Telling Our Own Stories

By Dexter Rogers, BASN Staff Reporter
Updated: June 14, 2010

INDIANA (BASN) — Despite the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Boston Celtics heating up the talk around the league is still LeBron James.

Does James deserve the amount of attention he’s getting? After all, he’s the most prized free agent in NBA history right? Are there other stories about James that are bigger than where he’ll play next season?

Yes. It’s a damn shame to find out whose is covering LeBron James. No, I don’t mean on the court: As in the journalists in the press box and locker rooms.

Two years ago I published a column in the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette about the lack of African-Americans in journalism. I wrote how their hiring practices were a reflection of the lack of diversity in other mainstream outlets.

I did freelance work for the Journal Gazette for approximately a year before the inevitable came. It’s difficult to be African-American, tell the truth and keep your writing space. Like I’ve always done, I simply moved forward and kept it real.

My point is this: The most prized free-agent in NBA history is on the market. Unbeknownst to most LBJ, for all the limelight, glitter and notoriety was covered by one African-American journalist in Ohio George Thomas of the Akron (Ohio) Beacon Journal.

Now Thomas is history.

This situation pains me. There are African-American voices that yearn to be heard yet the whiteness of newsrooms across this country won’t and the power structure won’t allow it.

James surprisingly stated, “They gave me two years, and they didn’t understand the importance of an African American athlete being able to [relate to] someone who may not have all the same life experiences, but can understand where they’re coming from,” James said. “Having grown up in a similar fashion, I can understand.”

Before you all go “there Dexter goes again playing the race card” for once just shut up and listen! If a white journalist suggests items I’ve asserted over the years it will be more acceptable.

When an African-American speaks out like I do them he’s labeled racist. If I were white I’d be characterized as noble and open-minded when attempting to utter African-American truths.

Mainstream media is a lily-white world. The NBA is 75 percent African-American. With respect to sports journalism over 90 percent of outlets are owned by white males. sports editors and sports columnists account for 94 and 88 percent respectively.

As it stands if LBJ happens to stay in Cleveland he won’t have anyone that looks like him in Ohio covering him. Three weeks ago, I covered the annual Civil Rights Game in Cincinnati. It was a star-studded affair.

African-American pioneers in sport and society were recognized. Prior to the game the likes of Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, John Lewis and Willie Mays were honored. And a special tribute was given to Jackie Robinson.

As I left the field and sat in the press box to write with well over 100 credentialed media yet there were only three African-American present. This has been the case from the games I’ve covered in the NBA, NFL, PGA, and ATP/WTA Tours as well.

Former Cleveland Plain-Dealer writer and current ESPN reporter Chris Broussard issued the following, “The NFL is almost 70 percent black, the NBA is almost 80 percent black. African Americans have put a huge imprint on sports,”

He continued, “not to have any African Americans is insulting. It’s stereotypical. You’re good enough to play sports, but not good enough to write about it.”

It’s not about “a” team like Cleveland or “a” player in LeBron James. It’s about the lack of African-American journalists across the board in this country.

The lack of representation amongst the media is a direct result of institutionalized racism. When I appeared on CNN I let the world know how dismal the media percentages were for African-Americans.

Furthermore the few African-American journalists with platforms fear taking the necessary stand to bring about change. Just like the African-American athlete, most opt for silence and allow relevant topics like the lack of African-American journalists to be swept under the rug.

When qualified African-Americans get passed over for jobs in professional sports and society there aren’t enough African-American journalists to denounce the inequities.

When a Don Imus calls African-American women “nappy headed ho’s” there aren’t enough African-American journalists to demand re-organization of the media.

Then there’s ESPN’s Mike Greenberg: On Martin Luther King Day he referred to MLK as “Martin Luther Coon.” The situation got swept under the rug quicker than a cat could lick his butt.

Two weeks ago when FOX sportscaster like Chris Myers makes bigoted and insensitive remarks about Hurricane Katrina victims and illegal immigrants where were the African-American journalists?

I’ve urged those African-Americans who with platforms to speak out. More recently I wrote Stephen A. Smith for us to a show about the lack of African-Americans in positions of power in the media.

I have not heard from him nor do I expect to.

Many of these so-called African-American journalists bash African-Athletes like Michael Vick because the white media structure expects it yet many of them take it easy on Ben Roethlisberger because he’s white.

Bottom line: there’s a distinct and inherent rapport African-Americans have with one another that most whites don’t. I’m not suggesting that whites cannot do admirable jobs. What I’m suggesting African-American writers can bring a distinct flavor in covering their own because of cultural similarities that a lot of whites don’t have.

There’s an inherent assumption stemming from racism that African-Americans lack the capacities to be anything other than athletes. If institutionalized racism doesn’t contribute to the lack of African-American in the media then tell me what does?

Now for the solutions: Consistent pressure must be ignited and sustained by the willing and able. If it’s not written and talked about then it doesn’t exist.

Next, African-American journalists need to speak out. There’s a way you can write about inequities and still keep your job. Use your platform for more than self-promotion.

Finally the African-American athlete must speak out. Ultimately it’s the athletes who are the most integral and central part of the athletic equation. It doesn’t need to the marquee athlete. Anyone with a level of consciousness, African-American or white, should simply speak and let the chips fall.

If the African-Americans with platforms don’t heed the message when I get my platform built to suit they’ll surely hear from me.

Whose game?