ESPN launched the Undefeated Tuesday morning. The new Washington, DC-based publication will focus on the intersection of race, sports, and culture and is staffed by many veterans of the Washington Post.
The site debuts with some scrollbar-intensive reads on Marshawn Lynch, Shaun Livingston, and Marvel film producer Nate Moore. “For me, all ambition can’t be long-form,” Undefeated editor Kevin Merida told Washingtonian last month. “I’ve said, ‘Let’s pioneer short-form ambition.’ And so the site features All Day, a blog anchored by former Postie Clinton Yates, what appears to be a cool recurring feature on athletes’ first magazine covers, and a video for the site’s “anthem,” featuring Dee-1, that has been bouncing around for a couple weeks now.
Media reporters in New York media reporters got a preview of the Undefeated last week. During the meeting, Merida “emphasized that The Undefeated would collaborate with other ESPN properties,” Peter Sterne reports for Politico. “Merida’s success will rest on people embracing a site that is far more ruminative than espn.com,” Richard Sandomir writes in the New York Times. Sports Illustrated media critic Richard Deitsch writes the publication was an opportunity to stem a “steady drumbeat of negative news” from ESPN, which last year shuttered a similar boutique site, Grantland, and parted ways with the Undefeated’s original editor, Jason Whitlock, following bruising press.
ESPN public editor Jim Brady acknowledged all the press the Undefeated received before its launch in a column about it: “It’s never a good sign for a news organization when the number of articles written about it far exceeds those written by it.” (Brady knows–he founded TBD.com, where I worked with him. It debuted to a symphony of outside reporters typing about it, and eventually failed.)
“Perhaps most important is the open question of whether the sensibilities of ESPN and The Undefeated are able to coexist,” Brady writes, continuing:
Race is one of society’s most explosive topics — maybe the most explosive — and often paves an easy path to controversy. With a mission statement that ends with “Not Conventional. Never Boring” and a staff as talented as the one Merida and Kelley have assembled, there’s little doubt the site will be provocative. In fact, considering the talent involved, it would be a failure if The Undefeated weren’t provocative.