What's Missed When Athletes Are Black and Sportswriters Are White?

Would we hear different stories if we had different writers? Ebony's Jessica Danielle says yes. But isn't fair coverage everyone's job?

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Terrelle Pryor (Getty Images)

In a piece for Ebony magazine this week, Jessica Danielle makes the case that the absence of significant racial diversity in sportswriting is limiting perspective in a major way. A few of the statistics driving her argument:

In 2012, 90.9 percent of sports editors at the major newspapers and online publications that belong to Associated Press Sports Editors were white (compared with 94.7 percent in 2006). In 2012, 83.9 percent of sports columnists were white (compared with 89.9 percent in 2006). For 2012, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, or TIDES, at the University of Central Florida gave the nation's sports editors a C-plus for racial-hiring practices and gave the APSE a grade of D-plus.

But it's just sportswriting, right? We're not talking about politics or criminal justice. Does the color or worldview of the person doing the reporting and commentating make a difference when it comes to athletics? Absolutely, says Danielle. She argues that the lack of diversity she cites raises questions not just about fair hiring practices or opportunities for minority journalists but also about the stories we hear and how we hear them.

"More minorities leading conversations about sports could noticeably improve the quality of discussions and positively impact policies and attitudes that affect athletes," she writes, citing the criticism of former Ohio State University quarterback Terrelle Pryor for selling his own sports memorabilia, "in language consistent with stereotypes about Black men," as just one example.

The lead author of the TIDES study on diversity, Richard Lapchick, agrees, saying that the lack of representation of women and people of color caused him to "wonder how many great stories we've missed covering, how many we might have covered better and how many we would have had a completely different take on were things different."

All fair points. But as we advocate for more diversity, let's not forget that the responsibility to avoid relying on and promoting stereotypes, to cover "great stories" and to explore "completely different take[s]" falls on writers of all colors.  

Read more at Ebony.

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