Respect the Black Press


Is the local Black Press getting its due respect? All the local sports teams know about the MSR, but I often wonder if they really understand our presence in the Twin Cities sports scene. Do the local Black athletes know our history? Are they aware of the Black Press’ historical role for Black inclusion in American sports?

It’s a shame if they don’t.

The late columnist-writer Sam Lacy regularly bashed baseball’s color line for the Baltimore Afro-American and is widely credited for its eventual dissolution. The Black Press for decades challenged mainstream media-favored status quo.

The Black Press consistently provides fair balance for Black athletes and coaches that is otherwise missing, uniquely providing an interpretive narrative when mainstream reporters can’t or won’t.

“The Black Press? I never heard of [it],” responded Minnesota Timberwolves guard Wayne Ellington when asked last week.

“No,” added Wolves rookie Derrick Williams as he expressed his lack of knowledge on the subject.

Later Ellington remembered as a youngster seeing his grandparents reading Black newspapers, but he wasn’t sure of the newspapers’ names.

My Black Press history quickie quiz wasn’t done to trick these young men, but rather to educate them.

The 20-year Philadelphia Tribune veteran sportswriter Donald Hunt was honored last August by the National Association of Black Journalists at its annual convention in his home city. He received a Sam Lacy Pioneer Award. “He still believes in the old-school journalistic notion of the first-person account” in his writings, says ESPN’s J.A. Alande.

Hunt regularly covers Philly sports in that town. “We try to give the readers something you might not read or have heard,” he says.

The three MSR sports columnists collectively have amassed nearly a century’s worth of journalistic experience. Like Hunt, each of us offers our readers each week something they won’t find elsewhere. We are nationally respected but locally often treated as second-class citizens.

For example, a local head coach once told me that because of something I wrote he would yank my hard-earned season credentials — which, by the way, I have had for two decades-plus, properly vetted and given out either by the team or, in some cases, by the league.

I’m sure that a similar threat wouldn’t have been made to a mainstream columnist. But because I’m with the Black Press, I am supposed to operate under a gag order.

Such disrespect for my journalistic credibility shouldn’t have taken place then and shouldn’t take place now or in the future. Such threats, even jokingly, should never, ever occur.

I don’t ask for special treatment, just fair treatment.

Furthermore, if such local Black athletes as Ellington and Williams and others aren’t fully aware of the importance of the local Black Press, it’s probably safe to assume that the all-White media relations departments are in the same boat.

I’m often asked if I wish I worked at a mainstream publication. My response always is simply that I wouldn’t fit in. I am not the “fit in” kind.

I’ve seen too many Black journalists work too hard to fit in. They write “safe” stories so as not to anger their White editors’ sensitivities. Too often this bend-over-backwards approach sadly leads to compromising positions.

This isn’t why I became a journalist, something I wanted to be since grade school. I write through my eyes, my experiences, and my ever-existing desire to see that Blacks aren’t undervalued, underestimated or ignored.

I am a proud Black journalist. I’m not mainstream and not beholden to any organization — pro, college or whatever — or for that matter to any individual. I praise Black athletes and coaches when it’s needed, and I’m critical of them as well. More importantly, I am their first resort rather than their last.

As a result, the Black Press is where I came to, where I stayed, and where I belong. Once I learned and understood its history, such as Lacy’s work and that of other Black Press journalists who blazed the way for me and others, I knew that was where I belonged.

“We have [Black] publications that are superior to mainstream publications,” Philadelphia Tribune Managing Editor Irv Randolph told me last summer in Philadelphia. “Readers should come to expect the best, and we [the Black Press] should put out the best.”

The MSR sports page each week is dedicated to just that standard: the best. This column weekly uses the three E’s and one I formula — enlighten, educate, entertain and infuriate. This isn’t original — it’s the proud bedrock of the Black Press.

As proudly declared in the car commercial, “I’m from Detroit and that’s what I do.”

As we move into 2012, perhaps our local Black players and coaches, as well as their teams’ media relations departments, should make a New Year’s resolution to realize that the Black Press and the MSR is here to stay.

Get used to it.