Papers’ Sports Desks Aren’t Black, White And Read All Over

By David Aldridge
Updated: July 19, 2006

PHILADELPHIA — At the school paper in college, any time there was a question or matter of race that warranted an editorial, my colleagues would, invariably, look to me to write it. Which was fine, at first.

But it became increasingly troubling to note that on a regular staff of 40 or so, there were only two African American men. There was one Latina woman. There was an Asian woman who wrote on occasion. And that was it. And so, one day, on another matter of color before the editorial board, I demurred.

“You all” – I pointed at the vast whiteness before me – “must have an opinion on this, too. So one of you write it.”

More than two decades later, I’m still waiting.

Waiting for some real diversity.

Waiting for someone other than black folks to be upset about it.

The results of a study by the University of Central Florida’s DeVos Sports Business Management’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport in June showed that when it comes to sports departments at newspapers across the country, almost nothing’s changed.

Directed by Richard Lapchick, the longtime educator and activist who’s chronicled the slow progress in hiring people of color and women in the professional sports leagues and in the NCAA, the Institute’s findings are alarming.

Basically, a jar of mayonnaise isn’t as white as most newspapers’ sports departments.

To its credit, the Associated Press Sports Editors, which represents more than 300 newspapers nationwide, asked for the survey and volunteered the information to the University of Central Florida. But that doesn’t make it any easier to digest.

Out of more than 300 newspapers surveyed, 288 – 90 percent – had white male sports editors.

Only 15 sports editors (4.7 percent) were white women.

Nine (2.8 percent) were Latino men.

Five (1.6 percent) were African American men.

Not one Asian man, African American woman or Latina woman.

Out of 513 assistant sports editors, 402 (78.4 percent) were white men. There were 44 white women assistant editors (8.6 percent), 22 African American men (4.3 percent), 15 Latino men (2.9 percent), 13 Latina women (2.5 percent), six Asian men (1.2 percent), five African American women (0.97 percent), and two Asian women (0.39 percent).

Of all sports reporters, 79 percent were white males, compared with 10.3 percent women.

And of 298 sports columnists – generally the most influential and desired writing positions in any section – 249 (83.6 percent) were white males, compared with 22 African American columnists (7.4 percent), 19 white women (6.4 percent), three Latino men (1 percent) and two Asian men (0.67 percent).

There was one African American woman.

Her name is Jemele Hill, with the Orlando Sentinel. And Jemele is great, exquisitely talented. But she cannot possibly be the only black woman capable of writing a sports column.

No one is saying that all white men think the same, any more than all black men do. But the crushing lack of racial and gender diversity in and behind the sports pages makes it far less likely that you will have decisions on stories, and coverage of same, that reflect different backgrounds, and different points of view.

Who, for example, is more likely to communicate better with the almost 40 percent of baseball players in the majors who are Latino – a white male with little or no command of Spanish, or a reporter of Latino descent who is fluent in Spanish, and more familiar with Latino customs and history? (Yes, anyone can learn Spanish. How many do?)

Before you ask: Eight of 51 people working on the Inquirer sports section (16 percent) are minorities. Eleven (22 percent) are women, including one of the five African American women nationally who are assistant sports editors and one of the 44 white women who are assistants.

We also employ one of the 22 full-time African American male columnists. And our sports editor, Jim Jenks, has given both me and Ashley Fox an opportunity to try our hand at writing columns on top of our work covering the NBA and NFL, respectively.

Those are decent numbers. Not great ones.

And Jenks, the new president of APSE, knows that the numbers nationwide are putrid.

“We have a lot of work to do, and being that APSE requested this, we were interested in knowing where we stood,” he said yesterday. “We knew it was bad. I don’t know that we were shocked, but we know that there’s work to be done, and we’re going to set about doing it.”

What troubles me more, though, is that I was just the fourth reporter nationwide, according to Jenks, who’s asked about the ramifications of the Central Florida study.

There is all the space in the world to ruminate about Barry Bonds’ biceps, and Allen Iverson’s future, the guilt or innocence of the Duke lacrosse team, and Terrell Owens’ vacuous book.

But when it comes to the color of the press box – the only color – my otherwise dogged colleagues of the written word seem to have better things to do.