Former Ball State football player Jason Whitlock (left) poses with Reggie Jackson (right) on the set of his T.V. sports show Speak For Yourself. Whitlock also writes for ESPN and has over 252,000 followers on Twitter. Jason Whitlock // Photo Provided
For the Record: TV host, former Ball State football player Jason Whitlock reflects on journalism career
Editor's note: "For the Record" is a weekly series featuring former stand-out Ball State athletes and their lives after college.
People used to call Jason Whitlock "the locker room lawyer."
The former Ball State offensive lineman, now the co-host of "Speak for Yourself" on Fox Sports 1, wouldn’t leave then-head football coach Paul Schudel alone — it was his job.
“We always knew Jason was going some place,” Whitlock's close friend and former teammate Tim Walton said. "We didn’t realize how big he would be. But it started at Ball State and his first target was our head coach. He would slam him every week.”
Whitlock, an Indianapolis native and well-known sports journalist, played for the Cardinals from 1985 to 1989. During his final year in Muncie he took a different approach to football.
"I was not the greatest college student at Ball State," Whitlock said. "I played football for four years and my second major was probably socializing and drinking beer at The Chug.”
But in his fifth year, Whitlock got more serious about his education and future.
"I decided I wanted to be the Mike Royco of sportswriting," Whitlock said. "He was very outspoken, very irreverent — he just seemed like the average Joe that was very willing to express his opinion.”
So Whitlock decided to forgo his final season of eligibility — due to injuries and to focus on school — and joined the Ball State Daily News, beginning to cover the team he once played for.
Whitlock, 49, never thought hounding of his former coaches and teammates for interviews would some day lead to a lengthy career in sports journalism and broadcasting.
He didn't wake up and become a sports personality overnight, though. Whitlock said he was under-qualified for his first job. He hadn't completed an internship and didn't have the same hands-on experience other students did.
"The best job I could get was a part-time job for 5 bucks an hour," Whitlock said.
It wasn't until he got a job covering high school sports at the Charlotte Observer that Whitlock truly learned how to write. After a year and a half, he got his big break covering the University of Michigan basketball team for the Ann Arbor News.
He covered the Fab Five, Michigan's 1991 recruiting class that included Juwan Howard, Jimmy King, Ray Jackson, Chris Webber and Jalen Rose. The team was influential in changing how college athletes were viewed and garnered national headlines.
"To be at the center of one of the biggest stories in all of sports for two years covering the Fab Five was just an awesome experience," Whitlock said. "It helped me build my name and brand and get me on the radar of some national publications and put me in a position to become a columnist.”
Whitlock had an advantage over the national competition, too. Just 25 years old at the time, he was only a few years older than the team.
"It gave me an opportunity to write some things from their perspective," Whitlock said. "We listened to the same music, we watched the same movies. We were kind of peers, but I had an adult job."
He covered the Wolverines for two seasons before his unique perspective turned into a columnist job with the Kansas City Star.
After 16 years as a columnist, Whitlock has bounced around from stints with ESPN, AOL Sports and Fox Sports. Now, Whitlock is more of an on-air personality. In June 2016 he began co-hosting "Speak For Yourself" with Colin Cowherd. Whitlock and Cowherd, along with two additional guests, discuss daily sports news.
Though a print journalist by trade, Whitlock said he had enough experience with radio and guest television appearances that the transition to broadcasting wasn't too difficult.
"It turned out I was kind of naturally good at television and broadcasting. The most difficult part of moving into television full time is that my first passion is writing and I don’t write anymore. I miss the writing part.”
Whitlock said his experiences of being a Division-I athlete help him bring a fresh perspective when talking sports, one he never would have expected people to listen to when he was first starting out.
“I think it gives me a unique perspective in terms I can relate with the athletes," Whitlock said. "But obviously I'm a trained journalist so I come at things with a media perspective as well. I kind of see both sides of the equation."