A study came out recently showing there are a measly FOUR black sports editors at major American newspapers. Kansas City Star columnist Jason Whitlock, who is black, puts it in perspective. He points out that some proud, outspoken, young black reporters get fired for reasons having to do with race. He points out that there is institutionalized white racism. (He also has some nasty things to say, as it happens, about Scoop Jackson.)
But the crux of his point is this:
When I was in college, I was the only black person working at the school newspaper. The editors at the Ball State Daily News asked me to help them recruit other black students to write for the paper. I tried. We tried. We begged. We failed to entice anyone.
I graduated college in 1990. It’s the people of my graduation class who are now taking jobs as sports editors and sports columnists. You generally get those jobs between ages 35 and 40. How many black people began the process of preparing to be a sports columnist or sports editor 20 years ago?
During my five years at Ball State, I can remember one — me — as opposed to probably 30 white guys during the same time span. Based on the sports journalism students I meet at Kansas, Kansas State and Missouri, the problem is just as pronounced today as it was 20 years ago.
He continues, later in the article:
My first job out of college was at a newspaper in Bloomington, Ind. I earned $5 an hour and was paid for about 25 hours work a week regardless of how many hours I worked. I lived in a one-room efficiency with roaches and no phone. It was tough. I developed a backup plan if I failed as a sportswriter. Being an Indiana kid, I wanted to be a basketball coach. I figured I’d start as a volunteer basketball manager for Bobby Knight. I’d heard that many Indiana high school basketball coaches got their starts working as student managers for Knight. It was a terrific way to learn the game from America’s best basketball mind.
Wednesday, I called Knight’s son, Pat, to confirm my belief that it was rare for black kids to work for Knight as a student manager.
“In all my dad’s years of coaching, he’s probably had three or four,” Pat said. “And we’re always looking.”
Knight has probably had 200 student managers during his coaching career. And the overwhelming majority of them by a landslide have been white boys, kids motivated enough to put up with Knight’s crap and learn the game from the best. Pat Knight told me it’s a struggle for Knight to get black graduate assistants because most of the guys interested figure they can make more money coaching AAU ball.
Oh, America has a big old basket of flaws. But I believe it's still a land of opportunity. I like to think Whitlock is right: no matter what kinds of challenges you're facing, if you have the same, relentless goal for a decade or more, you work your ass off through difficult circumstances, and you make the smartest decisions you know how to make... I believe you can do just about anything.
And if you happen to be the next great black American sports editor? I hope you hang in there until you get the breaks you deserve.