One of the biggest hidden gems in education is the media program at Northwest Missouri State University. The program there has had a ton of success with student media outlets, often securing the top awards available through CMA, ACP and others. The place also boasts great journalism educators, including at least two CMA Hall of Famers, and a ton of great young talent.
Dr. Kyle Miller was nice enough to bring me in via Zoom as part of a two-part panel with Latonya Davis, the coordinator of diversity and inclusion at NWMSU. Professor Davis had an amazing presentation that covered most of the broad strokes on this topic, which covered a wide array of issues we need to continually discuss. For me to try to repeat it here without screwing up on my part is like trying to catch last night’s rainstorm, but I’m sure she’d be more than willing to share with anyone who asked.
Once she was done, I spent my time filling in around the edges, covering more of the sports angles in relation to diversity, equity and inclusion.
Northwest Missouri State University — Maryville, MO
THE TOPIC: Race, gender and other DEI issues in sports writing
THE BASICS: Sports writing is one of the more interesting areas when it comes to racial, gender, socio-economic and other forms of biases. In a lot of ways, it comes from the way in which there was significant segregation in sports. For example, it took until 1947 for an African-American player to enter Major League Baseball and it took until 1975 until an African-American man was given the opportunity to manage a team in that league.
In my lifetime, and I don’t mean like when I was an embryo, we had people saying stuff like this on TV about people of color and sports:
We also had the head of international soccer at one point answer a question about how to make the women’s side of the game more popular with this gem:
“Let the women play in more feminine clothes like they do in volleyball,” he said.
“They could, for example, have tighter shorts. Female players are pretty, if you excuse me for saying so, and they already have some different rules to men – such as playing with a lighter ball. That decision was taken to create a more female aesthetic, so why not do it in fashion?”
In short, sports isn’t the most socially enlightened place on earth when it comes to issues of race, gender and more.
In today’s coverage, a lot of what we see falls into what some have dubbed “aversive” racism or sexism as opposed to people coming straight out and saying stupid stuff like this:
This is where language choices can make a difference, particular in how we write about certain players. For example, let’s look at a couple descriptions that area almost the same:
Quarterback Jim Johnson is gifted when it comes to finding the open receiver downfield.
Quarterback Jim Johnson is talented when it comes to finding the open receiver downfield.
Quarterback Jim Johnson is skilled when it comes to finding the open receiver downfield.
They all seem to be saying the same thing: This guy can find a receiver down the field better than other people can. However, if you look at the descriptors, you realize that they mean different things.
GIFTED: He was given something by God or nature that other people don’t have through no fault of their own or through no actions of his own.
TALENTED: He had an advantage based on something innate within him that allowed him to be better at this than other people.
SKILLED: He worked hard to develop an ability based on his desire to get better at something that was important to him or his craft.
This is not to say that every reference to being gifted is unfair. Sometimes, you just get an advantage by the mere dint of something about you. My uncle coached basketball for 40 years and he used to say, “I can’t teach tall, but I can teach almost anything else.” In other words, if you are born with genes that make you 8-feet-tall, you are gifted with an advantage of height in a game where that matters, like basketball. It’s not like you worked hard to getting taller every day.
The point is, how we describe people can lead an audience to feel certain ways about them. The more we tell people that certain players are “gifted,” the more it seems like they don’t work hard for their success. Therefore, it’s important to think about what we’re saying and how we’re saying it.
- Here’s a look at language and how it can engender bias in journalism.
- Here’s a look at a study Eugenio Mercurio and I did about the descriptions of white and black quarterback before the NFL draft.
- Here’s a look at the way the media portrayed two players during the NCAA tournament and the questions of racism those portrayals evoked.
BEST QUESTION OF THE DAY: What do you think about the Jets not signing Colin Kaepernick after Aaron Rodgers went down?
BEST ANSWER I HAD AT THE TIME: It’s a joke, but it’s been a joke all along when it came to how the NFL teams have treated this guy.
Most of the reasons given over the years for not having “Mr. Take-a-knee” on a roster is that it would be too much of a distraction and that he has too much baggage to be considered for a role. That said, consider this:
- For some reason, a guy sent to prison for charges related to the running a dog-fighting ring didn’t have too much baggage to be let back on the field.
- A guy who pleaded guilty to charges related to a still-unsolved double murder didn’t have too much baggage to make the Hall of Fame.
- A guy who had dozens of sexual assault and sexual misconduct claims levied against him didn’t have too much baggage to be given a contract worth nearly a quarter of a billion dollars after sitting out for a year or more.
I could fill the universe with examples of people who got to play, got to play again or are still playing despite social, moral or criminal indiscretions worse than what Kaepernick did. (And, not to put too fine of a point on it, it was a WHITE GUY with a military background who told him that taking a knee would be the better way to go here…)
I have a sense they’ll keep pulling this stuff until eventually the guy is too old to really be an effective player and then they’ll do the, “Oh, it’s such a shame he’s too old… We really would have LOVED to have someone with his talent…” thing.
People can feel however they want to feel about what Kaepernick did, what he felt he was doing, how that relates to society and so forth. That’s a personal opinion and I’m never going to tell anyone how to feel about stuff like this. That said, when your fans are not above doing stuff like this at tailgate parties, this pearl-clutching by NFL teams about Kaepernick’s supposed baggage is complete crap.
NEXT STOP: Indiana Wesleyan University