The Evolution of Sports Journalism

Sports Journalism
Ron Bishop, Department of Culture and
Communication, Drexel University
From the Course’s Actual
 Mythmakers
 Storytellers
 Wannabes
 Groupies
Mike Lupica claims…
 “Sometimes the only thing that matters to
sportswriters is looking tough in front of other
More Than a Triviality
 Quite the challenge: your audience often knows
the outcome before it reads your piece.
 The true art is in writing a story so artful and
descriptive that they forget everything and wish
they’d been there.
 Sports is its own little world, full of conflict and
competition, compelling characters, interesting
 You are responsible to the athletes you write
about. Remember why you found them
More Than a Triviality
 The best sports writers convey the essence of
their craft: empathy.
 Sports writing is grounded in curiosity and
 Mine reality for deeper human qualities. You are
in the business of revealing human nature, not
just passing along results.
 It’s the stories and the people that count, not the
The Environment…
 More sports content than ever before.
 Possible to immerse yourself in it 24/7.
 No such thing as “between games” anymore.
 It’s zealous or nothing for the fan.
 It’s expected that fans be informed.
 More coverage of the “packaging.”
 Sports journalists now are celebs.
The Environment…
 Less distance – theoretically – between fans and
 More speculation than reporting.
 More process than product.
 Sports journalists sometimes achieve as much
popularity as the players.
The Cast
 Players
 Coaches and Managers
 Owners
 Fans
 Officials (Refs, umpires)
 Agents and Lawyers
 Parents
The Cast, Continued
 League/University/HS Officials
 Governing bodies (NCAA, NJSIAA)
 Communities/Residents
 Merchandise and Equipment Makers
 The Media
Look for…
 The Losers
 The Benchwarmers
 The Union Label
 Life Beyond the Crowds
 The So-Called “Minor” Sports
Types of Stories
 Game Story
 Precede – story about an upcoming game or
 Follow – story in which you dissect and analyze a
 Look-Ahead – story in which you prognosticate
about a team’s chances.
 Notes or Notebook – at end of a piece, includes
items that didn’t make the cut.
The Game Story
 Beat writers v. one-time writers.
 Can’t tell the players without a scorecard.
 Learning about the sport v. becoming an expert.
 My kingdom for some press credentials!
 Pregame rituals: “Getting to Know You.”
 The game itself: follow the action!
 Develop a scoring system.
The Game Story
 Life in the press box.
 Keep a list of possible questions.
 Plan for the post-game interviews.
 Write from the end to the beginning.
 Summarize the slow parts; focus on the highlights.
 Following up; ongoing themes.
 You’ll be frequently interviewing the same
The Game Story
 Describe the scene, the weather, the crowd – if
there’s a crowd.
 Double-check names and numbers.
 Watch for turning points, shifts in momentum –
from these, leads are built.
 Who’s playing well? Who isn’t? Why?
 Work on your scoring system (15 to 82, 33-yd. TD).
 Gratefully accept the information provided by
the team.
The Game Story
 Don’t ever assume the game is over (The Bill
Buckner Rule).
 Have a “plan B” lead and theme cooked up.
 What’s the score?
Keep the Following in Mind..
 It’s challenging to cover a lousy team; you can
only write so many “rebuilding” stories.
 Observation is perhaps the key tool in your
 Putting the reader there still matters, even though
they can receive scores and highlights on their
 Look hard for fresh angles. Don’t follow the pack.
 You can be a bit cerebral and still bang out copy
several times a day.
Lead Approaches
 Star Performance
 Turning Point
 Tone (pace, feel, flavor) of the game
 Roundup
 Off-Field Events
 Color/Novelty
Your Basic Summary Lead
 Ryan Miller stopped all 39 shots he faced,
including a second-period penalty shot, to lead
the Buffalo Sabres to a 5-0 win Saturday night
over the Columbus Blue Jackets.
 LeSean McCoy’s 16-yard touchdown run midway
through the fourth quarter capped a 21-point
Eagles rally as the Birds beat the Washington
Redskins, 24-17.
