Standing Up For What You Believe In

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, Sportsnet.ca 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 MLB.com 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)

COMMENTS

WORDPRESS: 16
  • comment-avatar
    Bingo Bango Bongo 2 months ago

    My real worry about Black Lives Matter is what will happen next. I abhor racism and I think poorly of anyone who is a racist. I know that things are looking better right now because the murder of George Floyd has brought the issue into the mainstream, but history tells us not to get too excited thinking things will change. There have been several times in the last 100 years when riots occurred and people came up with ideas to combat the racial problems we have. It’s never made a difference. All of these suggestions to hold police accountable have gradually faded away, if they were instituted at all. I truly hope this time is different. 

  • comment-avatar

    Call me skeptical, but until the mastheads and hierarchies in every societal institution become truly diverse, not much will change. Sports-related organizations or otherwise.

  • comment-avatar

    While I didn’t read Donovan Bennett’s piece referenced above, I have read a number of his previous articles relating to racism in sports. The stories I’m referencing were written before the recent social upheaval. On a number of occasions I was disturbed to note that the comments section had been closed. I don’t think one needs to be Aristotle to figure out why. Let’s all keep fighting the good fight. Given that those of us that are white have been extended privilege, we can always exercise it for the common good. 

  • comment-avatar
    Gary M 2 months ago

    Great stuff, Mike.

    Let’s be clear, though, that stopping racism is not why most of these people are posting things right now. They’re doing it because they’re afraid for their professional existence. The media job market is collapsing and people are being thrown out in groups of 40. At the exact moment that white managers themselves will get the boot if they don’t de-whitify their teams dramatically. I’m not saying the posts are all insincere. But this is why they’re falling over each other to post stuff now: abject fear.

    Gino could’ve told this story 5 years ago, soon after the deaths of Mike Ferguson and Eric Garner. Or subsequently after the deaths of Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, or Sandra Bland. But suddenly now, he has a meditation on white privilege and attack of conscience. At a moment when the uprising/marketplace/both are vaporizing editors who print the wrong thing, CEOs who hired the wrong people, entire companies whose CEO Tweeted the wrong thing.

    They’ll even destroy someone who said the right thing because it rubbed them the wrong way (Lea Michele, Mark Wahlberg). Which brings me to the senior guys from the pressbox who are silent. Very plausible to me that they are afraid if they speak up on Singh they’ll get wrecked. Perhaps because they were part of the racism, perhaps because they tolerated it, perhaps because they were afraid to rock the boat back then, perhaps merely because of proximity.

    I get that anything short of getting choked out by cops is considered frivolous in this moment. But for white guys in media careers- lots of careers- it’s a very tense time.

  • comment-avatar
    Gary M 2 months ago

    Bingo Bango Bongo, it is definitely different this time. Reason is demographics and the marketplace. If anything, we’re going to overcorrect to where in 15 or 20 years from now, affluent people of colour- our new generation of doctors, lawyers, tech CEOs, all of it- are going to want policing beefed up to deal with ruffians who may well be more likely to be white.

  • comment-avatar

    Sure it is a tense time, but if the aim from the top is to diversify at all costs, then it should be all the way down the ladder, not just along the bottom rungs.

    People are saying it’s different this time. We’ll see. Nice to see corporate America putting their money where their mouth is, but for me it remains to be seen if they are truly open to changing the social structure or being disingenuous and opportunistic.

  • comment-avatar
    Gary M 2 months ago

    Matty, corporate America is not changing the social structure. It’s being changed for them.

  • comment-avatar
    Bingo Bango Bongo 2 months ago

    @Gary M  I hope you’re right but as I said history makes me a skeptic. The one thing that may change that is people now are reacting in a much more definitive way. The real problem is white privilege. Until and unless white people understand and admit there is a problem and agree to change the situation in truly meaningful ways, I will continue my scepticism. I do have hope the tide is changing.
    For what it’s worth, I’m white. That shouldn’t matter but somehow right now it does. And maybe that’s part of the problem. We have politicized and racialized this whole debate. It should just be about people, not what race they are. As I said before, I really hope you’re right.

  • comment-avatar

    I’m not convinced that Gino Reda’s story is that of white privilege as much as it may be that the police recognized him as someone who has been on sports television daily for the past 30 years. I’d bet that if Pinball Clemons, for example, was in the same situation as Reda, the situation would’ve been handled similarly.

  • comment-avatar
    Gary M 2 months ago

    BBB, I’m very worried people are using a 1985 playbook for a 2020 problem. Ron Maclean talks about white privilege when what he really has is rich guy who works in TV privilege. Jessica Mulroney talks about white privilege when what she has is rich TV person married to a PM’s son and royal associate privilege. I have huge privilege that in another era came from being white and male but now really comes from being urban and affluent and media-connected.

    The degree to which tens of millions of lower middle class whites on this continent have been struggling and largely powerless is a dangerous blind spot for big city media.

    I think when this era is written about many years from now, the term “white privilege” is going to be considered dubious and harmful.

  • comment-avatar
    George Jacobs 2 months ago

    I read Sheri Forde’s story and it hit home. My family growing up did not see color. I now realize I am white privileged. I the past few weeks I would suggest more to the point I was white ignorant. I had no idea what my black friends dealt with. It was not until this year I was exposed to “the talk” that black children get.It is funny, I think I was color blind because I grew up in Mississauga. One of the 3 people I who I respect the most in my life was my high school principal. He was Dwayne Forde’s father. Mr. Forde was a compassionate leader who was respected far more than any educators I have come across. Mr. Forde ran a sports shop and 12 years after graduation I took my wife to meet him. Naturally he remembered me and we all had a great talk. It saddens me I had no idea that Mr Forde had to sit down and have the talk with Dwayne and his brother Daryl .

  • comment-avatar

    “The degree to which tens of millions of lower middle class whites on this continent have been struggling and largely powerless is a dangerous blind spot for big city media.”

    All due respect, but you can change whites to people. There is a huge wealth inequality going on, but to suggest whites have so bad is ignorant at best and exactly the kind of views millions are striving to change.

  • comment-avatar
    Chance Vought 2 months ago

    With the Phillies story, Tampa Bay temporarily closing down its training camp and the Jays closing down their spring training facility, just how bad do Jeff Blair and Stephen Brunt look now? They have had some horrendously dumb takes during this pandemic and they are still full steam ahead on sports reopening even after all the news today and hoping that Toronto gets to be an NHL hub. Whatever you gotta do to get your contract renewed, I guess.

  • comment-avatar

    […] the most highly effective folks in sports activities media. I wrote just lately about this matter here. The motive why Bennett’s piece is particularly notable is that his personal community is among […]

  • comment-avatar
  • comment-avatar

    […] of discrimination by the most powerful people in sports media. I wrote recently about this topic here. The reason why Bennett’s piece is especially notable is that his own network is among the league […]