The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.
For the last few months and between COVID-19; the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and more; Black America has collectively reviewed how it will move forward in all aspects of life.
In professional settings, Black people from different industries and newsrooms are speaking up about standards and practices that will no longer be tolerated, with media being in the crosshairs of change.
June saw Complex Media, OkayPlayer/Africa, Essence, and ABC leveled with accusations from both current and former employees, ranging from sexual harassment, pay disparity, and workplace gaslighting.
With the majority of the whistleblowers being Black women, all the aforementioned companies had to do some type of damage control. From press statements to outright firings of leadership to save face and to regain trust, consumers and current employees.
While NASCAR and the NFL are dealing with their racist pasts in real time, the future of U.S. Sports coverage hasn’t been immune to the hard conversations either.
Black Sports Online (BSO), and the Bleacher Report had recent separate falls from grace, however, the pro bro media empire, the New England-based Barstool Sports was in the headlines once again for all the wrongs reasons.
Barstool Bros – Dave Portnoy
Barstool Sports CEO and founder Dave Portnoy is a google search away if you want to find out what he represents. The company’s a Goliath in the sports world, and a few years back was considered a fresh take on sports (with brief TV deals with ESPN) from a Boston perspective. However, the not so thinly veiled misogyny and sexism was well-documented and beyond profitable for those who crave sports commentary with a healthy side of racism disguised as bro humor.
After Black Twitter, sports twitter and more re-shared old 2016 Barstool comedy clips that focused on Colin Kaepernick littered with racial slurs and the N word, Portnoy responded.
Portnoy’s MO is never to back down and to take on “cancel culture” on behalf of free speech and the Barstool team. Again, nothing off brand here from him, however, this time it forced longtime Barstool employee Muj Fricke to quit and put other members of the Barstool team to speak out.
Now, history shows that Barstools Sports and teachable moments don’t go hand in hand. This is the same company that sparked the fat Rihanna debate on Twitter. But, in what could’ve been used as a way to address the valid criticism from the man who runs their company, the Black staff members chose another option.
Weapon Of White Media Disguised As Sports Commentary
Two popular Barstool personalities and hosts of the “2Biggs Podcast” quarterbacked a special conversation titled “Barstool N.I.G.G.E.R. (Now It’s Gonna Get Extremely Real) feat. The Minority Report.”
We don’t know the internal conversation that greenlit the N.I.G.G.E.R. episode, but the name did its job to incite and react. With such a harsh GOTCHA name and rightful criticism to follow, any faith of having meaningful discussion was lost before that conversation could even start.
Barstool employee Brandon Newman did his best to distance himself from the dumpster fire, while former NFL player Willie Colon’ leaned into the name choice, letting it be the proverbial triggered hill to die on for a real discussion around race.
Because of the heightened racial awareness of the times, sports commentary that’s draped in microaggressions are being combed through every time someone hits play online. Creating the N.I.G.G.E.R. episode is the opposite of reading the room done by the Black members of Barstool.
The lax thought and contrarian playbook that white fans use when confronted directly about issues of sports and race sound different coming from a Black mouthpiece. Trial by Black Twitter may mean nothing but the shaming directed toward Barstool’s Black team members is to be expected.
We can learn these lessons from the book of Jason Whitlock. His polarizing viewpoints on sports were ramped up post Colin Kaepernick’s unofficial banishment from the NFL. At the slightest mention of LeBron James or Kap’s struggles, Whitlock’s what about ism, provided a shield for white apathy. The Black athlete’s problems were problems of privilege and not of skin. This perspective further ostracizes and has turned Whitlock into a walking meme who now can only appear on Fox News.
Propping up false equivalences that are repackaged as hot takes further solidifies the distrust that Black athletes have with the media as a whole. Take it from 45 and his love for the nation’s racist past to see how we got to this point as a country.
The jokes are tired. Sports media needs to prioritize the diversity of coverage on their own terms before professional athletes and independent sports journalists make them.
The numbers don’t lie. In a post “Shut Up and Dribble” world, athletes on all levels are mindful of the power they wield. With the landmark commitment of five-star recruit Makur Maker to Howard University this fall, HBCU sports are in the position to have a college sports renaissance and are no longer a pipe dream. Maker more than likely won’t be the only one, so who will be there to champion and safeguard these stories?
The athletes, writers and producers who know the jig is up.
Both pariahs for speaking truth to power, when Kaepernick’s lucrative first-look film deal with Disney was announced, Jemele Hill, who left ESPN in 2018, is back with the company as a producer. Full circle moment.
Kevin Durant, LeBron James, and the retired and thriving podcasters; Matt Barnes, Stephen Jackson and more have all had stakes in the evolution of sports storytelling and their commentary without their input isn’t the standard.
The disservice of the sports media companies that lack diversity internally haven’t realized is that the access to the cultural currency that empowers Black athletes are no longer theirs by proximity anymore. Excluding the Barstool middlemen of the industry where honest dialogue can purposefully be lost in translation, forces the future of the space to grow up or they’ll be forced to be on the outside looking in.
James Baldwin said to be Black in America is to always be constantly enraged. And it seems like in 2020 if you’re Black, you can’t pick the trauma to focus in on to heal. Controlling what is in your power is a revolutionary act of care for Black people and they are checking in.
And seeing the racism in the sports industry has been very triggering and has reached the proverbial tipping point for Black journalists, reporters, and college students in representing the change they want to see.
So, until the Barstools and the Fox News’ of the world stop peddling in lukewarm equivalencies to justify their views of the Black athlete, expect to have harsh criticisms that come with consequences that limit who is on the field and reporting from the press boxes. The lack of range and validity to their coverage will be their doom.
With the U.S. on timeout from the rest of the world, this is the perfect opportunity to go ahead and check everyone’s grasp on white privilege and to think how to move forward in purpose to make the sports world a more honest place. If we can’t win on the field, we can’t win as a nation.