 Thanks to a key block by right guard Evan Mathis,
McCoy was able to dart around right end and down
the sideline for the score.
Your Basic Summary Lead
 The Philadelphia Phillies scored eight runs in the
first inning of last night’s game, then cruised to a
10-1win over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
 Ryan Howard had three hits, including a three-run
home run during the Phils’ first-inning explosion.
Your “Basic” Summary Lead
 The only place where defense will be a higher
priority than in the Rams’ front office this
offseason will be at the Pentagon.
 Coach Jeff Fisher continues the task of improving his
defense that for the fifth consecutive season gave
up more points than the team’s offense scored.
 “It turns out you can’t give up 35 points a game and
win the Super Bowl,” Fisher jokingly told reporters
after a Monday morning practice.
Your “Basic” Summary Lead
 The Mets will try to put constant rumors of
imminent trades and Bobby Valentine’s
supposedly imminent firing out of their minds
tonight when they face the Florida Marlins.
 “Sure, it’s a distraction,” said Valentine about several
published reports that suggest the Mets will fire him,
perhaps as soon as this weekend.
Your “Basic” Summary Lead
 It took more failed recipes that what you’d see in
the outtake reel of “Top Chef,” but Buffalo Sabres
Coach Ron Rolston said he believes he’s finally
come up with the right combination of players to
energize his team’s sluggish power play.
 Rolston’s newest recipe yielded two power play
goals by Thomas Vanek in the Sabres 7-1 drubbing
Tuesday night of the New York Islanders.
 “There was more speed and puck movement out
there,” Rolston said. “It caused some confusion for
[the Islanders].”
Sports as Metaphor?
 Think of the scale!
 Are we addicted to sports?
 Does it spill into other parts of our lives?
 How about the rituals?
 Talking about structured organizations of power.
 Symbiotic relationship.
 It ain’t just about recreational participation
Sports as Metaphor?
 Technology-driven saturation of sports.
 Sports as “pastiche.”
 Distinctions between high art and popular culture
go away.
 How do advances change the viewing
 Sports as spectacle – all the time.
Sports as Metaphor?
 A distinct “pro” bias in major news organizations.
 Coverage of “non-major” sports is limited.
 Ties in with marketing imperatives.
 Sports journalists select, order, and organize
 It’s the art of constructing reality, not just
recording it.
Sports as Commodity?
 We’re still talking about authentic acts; games
are “primary texts.”
 It’s all about the interplay.
 Our narratives of the “romanticized ideal”:
 Some values can only be taught through sports.
 An activity kids and parents can do together.
 Sports are an indelible part of everyday life.
 Sports are the media’s bread and butter.
 Sports offer drama and escape.
Rosentraub’s Dimensions
 A winner and a loser.
 No two games are identical.
 David beats Goliath every now and then.
 A definite outcome in a short period of time.
 Always hope for the losers.
 Injuries are a badge of courage.
The Evolution of Sports
Journalism: A Timeline
 1830s: Newspapers covered sports, but only
sporadically. Cricket (yes, cricket) and horse
racing covered extensively. Later, prizefighting
(1850s) and baseball (1870s) become popular,
and receive coverage.
 1831: Spirit of the Times is launched by William T.
Porter. Becomes a message center for the
sportsmen of the day.
The Evolution of Sports
Journalism: A Timeline
 Technology helps make “one neighborhood of
the whole country” (Carey).
 Sending information, but also representing
shared beliefs.
 Hyer-Sullivan fight in 1849 the first “spectacle.”
 Our need for immediacy was born.
 The “national sports society” is born.
From The Scene:
 “The fight took place yesterday about 5 p.m. at
Roach’s Point, Kent County, Maryland.
 Hyer won in fifteen rounds.
 Sullivan is badly punished, but not dangerously.
 Time occupied, about sixteen minutes.”
 - “Uncle Joe Elliott”
The Evolution of Sports
Journalism: A Timeline
The Evolution of Sports
Journalism: A Timeline
 1845: The National Police Gazette is launched.
