Donald Sterling Case Underscores Whiteness of Press

The NBA owner’s brazen comments likely were not revealed sooner because so few journalists of color are represented at media outlets, some black commentators argue.

William Rhoden, the New York Times
William Rhoden, the New York Times WETA Screenshot

Why Wasn’t Owner’s History Given Greater Play Earlier?

The saga of Donald Sterling‘s racist remarks, which could cost him ownership of the Los Angeles Clippers, put black commentators in the spotlight in a way rarely seen recently. At least two related the NBA owner’s situation to the low numbers of journalists of color or of reporters covering the “minority affairs” beat.

In one of several television appearances, the New York Times’ William Rhoden said on CNN’s “New Day” on Tuesday:

“Whenever I walk into a press box and I see no black reporters, or when I walk into a newsroom or any corporate office, and I see no black people, essentially the owners are saying the same thing [as Sterling]. They’re just not getting caught. They’re saying ‘we don’t respect you, black people, we’re not gonna hire you.’ One thing I would suggest a lot of the NBA players do, and black NFL players — when you get a chance, walk through your respective team offices and find out how many people that look like you are in the marketing department, in the sales department … You will be stunned. So, let’s not get so carried away by this, what’s kind of like an easy fastball to hit, and really dig down into the systemic racism in your organizations – who, in fact, pay you a lot of money. I think this a great launching pad, but let’s not just stop here at the easy part.”

In sports journalism, “the grade for racial hiring practices for APSE newspapers and websites last year remained a C+, the same as in 2010,” Richard E. Lapchick, director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, reported for Associated Press Sports Editors last year. Lapchick, who is white, also said, “if you look like me, you have a great chance for upward mobility in the sports departments of newspapers and dot-coms in the United States and Canada. If you are a woman or person of color, even in 2013, your chances are extremely limited.”

As John Branch reported for the New York Times, “The National Basketball Association on Tuesday handed a lifetime ban to the longtime Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, an extraordinary step in professional sports and one intended to rid the league of Mr. Sterling after he was recorded making racist comments.

“Commissioner Adam Silver said the N.B.A. would try to force Mr. Sterling to sell the Clippers, fully expecting to get the necessary three-quarters approval from other team owners. It would be a rare, if not unprecedented, move for a North American professional sports league — made even more unusual by the fact that the N.B.A. is punishing Mr. Sterling for comments he made in a private conversation.

“Mr. Sterling was also fined $2.5 million, the largest that league bylaws would allow, but a small percentage of his estimated $1.9 billion fortune. . . .”

On, guest blogger Barry Cooper noted the demise of the minority affairs beat at many news organizations.

“Back in the day, when newspapers had full staffs of local editors and reporters, there was this beat called the ‘minority affairs beat,’ ” Cooper wrote. “Okay, maybe the title sucked, but it was the minority affairs reporter’s job to know what was going on in minority communities.