Is It Wrong For A Black Reporter To Be Tough On A Black Athlete?

By Gregory Moore
Updated: December 17, 2004

John Saunders is one of the most respected sports journalists in the nation. So why do some in the Black community detest him for being so hard on Kobe Bryant during a recent interview?

SAN ANTONIO – So this past Wednesday I’m at the SBC Center covering the Spurs vs. Magic game but I had to just stop and watch the train wreck that’s called the “A Baller Called Kobe”. In case many of you don’t understand the reference, ESPN’s John Saunders and Stephen A. Smith had a little two-on-one with the embattled Lakers’ star and he also went on ESPN’s Pardon The Interruption. Now why a player like Kobe would even subject himself to such an onslaught is beyond me but I was really intrigued by the interview that Saunders and Smith put on. I watched it because what I saw just warmed the cockles of my little, stone cold heart today. I saw journalism being performed by two African Americans on one of the most prominent sports figures today and they didn’t let up on him because he was An African American. In other words, Saunders and Smith did their job. They did their job but there’s a lingering question that seemed to have befallen within the Black community from this interview. As recently as yesterday, there have been some who have questioned the tactics that Saunders and/or Smith used during the interview. Some have questioned and said that the interview was ‘too harsh’. So with that said, then the question needs to be asked, is it wrong for an African American reporter to be tough on a Black athlete in an interview process?

Think back for a bit when I wrote the op/ed on Milton Bradley’s interaction with Los Angeles Times’ baseball reporter Jason Reid when Reid simply asked Bradley about the fans and how he deals with it at other stadiums? Bradley acted in a fashion that normally I would have expected someone who had just had his car stolen. He went off on Reid and then, according to reports, hurled a racial epithet at him. Did anyone come to Reid’s defense in the Black community? I haven’t seen not one Kweisi Mfume, Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson asking for Bradley’s removal from the baseball ranks. Yet we have individuals, not Mfume, Sharpton or Jackson mind you, wanting to chastise Saunders for his rough treatment of Bryant. Why? What did Saunders do that would warrant such a response from a community where the heroes that are normally worshipped are disappearing faster than cherry flavored Kool-Aid at granny’s house? What line of questioning would have been appropriate to ask him? The same ‘soft stuff’ that Jim Gray dished out not too long ago? The last time I checked the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics, it didn’t say anything about making sure that your subjects look good during an investigative interview.

For some unexplainable reason, many in this community feel compelled to let our sports heroes have a free pass when it come to the tough interview. Why is that? Ironically this purveyance of wanting to give athletes a freebie extends all the way back before many of them become household names. How many black athletes are given preferential treatment while in middle school, high school and college? I’m not talking about the ones who could make the team every now and then but I am talking about the superstars like a Dexter Manley. Then how many parents are out there living their dreams through their children and when something goes wrong, they say, “Not my child, he’s an angel.” So these kids grow up not facing any real consequences for their actions nor do they face anyone who questions their motives and try to get them to face the issues at hand. Now is Bryant one of these cases I mentioned earlier? Some say yes and some say no. The truth lies somewhere in between on that issue. What these case studies do dictate however is the fact that within the Black community, there are those who would rather let an athlete slide by on issues instead of doing the proper thing and deal with the issue head on.

So how does this parlay into the community wanting Black journalists to take it easy on these stars? It stems from the aforementioned standards of behavior that has been heaped on these stars. These stars come into the world of where the microscope is so focused on their moves, they seemed to be shell-shocked when a journalist asks a tough question on his play or a situation that is in front of him. Bryant was shocked that Saunders would ask such poignant questions but he shouldn’t have been. He shouldn’t have been because many Black journalists are actually harder on Black athletes than on any other journalist out there. Why would I make such a statement? Because if you think about it, both parties are a representation of the whole and it would only be right and fair to be tougher on ourselves than on anyone else.

Okay maybe that doesn’t make sense to a great majority out there but try to keep it in these terms: you want your harshest critic to actually understand you. If Kobe thought that Smith and Saunders were going to toss up softball questions to him, he found out quickly that those rules were not available. What Saunders and Smith did is exactly what I or any other good Black reporter would have done in the same situation. Questions needed some poignant answers and for far too long, Bryant has been ducking and dodging the issues. He still dodged a few questions the other night because there simply wasn’t time to really dig deep into the issue. Heck I have some questions for Bryant that will make him call for his mama, aunties and his lawyers. I have some questions because do gone it I also want some answers. Now imagine that there is myself and about 200 others who have similar issues. Do you see why Bryant wouldn’t want any of us to be sitting in the seat where Smith and/or Saunders were sitting?

What the Black community should be doing is applauding any time a Black journalist goes out there and makes the community’s representatives squirm, shake and almost whiz on themselves. Heck I’d like my crack at a few folk in a forum that is very similar to what Bryant faced. I’ll take Barry Bonds, Tim Montgomery and Kelli White if you don’t mind. Heck throw in Marion Jones and Ricky Williams for good measure. But until that time comes, I will stand up and applaud anyone who calls him or herself a journalist and gets down to the bottom of whatever they are covering. I’ll leap for joy when it’s a Black reporter grilling a Black athlete. I’ll leap for joy because they are doing exactly what many in the Black community wants right about now; a little truth in the whole situation.