Commentary: Black Sports Journalists Keep Hitting the Glass Ceiling

Report card on diversity in sports media is a worrying state of affairs.

Posted: 03/07/2013 04:40 PM EST
Filed Under Sports News, TIDES

In his recent 2012 report card on race and gender in sports media, Richard E. Lapchick, director of The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, handed sports media a D-plus.

His grade was fair.

Lapchick’s report card, released last week, showed sports media treading water in the hiring and the promotion of minorities.

According to his research, 90 percent of sports editors in 2012 were white males, the same percentage as in his 2006 report; 91 percent of the sports columnists in 2012 were white, an increase from 89.9 percent in 2006. The number of Black female sports columnists, however, doubled since 2006, the year Lapchick published his initial report card for Associated Press Sports Editors. The number has risen from one to two.

One thing was clear in his research: Sports journalism remains a white man’s game, despite efforts of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Its Sports Task Force has lobbied for more diversity since the 1980s when the late sportswriter Larry Whiteside formed the organization, but the statistics on hiring continue to be an affront to men like Whiteside, South Florida Sun-Sentinel sports editor Greg Lee, current NABJ president, and sportswriter-turned-educator Ron Thomas, a former task force president who teaches at Morehouse College.

Yes, the numbers are pitiful, said Lapchick in describing the state of minority hiring and promotions. He pointed out that the reason the percentages weren’t even worse was because ESPN has been forward-thinking in hiring for diversity across all its platforms.

Of the 12 people of color who are sports editors in large category media outlets, four are ESPN employees. Of the 52 columnists in the same category, 37 work for the “World Wide Leader.”

A maxim in business management is that past performance is indicative of future performance. If that’s true, what are the prospects for the numbers of Blacks in sports media increasing? Not good.

Mindful that something needed to be done, Lapchick, a white man who has spent his adult life shining a spotlight on racism, suggested sports media try the “Rooney Rule,” an NFL policy that punishes a team for not interviewing minority candidates for openings in its leadership ranks.

Rooney sounds great, except in its execution. In reality, the rule has proved an embarrassment. Blacks went 0-for-15 in the latest round of Rooney interviews for head coaching and front office jobs.

So all a Rooney-like rule will do for sports journalism is fuel false optimism, as the rule has done for qualified Black men who wait hopelessly for their one chance to coach an NFL team.

Sports journalists of color are no different, which is why it’s foolish for somebody to suggest they play the same game Black assistant coaches in the NFL play with Rooney.

Maybe playing sham games is the only option Black sports journalists have left. They have tried job fairs, NABJ seminars and training programs like the Sports Journalism Institute and Chips Quinn, yet nothing has helped them bust through the glass ceiling, not even the embarrassment that white executives in the biz ought to feel after another lousy report card.

Justice B. Hill is a veteran sports reporter who writes for a number of sports websites, including MLB.com and SBnation.com. He has been a sports editor at several major newspapers and taught journalism at Ohio University.

The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.

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