According to the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES) at the University of Central Florida, the ranks minorities in key sports reporting positions remain slim. The Institute, which has issued the Associated Press Sports Editors (ASPE) Racial and Gender Report Card at the request of ASPE bi-annually since 2006, found that despite progress over the past six years, the 2012 numbers weren’t dramatically different from 6 years ago.
In 2012, 90.9 percent of the sports editors at the major newspapers and online publications that belong to ASPE were White. In 2006, that number was 94.7. Some 83.9% of sports columnists were White versus 89.9% in 2006. As slow as progress has been for racial minorities in sports reporting, the numbers for women are even worse. The “150 newspapers and websites that are part of APSE received a failing grade overall for their gender hiring practices.”
In other words, sports reporting remains a field almost entirely dominated by White men.
The web has helped add more perspectives to conversations about sports, but it falls short of being a great equalizer. In fact, Blogs With Balls, a sports blogging conference, and the National Association of Black Journalists have held panels on new media diversity in light of the fact that most of the most popular sports sites on the web such as The Big Lead and Bleacher Report (among many others) have very few, if any, minorities on staff as writers. TIDES’ report confirmed ESPN.com leads the way in terms of the number of diverse reporting hires, but it’s important to note they also employ hundreds more writers than the average sports site.
The primary author of the ASPE study, TIDES Director Richard Lapchick, summarized the report for Street & Smith’s Sports Business Daily, stating that the lack of representation of women and people of color caused him to “wonder how many great stories we’ve missed covering, how many we might have covered better and how many we would have had a completely different take on were things different.” He makes a salient point.
When it comes to the most popular sports in America—football, baseball and basketball—there is a disproportionate number of Black and Latino athletes to cover. There’s a lot of hand-wringing over athletes of color, their behavior and choices. From an image perspective, these players’ identities in the media (and therefore, their global images) are largely defined by people outside of their communities. This fact often deprives the public of contextual information about athletes from which they would benefit and can rob the athletes themselves of the understanding they deserve.
Think back to the controversy surrounding then-Ohio State University quarterback Terrelle Pryor, who was punished by the NCAA for selling his own sports memorabilia. Pryor was heavily criticized and frequently portrayed in language consistent with stereotypes about Black men. There seemed to be little effort to explore Pryor’s motivations by the reporters who cover college football. It wasn’t until after Pryor was selected by the NFL’s Oakland Raiders in the supplemental draft that Sports Illustrated published a story by African American NFL reporter Jim Trotter in which Pryor explained that he sold his uniform pants for money to pay his mother’s heating costs during the winter. According to Pryor, his mother, who soon lost her job, had been using the kitchen oven for heat.
Pryor’s explanation doesn’t negate the fact that the NCAA has rules against this sort of thing. And it certainly doesn’t explain the other gifts that Pryor allegedly accepted, such as tattoos and a car. However, the overall tone of media coverage about Pryor would have been more fair were there an existing editorial philosophy in the media to provide context in these situations. The Pryor story ties into the question of whether college athletes should be paid—a topic that often divides opinions along racial lines. Greater diversity in sports media could improve the atmosphere for these kinds of discussions.
When we talk about the need for diversity in any field the conversation typically centers around fairness in hiring practices and certainly that’s an important topic. But varying perspectives provide a benefit beyond those seeking employment. More minorities leading conversations about sports could noticeably improve the quality of discussions and positively impact policies and attitudes that affect athletes. That kind of result would be real progress.
Jessica Danielle is a professional speechwriter and sports blogger who covers sports with wit and ardor at Playerperspective.com.