 Covered the seedy activities of criminals, hoping the
public would read and seek retribution.
 Runs bios of criminals.
 Police and organized crime dislike the paper;
editorial offices attacked three times.
The Evolution of Sports
Journalism: A Timeline
The Evolution of Sports
Journalism: A Timeline
 1853: The New York Clipper is launched by Frank
Queen as a weekly trade publication for the
entertainment industry.
 Was the “paper of record” for the circus industry.
 Played key role in popularizing baseball in the U.S.
 Absorbed by Variety in the 1920s.
The Evolution of Sports
Journalism: A Timeline
 1862: Henry Chadwick is hired by James Gordon
Bennett to cover baseball for the New York
Herald - he is the first full-time sports reporter.
 1873: Bennett begins handing out awards to
intercollegiate track and field athletes.
 Sponsors Henry Stanley’s search for David Livingstone
in the African jungle.
The Evolution of Sports
Journalism: A Timeline
The Evolution of Sports
Journalism: A Timeline
 1874: Richard Kyle Fox journeys to U.S. from
Belfast, Northern Ireland. Takes over the National
Police Gazette.
 Vulgar and self-aggrandizing, he exploits the
rampant bigotry in the country.
 Invents the sports section, the gossip column, and
was among the first to use illustrations to enhance
The Evolution of Sports
Journalism: A Timeline
 1883: Joseph Pulitzer buys the New York World.
Creates the first standalone sports department,
headed by a “sporting editor.”
 Also in 1883: Sporting Life is founded by Francis
 Was a hero-maker long before Rice.
 Ran box scores and game recaps.
 Ran poetry and adages about baseball, its players.
 Eulogized athletes in obits.
 Ran photos, cartoons, features, gossip.
The Evolution of Sports
Journalism: A Timeline
 “Intuition is merely a remarkable faculty
possessed by a good guesser.”
 - Connie Mack
The Evolution of Sports
Journalism: A Timeline
 1886: The Sporting News arrives on the scene –
the first publication devoted solely to sports.
 Founder Alfred Henry Spink claims he played key
role in creation of A.L.
 First issue focuses on spring training prep, but also
describes visits to its offices by English wrestling
champs and activities of Gentlemen’s Driving
Club of St. Louis.
The Evolution of Sports
Journalism: A Timeline
The Evolution of Sports
Journalism: A Timeline
 1895: William Randolph Hearst buys the New York
Journal. Adopts Pulitzer’s strategies, lures away
many World staffers.
 1920s: Large metro dailies get into the sports
promotion game. Joseph Medill Patterson, copublisher of Chicago Tribune, creates the Golden
Gloves boxing tournament.
 1933: Arch Ward, the Tribune’s sports editor,
creates MLB’s All-Star Game; he went on to
launch the All-American Football Conference.
The Evolution of Sports
Journalism: A Timeline
 By this point in time, you had three types of sports
 The “tall tale”
 Verse
 The true story
Along Comes Rice…
Along Comes Rice…
 Took heroism seriously.
 Was close to athletes, but not too close so their
flaws might be revealed.
 Athletes seemed grander then.
 Professional sports was a smaller world.
 Ripped as a cheerleader – but was he right for his
 He believed – truly – what he wrote.
 Despite the criticism, he was revered by many
Along Comes Rice…
 The eternal optimist.
 He did write more than just “sunny side” pieces.
 Bottom line: folks believed him; history has added
credibility; style was right for his audience.
 He was the first “famous” sportswriter.
 He humanized athletes – but only to a point.
 An activist for sports.
 So did he help or hurt sports journalism?
Sports Journalism’s
“Golden Age” in Context
 The “Jazz Age,” the “Roaring Twenties.”
 Color, personality, star-making in journalism.
 Celebrities glorified; sordid events became national
 We were a nation in need of heroes, something
sports journalists are quite good at making.
 Wanted to focus on the individual for a while.
