By Richard Deitsch of SI.com
Last November, I paneled a group of a six highly accomplished and respected female sports journalists for an SI.com email roundtable on the issues they deal with daily as women in the sports media. After publication of that story, a number of well-known sports journalists of color reached out suggesting I should do something similar on the issues sports media members of color deal with on a daily basis. That suggestion prompted the formation of the similarly well-accomplished and respected group below.
•Cari Champion, host of ESPN2’s First Take.
•Jemele Hill, co-host of ESPN2’s Numbers Never Lie.
•Gregory Lee Jr., Executive Sports Editor, Florida Sun-Sentinel, Past NABJ President.
•Tim Kawakami, San Jose Mercury News sports columnist.
•Angel Rodriguez, sports editor, Cincinnati Enquirer.
•Darren Sands, sports business reporter and multimedia journalist, BlackEnterprise.com.
The panel was asked a series of email questions with no requirements. They were free to pass on any questions. For those of you on Twitter, the panelists are recommended and you can follow them by clicking on their names above. This is long, but I think worth your time if you want insight into today’s sports media. Part I runs today. Part II of the panel’s answers will run in next week’s Monday Media Circus column.
SI.com: Most of you are on social media. How often do you get tweets/Facebook comments related to your race and what impact do they have?
Champion: More often than I’d like to admit. Working on a national show, five days a week gives me an amazing platform but also a significant amount of social media access. Someone created an account on Twitter to send me some very racist/sexist messages. My immediate response was to block whomever but they persisted. And while everyone says ‘Don’t read it’ and ‘Ignore it,’ I’m here to say it doesn’t always work. No matter how hard you try, a few messages will catch you. When I first began work at First Take it really bothered me because the words were very hateful, words that no one would dare say to your face. But unfortunately and fortunately, I’ve become immune. We live in a social media world where I now expect it. (Anyone with a public platform can more than likely relate.) There have been a few instances where ESPN security had to respond. To that end I’m more selective about who or whom I interact with and engage on social media.
Hill: Every day, I’m told to either go back to the kitchen or back to Africa. In fact, I checked my Twitter mentions 10 minutes after writing this, and a tweeter called me a monkey. It’s unacceptable, but I came to the conclusion a long time ago that this was part of the job. I hate that I compartmentalize it that way because I’m giving a pass to those who verbally abuse people on social media. I can’t afford to be impacted by it because if I am, then I can’t do my job. I’d cry myself to sleep every night if I let what some idiots say on social media change how I did my job or what I thought of myself.
Kawakami: Sadly, because I respect that the Raiders fan base is so balanced demographically, I’d say that 20-to-25 percent of the angry Tweets and emails I get from Raiders fans have racial overtones or flat-out racist filth directed at me. My stance is that I think they’re trying to intimidate me into saying only what they want. Racists are used to trying to intimidate people, and I don’t get intimidated — especially not by racists. Many wise people have told me that they don’t like that I spend so much time on Twitter firing back at those who fire at me. I get that. But the racist element is the main reason I do. If I’m annoying, it’s occasionally because I want to let the racists know that they can’t stop me from being annoying. Otherwise, I don’t see much of it. Always going to get some, but that’s life as a columnist.
Lee: On the occasion that people resort to challenging my views as it relates to race, I will not attempt to engage them because 1.) you will not win on social media; 2.) you won’t be able to provide proper context in social media and 3.) we never had a conversation in person that justifies those on Twitter to make judgments about me.
Rodriguez: I haven’t gotten much of that on social media, thankfully. In my previous job as the home page manager for the Arizona Republic’s website I used to get a lot of pretty crazy stuff on my voicemail. This was when the immigration debate was at its peak in Arizona and emotions were pretty high on both sides. My job was to decide what stories made it to the front page of the website. A local talk radio show host (and former U.S. Congressman) got on the radio and said that the reason the website wasn’t more anti-immigrant was because I was hiding the real news. He gave out my phone number and told his listeners to call me and complain. The messages were pretty colorful. One caller said I should go back to Mazatlan. I’m not even from Mazatlan! (And who wouldn’t want to go to Mazatlan?!) I got several others saying that I was biased because I was ‘one those people with a ‘ez’ last name’. Several Hispanic reporters at the paper got a lot of abuse around that time, probably still do. We would share our craziest messages and see whose was worse.
Sands: People are allowed to act anonymously on the Internet with (save for a few notable occasions) little accountability for the things they tweet, comment and send. In this sense, the Web is really the wild West. It’s unfortunate and can hurt sometimes, but it’s why people shouldn’t react and, in some cases, should not take themselves so seriously. I defer to the other panelists on this, especially Cari and Jemele, because they must deal with it every day.