Racism and Sports Media

By Chris Murray

For the Chris Murray Report

            As an African-American columnist looking to become a columnist at some big mainstream newspaper or magazine, I find myself to be in one hell of a predicament.

            For one thing, my views of how African-American sports figures are viewed and portrayed definitely are not reflective of those in the mainstream sports media. In fact, I am critical of the way the mainstream media portrays African-American sports figures because it reflects a definite white male bias.

            And so when I see instances of racism in sports, the columns I write will generally point it out to the reader and call it into question. The problem is that nowadays it is taboo for an African-American columnist to point out racial bias in sports. I suspect that some of the columns I have written for the Philadelphia Tribune will not help land me a job to a similar position at a mainstream daily newspaper.

            In 2006, it’s still not cool for a Black columnist—whether it’s sports or on the news side to say that racism still exists in America’s institutions. The new form of racism in America today is to say that is doesn’t exist even when it clearly does or to shift blame on the people affected by racism. Or they’ll use language such as you’re playing the race card.

            Ironically, the main people helping to perpetrate this idea are Black journalists who’ve bought into this new form of racism. They believe in the same white male stereotypes of Black athletes. When a black athlete actually has the balls to speak out against racism in sports, you can count on the acceptable, establishment Black columnist to be the first to admonish him or her for speaking out against “the man.”

            White columnists, in fact, will point to this Black columnist to give them comfort and to validate their racism. It’s like they’ll say, see “John so and so says we’re not being racist and he’s Black.”  In other words, if you offend white sensibilities by merely pointing out their racism, they will call you the racist and you’re told to shut up.

            Recently, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis came out and said that if quarterback Steve McNair were a white quarterback he would not have been locked out of the Tennessee Titans facility while in the midst of contract negotiations. When McNair himself was asked about it, he was careful not to say it was straight up racism, but he said it was without saying it.

            “I always say you can’t mix personal feelings with business, and I always feel like if you do that’s when these things like that happen,” McNair said.  “That’s why it would never happen to Brett Favre or Peyton Manning and it probably would never happen to those guys, but it happened to me.”

            But how some prominent Black sports columnists responded to Lewis’ and McNair’s comments is a sad commentary of where we are today when it comes to pointing out racism where it exists. AOL Black Voices Roy Johnson Jr. applauded Lewis for pointing it out, but liked the idea that he was subtle about it. It was as if he was saying, ‘if it is there, don’t say it loudly.’ Walk on egg shells and tip toe around it. Additionally, Johnson also said that we shouldn’t make a big deal out of it because, after all, these guys are millionaires who aren’t experiencing the things that regular Black folks go through.

            Then there was Kansas City Star/AOL columnist Jason Whitlock who suggested that Lewis should shut up and sit in the back of his limousine rather than say something in support of McNair.  His argument is because the Ravens stood by him during his murder trial that he should lose his race card, i.e. his right to speak out on social causes.     

            Wow, since when did being a millionaire or being accused of murder take away your right to stand up for another Black man? I wish more African-American athletes had the guts to speak their minds on race. Hell, I wish more Black columnists would have the guts to point out white racism in sports in their columns. Ironically, Black columnists in the mainstream media aren’t going to speak up or are going to be subtle about it because they don’t want to lose their $50,000 to $100,000 per year jobs because they don’t want to offend their white editors. So if you can’t beat them join them.

             A lot of Black journalists pride themselves on being tough on Black sports figures and holding them accountable to please their white bosses. I wish we would apply that same intensity to holding the captains of the sports industry accountable for their racial bias as they do for Black folks who speak out against it.

7 thoughts on “Racism and Sports Media

  1. You’re on point! I admire and respect your viewpoint and stance. Besides we need diversity in our thoughts and opinions in this country.

  2. Glad to see you have your own blog page Chris, we had this discussion a couple of months ago about Black journalists in the national spotlight that have dropped the torch. Jason Whitlock is its biggest offender, he made a big stink over his feud with Scoop Jackson, another Black Journalist. He has this term he uses called ‘Bojangling’ basically saying that these are Blacks that will do whatever to appease white America. What does he think he’s doing by taking issues with another Black journalist to print nationally on AOL.

    Chris as a fellow journalist it’s up to us to keep the torch lit, guys like Whitlock and a few others have lost their way

  3. Are you indicting the sports media, the Tennessee Titans, or a 3rd party to be named later?

    You’re my boy, 50-grand and all, but if you want to make a case about class-wide discrimination in commercial media the incident between McNair and the Titans is a poor place to start. The Titans’ management exercised maximum leverage to keep from paying the balance of McNair’s contract; a routine tactic used by NFL management against labor — especially aging players on the rosters of struggling teams.

    In fact, you don’t have to use examples from the NFL, NBA, etc., to make your case against the media. All you have to do is cite the numbers showing how very few African-Americans work as journalists, editors, announcers, cameramen, and so forth covering sports. Have you noticed any brothers doing play-by-play? Nope. That’s a quiet insinuation that Black folks can’t think fast. I won’t even begin to discuss the scarcity of African-American broadcasters & producers in sports talk radio or TV.

    Is your concern the sports media doesn’t report on examples of racism in sports entertainment? That, to me, is a far more difficult proposition because labor-management relations and/or culture are probably issues best examined in other sections of the media. I’m less sure the subject of racism is something that can be accurately captured by the occasional article here and there.

    Finally, there’s the issue of remedying, or counteracting racism. Should Af-Ams (and other underrepresented minorities) invest time, money & energy to persuade these businesses to diversify their ranks in proportion to their consumer demographics? Given individual media outlets actually ‘sell’ access to specific ‘markets’, your challenge would be convincing Corporate America money remains on the table with minority audiences. Have you been paying attention to the ad campaigns nowadays? They’re full of black and brown faces. Honda’s got an ad for a freaking minivan with Parliament playing in the background.

    The solution probably lies with minority entrepreneurship, where more people like you launch their own media outlets. While there are limits to this approach — especially with broadcasting — at least it’s available and a more productive long-term approach than lobbying for approval.

  4. Thanks for pointing out the fact that having a million dollars in your bank account doesn’t preclude you from having to deal with racism…or having an opinion for that matter.

    But I have to agree with William on one thing. Entrepreneurship is the way to go when it comes to getting more than one set of thoughts into the conversation. We have to start creating our own media, not just black folks, but everybody. We have to create media that’s more devoted to the news than it is to the bottom line. Until we do that, we’ll continue to have this homogenity of opinion.

  5. Clearly, there is something amiss…..sports media is but one reflection of what’s wrong, but why not start with what you know! Good! Keep pushing the envelope; eventually truth will begin to flow as the dialog heats up!

    By the way, is Carmelo Anthony of Puerto Rican heritage? What’s up with the youth center in Puerto Rico I see reflected in his latest commerical…is this real of fiction?

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