 The economy (for the moment) was booming.
 A buoyant national spirit coming out of WWI.
Sports Journalism’s
“Golden Age” in Context
 Our attention turns away from world affairs.
 Technology shortens the work week; more leisure
 With urbanization comes the rise of the “mass.”
 Sports gave us an outlet for individual
 Society was becoming more bureaucratic.
Sports Journalism’s
“Golden Age” in Context
 Sportswriters held the monopoly on sports news.
 Skill mattered, but not as much as “color and
crowd appeal.”
 SJ was less about the game and more about
“behind the scenes,” such as they were.
 Amount of coverage increases.
 “My intellect is offended, but my editorial
judgment approves it,” says one NY Post editor.
Sports Journalism’s
“Golden Age” in Context
 No longer so much about the game –
background, strategy, character mattered.
 Some SJ’s critical, calling it a plan to boost
Sports Journalism’s
“Golden Age” in Context
 Few of us could actually see the athletes in
action. No TV.
 Sports writers had to make them accessible.
 Accuracy takes a back seat to storytelling.
 Lent a note of enchantment to sports.
 From “Gee Whiz” to “Aw Nuts” in less than a
And Then There’s Ring…
From Ring Lardner
to Red Smith…
 Lardner the first baseball as a source of serious
literary material.
 Sardonic, witty, self-deprecating.
 Suspected White Sox threw the 1919 WS; walked
through the team’s train singing “I’m forever
blowing ballgames…”
 Dampened his love for baseball.
From Ring Lardner
to Red Smith…
 The first true craftsperson.
 Irony, verbal economy, gift for dialect.
 Spanned the gap between the fan and the
“eggheads,” as one sportswriter explained.
 Favored satire; wasn’t afraid to criticize.
From Ring Lardner
to Red Smith…
 “The family you come from isn’t as important as
the family you’re going to have.”
 “They gave each other a smile with a future in it.”
 “He looked at me as if I were a side dish he had
From Ring Lardner
to Red Smith…
 Highlights the dubious value of training to be a
sports writer.
 Had other experiences and interests on which to
 A multidimensional person – more than one
career path.
 Today? The obsession gets you the money.
 Lardner eclipsed the “goody-two-shoes” genre
popularized by Rice.
From Ring Lardner
to Red Smith…
 Yet he insisted he wasn’t creating literature.
 We were becoming more celebrity-obsessed.
 Lardner tries to debunk the emerging corporate
values of a society headed for the world political
 Became ambivalent, jaundiced.
 But he didn’t hate baseball – he was just a cynic
and NOT a hero-worshipper.
From Ring Lardner
to Red Smith…
 Wasn’t sure of the player’s moral character.
 Saw baseball critically – how it was consuming us.
 Pursuit of happiness had turned into a pursuit of
the self, in his view.
 Took us to task for joining “the cult of obvious
feats and visible virtuosity.”
As Fitzgerald noted…
 During those years, when most men of promise
achieve an adult education, if only in the school
of war, Ring moved in the company of a few
illiterates playing a boy’s game. A boy’s game
with no more possibilities in it than a boy could
master, a game bounded by wall which kept out
novelty or danger, change or adventure…”
 Speaking at Lardner’s funeral in 1933.
From Ring Lardner
to Red Smith…
From Ring Lardner
to Red Smith…
 Literary style, expository approach, clarity!
 Approached sports as a professional spectator.
 No over the top descriptions or behind the
scenes intrigue.
 A human being first, an observer second, and a
writer third.
 Gifted at stating “the ordinary case.”
 Interviewed without taking notes.
As For Woodward…
 Herald-Tribune sports section attains unmatched
level of “pungent literacy.”
 Knew an editor had to defend his writers.
 Wanted writers who were better than he was.
 See things no one else saw.
 No embellishment; few superlatives.
 Made newbies work city beat for a few years, to
become reporters first.
The Magic of Clarity
 “Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is
no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality
has strangled invention. Only the utterly
impossible, the inexpressibly fantastic, can ever
be plausible again.”
