people, along with the many tremendous voices at the site who can show people that the true depth, complexity and overall fullness of what blackness and thus its writing is about.”
I asked Yates what he learned from the Post in the nine years he was there (first at Express, then in Metro, finally in Sports). The answer is worth a blockquote.
There are a couple things I learned at The Post, besides the obvious. Number one is the news still fucking matters. If you write about things people care about in an honest way, people will pay attention. While the death of one particular brand of it may be declining or whatever, it certainly doesn’t mean that people stopped caring about the outside world.
Secondly, I learned how to write. Simple as that. There are so many people I could thank, but I want to make specific mention of Vanessa Williams, who early on had the guts and gumption to push for me to write my own newsletter, Lunchline, which is effectively where I found my voice as a writer. She edited that, on her own time, for 3 months before it ever came out. She thought people would like it, she pushed me to be better and it was a product that I still cherish to this day for how it allowed me to grow as a professional. I owe her so much.
It’s almost impossible to truly quantify what I’ll miss because I’m from D.C. I grew up reading this paper, quite literally. As a high school athlete, I got a stupid kick out of seeing my name in box scores. That later changed to the same kick of seeing my name on a byline. My entire concept of what journalism, is and isn’t is wrapped up in this publication, in many ways.
I’ve made friends here, I’ve learned so much, there’s no way for me to say what I’ll miss the most. I might feel differently about this had I been leaving straight from Local, where covering the city I’m from was such an all-encompassing mind task that I could barely imagine myself ever doing anything else. But right now, I’m going to miss the people I work with. I’m going to a great place, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going to miss the other folks in this building.
The Post‘s memo says Yates is “not leaving The Post softball team,” a fact that is total b.s. in my opinion but one Yates confirms is true. (I understand why–I have competed against him as a member of Washington City Paper‘s team, and it was no fun at all.) He may, he says, change his at-bat music, which last season was “Easy Rider” by Action Bronson.
So yes, he will remain in DC and keep covering things here–“the scope will be more national than what most people have come to expect of me in the past,” he says of his new job, but “D.C.’s where I was born and raised, so there’s really no way that side of me is ever going to go away.”