Following a defiant seventh-round knockout of previously unbeaten Jose Pedraza (22-1, 12...
A Tribute to BASN’s Roland Rogers
by Andrew Dixon, III
TALLAHASSEE, FL-It was a little more than eight years ago when I first came across The Black Athlete Sports Network.
A few years earlier I had launched my own soccer website, GolNoir, a website designed to help spread some love and knowledge amongst other Black Americans about the game of soccer with which I had fallen in love. After seeing BASN, a unique site with some interesting commentary from other Black writers and columnists, I contacted the C.E.O., Roland Rogers and asked him if he could simply find a place to link my site to his. I had made similar requests with other Black sites, usually getting a cursory response, if any and possibly a link buried between several American football websites. So I wasn’t expecting anything different.
But Roland was different.
Not only did he take time to peruse my site, he praised it (though he knew little about soccer), asked me to link to HIS site and contribute soccer related stories to BASN.
That was Roland Rogers in a nutshell. He always saw the positive potential in the people he came across, the projects he undertook and the Black Community he loved so much. Last weekend, I was traveling across the state of Georgia, pursuing one of my other great loves, George Washington University Colonials basketball. While doing so, Roland passed away after a brief hospitalization overseas.
To say that I’m gutted would be an understatement.
When most people give thanks to those who inspired them, it’s usually within their chosen profession. Roland inspired me to do something I had come to love outside of my chosen profession of the law. I was a government attorney when I first contacted Roland and never set out to a sports writer. Yet, from that very first email, he encouraged me to give expression to my obvious love and passion for The Beautiful Game.
Drawing on articles I had read from overseas as well as the sports columns I grew up reading in Boston and Washington, I started with small round-ups about MLS and Black players in Europe. I soon graduated to writing game reports and previews during the US’ qualifying run for the 2006 World Cup. I took great pleasure writing about the US’ 2-0 win over our hated rivals, Mexico which qualified the US for its 5th consecutive World Cup. I wrote about MLS and Soccer Haters and was pleased to discover that not only did I have the aptitude for this, I had the love for it as well.
I got positive feedback from friends but also from soccer fans who happened upon whatever story I had written. But that wasn’t as important as the joy I got from writing them. I honestly didn’t believe I had that potential. Roland never missed an opportunity to let me know that the site was receiving more traffic because of some of the articles I was writing and encouraged me by saying that my stories were amongst the best on the site.
In his tribute to Roland, BASN’s Editor in Chief Emeritus, Tony McClean wrote about one of his great visions which briefly came to fruition, BASN Radio. I remember in late 2007 when Roland called me and asked me to host a two hour soccer show. It was something that I have never done, never considered doing and frankly, never felt capable of doing. Yet Roland swore up and own that I had something to contribute and wanted me to bring that passion to the air waves. “You need to do this, Andrew” he said.
Two months later Back of the Net debuted on BASN radio to an audience of just a few and with even less sponsors. But for three months I was on air every Saturday night, interviewing writers like Marc Gleeson of Reuters about the African Nations Cup, Luis Bueno about US-Mexico matches and Martin Rogers of Yahoo Sports about soccer in general. I spoke to men like Irv Smalls of FC Harlem and James Nevels of the Philadelphia Union about their vision and efforts to help bring the game to a Black American audience. It was simply one heck of a ride. I approached each interview and show like I was preparing for trial and Roland never ceased giving me encouragement, praising me when I had a particularly good show and trying to lift me up when I felt the show wasn’t reaching its potential. By the time BASN Radio went off the air I had accomplished something I never thought I could do. Roland made that possible and I am forever grateful.
Tony mentioned that when he left BASN, he did so with Roland’s blessing. I had a similar experience. In 2007, I was approached to contribute a column for the USSoccerPlayers.com website. The editor (now administrator) of that site, J Hutcherson, respected what I had done at BASN and made it clear he didn’t want me to abandon what I was doing here. Roland was very happy that I was getting an opportunity to expand both writing and my audience, and did nothing to discourage me. He only requested that I continue to contribute articles to BASN.
My writing only improved under Mr. Hutcherson’s guiding hand, helping to further cultivate the voice that Roland gave me. I was happy to contribute to the radio shows of my BASN colleagues like Tony, Michael Ingram and L.A. Batchelor as well as some articles to BASN of which I was quite proud. One of those was a Black History-themed column, Saluting Soccer’s Buffalo Soldiers where I named what I thought (at the time) were the 11 best Black Players to ever represent the United States. That story was picked up by other websites and caught the attention of Jack Huckel of the National Soccer Hall of Fame and current BeIn announcer, Phil Schoen.
Sometimes life can get in the way of things that you love and that certainly happened with me. Three years ago, I allowed a bitter family dispute to steal my joy of writing and later that year I was named an Administrative Law Judge with the Social Security Administration that, combined with the demands of a growing family and other responsibilities, curtailed the time I had to research and write the way in the manner I was accustomed. But Roland always left a place for me in the BASN family and I had hoped this was the year I would repay him by contributing some stories, especially as the US begins its final qualifying phase for the 2014 World Cup.
During World Cup 2010 I briefly returned to the internet airwaves with Back of the Net on Blog Talk Radio. After a particularly nasty turn during the aforementioned family dispute, I ended my show with the words, “Don’t let anyone steal your joy.”
Roland never did that. He never let the challenges of trying to turn BASN into “the definitive place on the Internet to find coverage of Black athletes and Black involvement in sports at all levels” deter him at any level. He never ceased encouraging the writers of BASN to perfect their craft and make the site the best it could be despite whatever internal strife we may have experienced. He constantly implored us to support each other’s efforts.
Moreover, he took the passion of a soccer loving lawyer in Florida, put a voice to it and let it sing to whoever would listen.
That’s Roland’s legacy.
That’s why he was admired by those who knew and worked with him.
That’s why he’ll be missed.
That’s why I’m gutted.
That’s why I will continue to write about The Beautiful Game.