 “Ralph Branca turned and started for the
clubhouse. The number on his uniform looked
huge. Thirteen.”
 - Red Smith, The Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff
The Magic of Clarity
 “It could happen only in Brooklyn. Nowhere else
in this broad, untidy universe, not in Bedlam nor in
Babel nor in the remotest psychopathic ward nor
the sleaziest padded cell could The Thing be.
 “Only in the ancestral home of the Dodgers
which knew the goofy glories of Babe Herman
could a man win a World Series game by striking
 Red Smith, Winning By Striking Out, 1941
The Magic of Clarity
 “By special arrangement with the Hudson Tubes,
an expedition to this model political community
as made today to get a look at Jackie Robinson,
the model Negro infielder of the Dodgers’ model
Montreal farm. It was a brief look because
Robinson, having jimmied an ankle sliding into
third base, didn’t play against the Itsy-Bitsy
 Red Smith, Model Baseball Player, 1946.
The Magic of Clarity
 Smith part of the “on the button” school.
 Straightforward, factual reporting.
 Smith tried not to exaggerate – tried to preserve
a “sense of proportion,” to focus on
 “I’m sure I have contributed to false values,” he
 Needed to alert us to “the daily doings of the
local teams,” as Gallico said.
W. C. Heinz
Heinz’s “Spare Elegance”
 Lyrical understatement.
 Insistent and inspired economy.
 Picking their brains.
 A voracious reader.
 Learned to listen to what people said – and how
they said it.
 Have to get the sound right.
 A “bricks and mortar” approach to writing.
Heinz’s “Spare Elegance”
 “There was a short, sharp sound and the colt
toppled onto his left side, his eyes staring, his legs
straight out, the free legs quivering.
 ‘Aw -----,’ someone said.
 That was all they said.”
Heinz’s “Spare Elegance”
 Revered by fellow sportswriters. A true mentor.
 Authentic, straightforward voice.
 Don’t go overboard – the truth is powerful
 His graceful work is largely defined by what is left
 Defined too by its rhythm, his ear for dialogue.
Invites, then defies imitation.
“The Ghost of the Gridiron”
 “I remembered that night when we ate in
Syracuse. As we stood in line to get our hats and
coasts, Grange nudged me and showed me his
hat check. In the middle of the cardboard disk
was the number 77.
 “Has this ever happened to you before,” I said.
 “Never,” he said, “as far as I know.”
 We walked out into the cold night air. A few
flakes of snow were falling.
“The Ghost of the Gridiron”
 “That jersey with the 77 on it that’s preserved in
Illinois,” I said, “is that your last game jersey?”
 “I don’t know,” Grange said. “It was probably a
new jersey.”
 “Do you have any piece of equipment you work
on the football field?”
 “No,” he said. “I don’t have anything.”
 The traffic light changed, and we started across
the street.
“The Ghost of the Gridiron”
 We walked about three paces.
 “You know,” Grange said, “I’d kind of like to have
an I-sweater now.”
Paul Gallico
 Creates participatory journalism; no
longer just a “fly on the wall.”
 Plimpton would come along, adopt the
style, and make it popular.
 One of the highest paid sportswriters
during the “Golden Age.”
 Exited sports journalism at the top.
 “After 13 years of looking at every kind
of athletic contest, I had nothing more
to say.”
 “Better to get out while the getting was
good and before the readers made the
same discovery I had.”
Paul Gallico
 Started as a movie critic – too insolent; moved to
 Convinces Jack Dempsey to spar with him so he
could get a better sense of what it was like to fight
a champion.
 Piece helps him gain sports editor’s slot at the New
York Daily News.
 Narratives with a conversational tone; suggested he
had personal relationships with athletes.
 Created the Golden Gloves amateur boxing
Paul Gallico
 “There is one photograph in the News – pictures
were taken all through this – of which I haven’t
the slightest recollection. But there I am bent over
and Dempsey’s left hook is whistling over my
head. I have no recollection of ducking that one.
