Vulgar Opinions: Diversifying Sports Coverage
Yesterday, incensed by a WGR discussion about the “worst things in sports” that didn’t really include any actual bad things in sports like injuries or concussions or a continuing prevalence of homophobia, racism, or xenophobia, I posted this here on BBG yesterday. It’s everything you could hope for in a graphic, short, visually jarring, and blatantly inflammatory. I take full credit for a post that, while not quite in bad taste, certainly isn’t in good taste, and is somewhat ironic given my criticisms of WGR for too quickly courting conflict.
But this isn’t about me and it isn’t really about WGR either although they’re a larger part of the titular topic than I am. I think we like to feel that sports are this great equalizer where the only thing that matters is how you perform, but that’s never really been the case. We needed Jackie Robinson and others to give African-American athletes a fair shake, and we needed Title IX to give female athletes a fair shake, and maybe Robbie Rogers and You Can Play to give LGBT athletes a fair shake. We still have things like The Rooney Rule (and teams that still violate it) and reporters questioning whether other reporters should be allowed locker room access and NFL teams getting warned on asking athletes about their sexual orientation.
In a perfect world those things are unnecessary, and perhaps even a little unfair, but we don’t live in that world, at least not yet. The groups that those rules are designed to protect are groups that have been institutionally disadvantaged for years. You can say that those are the crosses of previous generations, but unfortunately you don’t stop racism or misogyny or homophobia by standing on a podium and saying “okay, we’re not doing that anymore.”
Unfortunately while the teams themselves are mostly on board because of winning and its impact on the almighty dollar, the broadcast booths and radio stations and TV Networks seem to be lagging behind. The quickest path to an analyst job as a minority in sports is not through an education, or possession of analytical talent, but to actually play or coach that sport and then retire. Are you telling me that Shannon Sharpe and Kordell Stewart are the best we can do, and there’s not another Mike Tirico or James Brown out there? I know that statement takes away from the former athletes that are great analysts, but so does the too common fast-tracking of their peers to a career in broadcasting.
It’s not like things are any better for women because if you aren’t pretty, then forget about it. (And yes, I know that ‘pretty’ and ‘talented’ are not mutually exclusive, but I can see what the networks are trying to sell me and it isn’t the latter.) I’m not the only one to point this out. TALKERS Magazine in 2012 released their first annual list of the 100 Most Important Sports Talk Radio Hosts In America. Two of them were women (62nd and 93rd), and as the aforelinked article points out, most of the African-American hosts listed were former players. In radio, where talent is much more of a factor than on TV, station managers have collectively decided that African Americans and women for the most part aren’t talented enough.
Even if you land in every single majority demographic there is, you’re still losing out because different perspectives elevate sports and keep them evolving. Baseball has suffered because there haven’t been enough different perspectives in its history. Hockey reinvented itself in 2006 thanks to a different perspective on how the game should be played. The more diverse a set of experiences we can bring to the table collectively as sports fans and sports media, the better off we are individually because we have that much more we can learn from one another. That might be a pageant-y way of putting it, but I don’t think the idealism makes it any less valid.
Ultimately this is a discussion based on my perception without much hard data. I acknowledge that, and so I will encourage any reader that feels differently to back up their claims with research that shows that minorities are adequately being represented in sports media and then we can alter the discussion as necessary.