Back in March, I met CBS Sports statistician Harry Robinson during the NCAA first- and second-round games at the Metrodome. A former Newark, NJ, sportswriter, Robinson recalled, “I think I was the first Black sportswriter for a New York [area] major newspaper back then [in 1963]. In those days, if I wanted to see another Black reporter, I would have to go to the bathroom and look in the mirror.”
Unfortunately, even as we approach the end of the 21st century’s first decade, seeing more than a handful of Black reporters at sporting events remains an unfulfilled dream.
“What you see on press row in 2009 is not too much different than what you saw on press row in 1963,” New York Times sports columnist William Rhoden recently said at the 2009 NCAA Men’s Final Four in Detroit.
“That’s true,” confirms Detroit Free Press beat writer Shannon Shelton.
“Usually I look forward to meeting a lot of new people, but then I realize that I am not meeting too many new Black reporters… What does that tell you? Most of the Black people I know, and it is great to see them, but then you know that there aren’t that many of us.”
I have covered six NCAA Final Fours: two women’s and four men’s. This doesn’t count the first Women’s Frozen Four in 2001, a couple of national gymnastics matches, all but the first five Big Ten women’s tournaments, and a couple of Big Ten men’s tourneys. When I do run into a Black reporter, it usually sparks brief “Where have you been?” chats.
“I remember in Minneapolis in 1992, when they had the Final Four there, there were only a handful of us,” Terry Cabell, a former Detroit News beat writer, says. Now the Michigan Chronicle’s managing editor, he adds, “I don’t know if it is a conscious decision or what, but the same amount of African Americans back in ’92 is still the same amount covering the Final Four [today].”
It is even rarer to run into a female Black reporter at such events. When asked how many Black female sportswriters she noticed at this year’s Final Four, Shelton responded, “That’s a good question. Maybe it’s because I am just so used to not seeing us that I don’t even count anymore.”
Media row at sporting events such as the NCAA championships “is still the most segregated area in sports,” Dr. Harry Edwards, University of California-Berkeley professor emeritus of sociology, bluntly points out.
“It really is,” concurs Rhoden. “Until a year ago, I was the only African American on the sports staff at the New York Times.”
Mainstream media has been too slow to diversify, Rhoden points out. “If you don’t bring in a lot of people, then you will pay the price, not just in terms of numbers, but just in terms of people attacking problems at different levels in different ways.”
“I’d like to see more Black female reporters, especially at this level,” says Shelton. Are we still underrepresented because Black sports writers simply aren’t available out there?
Shelton surmises, “I think we are getting hired to some degree, but I wonder just how many and how often do newspapers decide to promote Black writers in general, and Black female writers from high school and community sports [in particular], to do major college and pro beats.”
And let’s not even talk about the failure to promote Black sportswriters to columnists — there still isn’t a Black sports columnist with either the Star Tribune or Pioneer Press. (The MSR has four, however.)
Sadly, in nearly 40 years, the press box basically hasn’t changed its overall complexion. The same can be said about those who decide what readers will read on the sports page, or now on the website.
It isn’t as bad as in Robinson’s days, having to go to the lavatory to see another Black face; but still counting on both hands the number of Black sports reporters at large events such as last week’s Final Four in Detroit continues to concern me.
Change sometimes is slow, and sometimes it is nothing more than hollow talk. “There are a lot of ways that you act like you are going to change, but it still maintains the status quo,” concluded Rhoden.
While most reporters fawned over Michael Jordan, little was said during its announcement April 4 in Detroit about the other four Hall of Fame inductees, including Rutgers Coach C. Vivian Stringer, the only female in the five-person 2009 Hall of Fame enshrinement class.
“I am enamored and excited and in awe,” said Stringer, who was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 2001 and is third on the women’s career victories list.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org, or read his “Another View” blog: www.challman.wordpress.com.
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