 But I didn’t duck the next one. I found myself on
the floor. Everything went sort of black. The ring
made one complete revolution clockwise and
then went back, counterclockwise.”
Paul Gallico
 Became a quasi-member of the “gee-whiz” style.
 Glorified athletes – but not always.
 Recognized their flaws:
 “The sportswriter has few if any heroes. We create
many because it is our business to do so, but we do
not believe in them. We know them too well. We sing
of their muscle, their courage, and their skill because
it seems to amuse readers”
 - Farewell to Sport
After the “Golden Age”
 The evolution of the craft.
 The last time when sports was put in perspective.
 Balance between hero-worship and “behind the
 The sense of “us” and “them.”
 The writing matters most – but the facts matter
 The “hidden dimension” period.
After the “Golden Age”
 Begin to distrust their powers of observation and
 Roger Kahn: “Athletes are becoming practically
 Stats begin to obscure the written word.
 “Watching the fucking game,” as Jimmy Cannon
once urged.
 What of the odd, singular achievement?
After the “Golden Age”
 How about some curiosity for what you don’t
 The essence of sports writing: empathy.
 Not “the preening desire to be admired.”
 So much intensity – sports became less
 “Neutralism” reigns.
 Athletes come to see SJ as a stage – and SWs all
get the same stuff.
After the “Golden Age”
 All the characters “squeezed out,” to quote
 It’s the toy shop, but some toys are very well
 More than just the “pole dancers of journalism.”
 Gave away the chance to find the “stories.”
Angell: Gone For Good
 Observation is key; participation too.
 Staying on the right side of the line between
storyteller and groupie.
 Letting the subject do the talking, share his/her
 Like he’s hanging out with Blass.
 No expectations beyond a well-told story.
 End-result: you feel for him, but also realize life
goes on.
Angell: Gone For Good
 “…all this was said with an air of finality, but at
other times…I noticed it seemed difficult for Blass
to talk about his baseball career as a thing of the
 “The pitcher goes into a slump. He sulks or rages,
according to his nature.”
 “The fastball is a great healer.”
 “But the moment a batter stood in against him,
he became a different pitcher, especially when
throwing a fastball - a pitcher apparently afraid
of seriously injuring somebody.”
Deford: The Rabbit Hunter
 Portrait of a man totally immersed in the sport.
 You can’t draw a rich portrait of someone
without spending time with him.
 Not an important part of the sports writer’s tool
box these days.
 When writers – even great ones – head for TV or
online, the depth, the perspective is sacrificed.
 People are more than the sport – or they’re not.
Deford: The Rabbit Hunter
 “’Wait, wait!’ cries the Good Fairy or the Angel
Gabriel or whoever’s in charge of distributing
dimples. But it’s too late. Bobby has no time for
this extraneous crap with the dimples. He’s
already way down the line, taking extras on bile.”
 “Yet as intelligent as Knight is about most things,
as searching as his mind is, he’s also encumbered
by a curious parochialism that too often brings
him to grief.”
 “The real issue isn’t the countenance, anyway.
The real issue is the rabbits.”
Deford: The Rabbit Hunter
 “All the people are players, for or against, to be
scouted, tested, broken down, built back up if
they matter. Life isn’t lived; it’s played. And the
rabbits are everywhere.”
Medora Goes to the Game
 Moves into self-exploration territory.
 His feelings for his daughter – wants her to go to
Harvard someday, not Yale!
 Proud of her nine-year-old journalistic endeavors.
 Should a journalist use personal experience as a
storytelling device?
 Does it cheapen family relationships when they’re
deployed this way?
 One of last great pieces to include the person not
totally into sports.
Medora Goes to the Game
 “He took a feeble swing at the ball – the kind an
elderly aunt might aim at a terrier nipping at her
 “A number of people in the stands noticed that in
pecking here and there in the grass, the pigeon
seemed to go right to the brink of the goal line and
then back away, as if forced to do so by some
psychic power.”
