Black beat writers a rarity in sport

By Dan Dixman
Reno Gazette-Journal

A lot has been made in recent months of the number of African-American coaches in college football and how the low numbers don’t accurately reflect the racial make-up of the teams they coach.

But what about the people whose job it is to uncover such detail?

Greg Lee, an assistant sports editor with the Boston Globe who is also the head of a sports task force of the National Association of Black Journalists, said the number of African Americans who cover college football for newspapers and other media is akin to that of the coaching profession.

A study recently by the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review determined that blacks account for 60.4 percent of Division I men’s basketball players and 22.9 percent of its head coaches. In Division I football (FBS and FCS

combined), blacks make up 45.9 percent of the players and 5.8 percent of the coaches. There are only four black football coaches in FBS — Turner Gill at Buffalo, DeWayne Walker at New Mexico State, Kevin Sumlin at Houston and Randy Shannon at Miami (Fla.).

Getting an accurate number of black sportswriters who cover college football is difficult because some sportswriters are beat writers, some are columnists and others have different primary beats but also cover college football to some degree. Lee provided a list of 23 black sportswriters nationwide who cover college sports and said the total number is probably no more than 30.

There are more than 300 daily newspapers in the United States.

Of the primary newspapers that cover the nine Western Athletic Conference schools, only one, the Fresno Bee, has an African-American as the main beat writer for football.

“I think the percentage (of black sportswriters who cover college football) is pretty low,” said Lee, also the NABJ treasurer. “When it comes to college beats, I’m not surprised by the low number.”

Paul Mitchell, the recruitment and retention coordinator at the University of Nevada’s Reynolds School of Journalism, supported Lee’s position.

“There are 319 Division I programs,” said Mitchell, who teaches a sports-writing class and has covered Philadelphia’s major sports teams for the Philadelphia Tribune and Asbury (N.J.) Park Press. “When you look at that, and you look at the number of daily newspapers, by comparison I think the percentage is pretty low. The number is not surprising to me.”

Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the Reno Gazette-Journal May 17, 2009.

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