Standing Up For What You Believe In

by mike in boston / @mikeinbostonemail


This is an opinion column. It is intended to contribute to the ongoing discussion around diversity in sports media. If you have something to say please consider adding to the discussion below, or reach out to me privately. If you’re bored of this topic feel free to skip this one.


Allies & Enemies


The past week has been a watershed moment for sports media. While those in the “toy department” often shy away from overt political commentary, the current state of the world means that sticking to sports is no longer an option. The overwhelming message from Black athletes has been a challenge to their White counterparts: stand (or kneel) with us, but don’t remain on the sidelines. Choosing to sit this one out perpetuates the very privilege that is currently in the international spotlight. Active racism thrives, in part, because casual racism is tolerated by people who have the power to shut it down. Choosing to remain silent when you can say something emboldens racists everywhere, including police departments, governments, entertainment companies, and newspapers.


This is why everyone from Justin Beiber to Gino Reda has been publicly declaring their support for the Black community, and their intention to remain an ally going forward.



The reason for the “with us or against us” dichotomy is that this reflects the direness of the Black experience in North America. Absent the videos we have all seen, the reality of what happens to Black people in our society would be mere allegations or just one side of the story. A significant part of the current imperative is to believe that racism is real; to see what we don’t want to see.


The responsibility that falls to anyone with a platform is to choose to use that platform for good. This is why criticism flows when sports media voice lukewarm responses to racism:



The reason why the replies to McKenzie’s tweet are so critical is that what the Godfather of Canadian hockey says carries a lot of weight in society. Choosing to opt for the middle of the road “interesting” when so many other words were available will be taken as a signal that you don’t want to say something stronger. Maybe that feels unfair, but it’s precisely the kind of choice of words that racists will look to as a dog-whistle. Words matter when that is the currency you trade in. The enemies of racial equality will see seize on this ambiguity to legitimize their racist beliefs. That’s why clear declarative statements are needed from allies right now.


Facing Reality


McKenzie posted a powerful story on TSN a couple of weeks later in which he states: “In these troubled times, I’ve heard over and over how important it is to find your voice; to speak out against racial injustice. To which I would only add, it’s just as important, if not even more so, to lend an ear; to listen.” He ends the piece with the following statement:


“And, finally, white people can’t possibly know what it’s like to be on the receiving end of such virulent racism but we can show humanity and support by speaking out when we see it, acknowledging it’s real and committing to help with real and tangible efforts at necessary reform on so many levels of our society.”


McKenzie helpfully identifies three distinct steps here: 1) acknowledge it’s real, 2) speak out when we see it, and 3) make real and tangible reforms. This echoes what others have been saying this past week.



In his influential piece, Sportsnet’s Donnovan Bennett writes:


“There’s no quick fix to any of these issues, but the long-term one must include those with power and privilege using it for good. If they aren’t using their platforms to fight racism, then by default, they’re using their power to normalize it.”


He ends the article with a challenge to his colleagues in the media.


“If you work in sports media and make a living off of the talent and ingenuity of black athletes, the least you can do is use your journalistic skills and privilege to show that black lives have equal value to your own. The least you can do is allot more than 28 or 29 days in February to humanizing black people.”


Since the publication of this article, dozens of Bennett’s media colleagues have retweeted or commented on it.


Ignoring Reality


On June 4th, feature writer David Singh took the brave step of doing what the people mentioned above urged him to do.



To recap: a young reporter working for in Toronto shares a story, from some time between 2008-2010, about an older respected baseball reporter openly using a racial slur against Blacks in a professional setting, and complaining within earshot of visible minorities about minorities being given prominent stories.


Singh chose not to name the reporter in question, which is his right. Instead, he chose to tell a story that would do the first two of McKenzie’s three steps: speak out about a reality that many choose to ignore or claim to not exist. The third step, making powerful reforms, is clearly above his pay grade. That needs to be taken up by the senior baseball writers whose voice carries the most weight.


Here is a summary of the response from the senior baseball writers in Toronto:


  • Jeff Blair: 33 tweets on June 4th, a dozen or so on June 5th. None of them mention Singh’s story
  • Richard Griffin: nothing
  • John Lott had time to tweet about other racial stories, but not Singh’s
  • Wilner: lots of simulated baseball talk but nothing about his colleague’s story
  • Shi Davidi, chair of Toronto’s chapter of the BBWAA: nothing to say


At Sportsnet ex-president Scott Moore proudly amplified Bennett’s story, but didn’t bother with Singh’s. Current Rogers Sports & Media chief Jordan Banks tweeted about the #SpeakUp project, but didn’t publicly support his employee. Current Jays president and CEO Mark Shapiro has not tweeted anything about it.


Despite the widespread agreement that racism cannot be tolerated and needs to be called out by those in positions of power, why was it so hard to add a quote-tweet? Here are a handful of statements that could easily have been cranked out by any of the above:


“I’m so sorry that happened. That is unacceptable.”

“That will never happen under my watch.”

“We cannot tolerate this from our membership.”

“We are aware of the allegations, and are committed to a full investigation.”


Hell, how about “an interesting read” or “wasn’t me!”? Anything would be better than ignoring the story. The silence from the baseball media and from Sportsnet leadership is troubling. Recall Bennett’s words: “If [you] aren’t using [your] platforms to fight racism, then by default, [you’re] using [your] power to normalize it.”


What is the lesson to be drawn here? Imagine if you had similar experiences in Toronto sports media, either today or in the recent past. You would look to the reaction to Singh’s account and legitimately wonder whether anyone would come to your defense if you were to go public. You would also wonder what would happen if you were to raise this privately to anyone in positions of power.


Calling out abstract systemic issues is easy. Calling out colleagues and neighbours is hard. I fully acknowledge that anyone who wasn’t there or never experienced any such thing during their time in the pressbox would feel reluctant to weigh in. But that’s not good enough if you have been a pressbox presence for a generation. If we have learned anything from this past week is that silence is not an acceptable response when someone else speaks up. You have to stand with those speaking out because others are watching and will interpret your actions accordingly.


What are the senior baseball people telling the public right now? I’m not sure. And that’s a problem.


Further Reading


Sheri Forde shared an intimate portrait of what it’s like to be raising biracial kids when you yourself were raised in a racist environment. I loved reading this.


Black NFL players backdoored Roger Goodell into taking ownership for his leadership failures. This story is awesome.


Jeff Veillette explains how EA Sports has been turning a blind eye to racism on its game servers since 2008.


Joey Votto continues to be a national treasure.



thanks for reading and commenting,

until next time …

mike (not really in boston)

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