 “In fact, the bells were something of a
neighborhood nuisance because they got so loud;
the person playing them sometimes got mixed up
so it sounded as if the bells were tumbling down a
rock slide.”
Coverage of Race
 Reporters still portray African-Americans “in ways
that create and maintain stereotypes” (Lule,
 “Anti-black affect” has pushed aside more racist
 A form of “modern racism” – the belief that
“discrimination is a thing of the past, that blacks
push too hard and too fast, that black demands
for opportunity are unfair, and that recent gains
by blacks are undeserved” (Lule, 1995).
Coverage of Race
 These stereotypes are subtle and “reinforced at
levels likely to remain below conscious awareness”
(Entman, 1992).
 Reporters “debased” Mike Tyson in order to propel
grander dramas.
 Sensational coverage about his rape trial offered
no “insight into the boxer and his life” (Lule, 1995).
 Offered little more than “superficial storylines and
crude stereotypes” (Lule, 1995).
 Just two portrayals of Tyson: the “black, savage,
sex-driven former heavyweight champion” and the
“dumb, innocent, but well-hung boxer” (Lule, 1995).
Coverage of Race
 Much of the research to date focuses on
language used to describe performance of
African-American athletes.
 Typically portrayed as self-centered, arrogant,
and greedy.
 More likely to complain when they feel
underpaid (Cole and Andrews, 1996).
 Infantilized by depicting them as selfish, lazy,
unappealing, and as lacking the will to win.
Coverage of Race
 Also portrayed as deviant, violent, compulsive,
and reckless.
 “As potentially polluting and destructive,
incapable of attaining social and moral
sophistication” (Hardin, Dodd, Chance &
Waldorf, 2004).
 Coverage still informed by “black men
misbehaving” narrative.
 “Expresses, affirms, and authorizes popular fears,
pleasures, and anxieties in ways that shape the
experience of race” (Clarke, 1991).
Coverage of Race
 The NBA in the late 1970s and early 1980s portrayed
as damaged by epidemic of drug use by AfricanAmerican athletes.
 Stern tries to make them palatable to white fans.
 “Blackness has come to embody a pollutant within
the NBA that necessitates surveillance and
regulation” (Leonard, 2006).
 Owners act again after “Palace Brawl” – enact the
ban on HS players entering the league.
 With journalists’ help, the brawl was turned into a
national crisis.
Make Them Palatable
 Efforts have deep historical roots.
 Jackie Robinson, Willie Mays brought a new style to
the game; they exuded “flair” and “cool.”
 Playing well just one part of their performance.
 “You had to play with style and soul” (Rhoden,
2006, p. 149).
 “Free to make powerful statements using gestural
modes of expression to celebrate, honor, and even
exude” (Rhoden, 2006, p. 151).
 Athletes introduced the “black thing” to fans.
Make Them Palatable
 Owners capitalize on this “mix of ingenuity and
race, sensuality and strength, beauty and
violence, rage and vulnerability” (Rhoden, 2006).
 But African-American athletes weren’t allowed to
“profit from this soul” (p. 153).
 Owners eventually grow wary of the style;
journalists call Mays and others “showboats.”
 Happy so long as athletes partake in the
commodification of their race – and stay out of
Make Them Palatable
 White fans also never completely embraced the
“Black Thing.”
 Left to be moved on Rhoden’s “conveyor belt.”
 Vitality of sports depends on a steady influx of
African-American players.
 Owners run a “full service delivery system to
identify, prepare, and carry black muscle to
market” (p. 169).
 Some end up feeling entitled.
Make Them Palatable
Make Them Palatable
 Racial identities are all but erased.
 No room for athletes who think of themselves in
racial terms, who rock the boat.
 Focus on “making those in positions of power feel
comfortable with their blackness” (p. 178).
 Don’t question the system that has given you the
money and lavish lifestyle.
 Don’t confront team officials; be deferential!
 Success has stifled the desire to challenge the
system, says Harry Edwards.
Make Them Palatable
 Talk about themselves as individuals.
