Who Controls Black Athletes' Images?

Experts debate the role athletes play in how they're covered in the media.

In an ideal world social media applications would require users to press a button titled "think" before they can push send, mused veteran sports agent William Strickland at a panel discussion on The Business of Sports. Reversing the steps, he added, contributes to negative images of African-American athletes.

A prime example is a recent tweet posted by L.A. Clipper Matt Barnes, in which he threw an N-bomb in a reference to his teammates. Unfortunately, that's the kind of story that gets the most media attention, taking control of their images out of athletes' hands.

"I suggest we focus on what we can control and it starts in our community with what we tweet, what we send out in email and how we do things," Strickland said at the forum hosted by the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition on Friday.

Part of the problem, he noted, is that African-Americans represent a vast proportion of athletes, but are underrepresented among those who cover sports.

"The people who manage the media don't look like us," Strickland said, adding that readers also prefer to read stories that call into question other people's character than stories about good deeds athletes may have performed.

Andre Collins, an ex-Washington Redskin who overseas the NFL Players Association's services for former players, said that athletes must take control of their image.

"Sometimes the problem is that athletes see themselves more as artists than businessmen, We have to remember that these are very young people in the grand scheme of things. When you're 21 or 22 years old, you're not really looking too far ahead," he said.

But Collins also believes that in the last decade, the media has crossed a line from "reporting the news to sensationalizing the back story and really trying to dig into players' lives."

Radio host and former boxing promoter Rock Newman was a bit less forgiving.

"One of the obligations for the incredible opportunity for fame and fortune is conduct yourself in a sensible, civilized way. That's the responsibility of athletes, of artists, of any of us," he said.

Newman said that it's not reasonable to expect the media to show athletes' or artists' greatness but not their frailties.

Tanya Clay House, director of the Public Policy Project at the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and a former track star, said that athletes and those who cover athletes should be required to learn "the full history" of African-Americans.

"I feel that when people are educated and they understand our history that it becomes more challenging to continue perpetuating stereotypes and for the athletes to allow themselves to be subjected to those stereotypes without fighting back," she said.

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(Photo: Harry How/Getty Images)

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