 Stay away from controversy; the history of the
struggle for equality is irrelevant.
 “They have no idea about who set the table at
which they are feasting,” says Harry Edwards.
Make Them Palatable
Into the Way-Back Machine
Some Gentlemen…
 Agreements prevented African-Americans from
playing baseball, football.
 Tex Schramm: “It wasn’t the thing that was
 In baseball, had been in place since 1880.
 In football, African-Americans actually played;
GA put in place in 1933.
Some Gentlemen…
Some Gentlemen…
Some Gentlemen…
 Denied that GA existed; claimed they’d accept
African-American players if they were good
 We accepted the “conspiracy of silence,” as
Tygiel argues.
 “The convenience of ignorance,” says Myrdal.
 Sportswriters helped out by creating myth that
baseball was a “melting pot.” All players were
Some Gentlemen…
 Even The Sporting News was in on it; argued
segregation was in the best interests of baseball
and society.
 Became a “news value.”
 Then came the minstrel show at the 1933 NY
Baseball Writers Association dinner; all white
crowd of about 600 – owners, players, journalists.
 New York Times called the show the most
entertaining part of the evening.
Some Gentlemen…
Some Gentlemen…
 Heywood Broun, NY journalist,
asks why there were no
African-American athletes in
 Responding to a New York
Daily News editorial.
 “I can see no reason why
Negroes should not come into
the National and American
Leagues,” he says.
 Recalled how John McGraw
had once been prevented by
owners to sign an AfricanAmerican player.
Some Gentlemen…
 Jimmy Powers asks for
comment from league officials
and players – none, except
McGraw, object.
 In February 8 column, calls this
a sign of progress.
 Players were different than in
the past. "The bulk of the
players then came from the
other side of the Mason Dixon
line. They brought the (Jim
Crow) ... ideas into the North
with them,” he writes.
 Only a matter of time…he was
Some Gentlemen…
 African-American newspapers are thrilled.
 The Pittsburgh Courier beings a series of articles on
race relations.
 White sportswriters stayed silent. Broun says nothing
after his speech.
 Would pass along information to the Daily Worker
and Lester Rodney.
 “I can’t use it, but I’d like to see it in print.”
 BBWA has its own color line…African-American
writers not allowed in press boxes, dugouts, locker
Some Gentlemen…
Some Gentlemen…
 It was a concerted effort.
 Beyond the observer’s role.
 Agents of social change.
 Responsibility to champion the cause.
 White sportswriters, save Rodney, continue their
Into The Way-Back Machine
A Nod From Destiny
 African-American sportswriters pressured NFL
owners to add African-American players for more
than a decade.
 To fill the LA Coliseum, Dan Reeves knew he’d
have to field a great team – with players from
both races.
A Nod From Destiny
A Nod From Destiny
 Washington’s supporters felt he could still play,
despite 10 seasons of college, minor league ball.
 On March 21, 1946, the Rams buy out his
contract, and sign him to play for them.
 He asks they sign Woody Strode so he would
have a roommate on the road.
 Many thought he saw better suited to break the
MLB color barrier.
A Nod From Destiny
 NFL loved the Rams move; the upstart AAFC had
a team in LA, the Dons.
 Officials wanted to correct impression that NFL
wasn’t a major league.
 LA was first city to really understand that it was.
 Needed approval from LA Coliseum Commission
before they could play there.
 Commission worried pro team would hurt gate
for UCLA, USC.
A Nod From Destiny
A Nod From Destiny
 Confronted Rams GM Chile Walsh about lack of
African-American players.
 One assistant coach said they signed Washington
just to finalize the lease.
 Smith said Rams did not deserve praise; the Rams
simply caved.
 Wasn’t a sure thing, though.
 Writers “make no attempt to be objective.”
 Would work to eliminate the color line “until we
drop from exhaustion.”
A Nod From Destiny
 No coverage in white newspapers.
 Other African-American sports writers thought
Washington’s signing was inevitable – they
focused on Robinson.
 Washington was one of several options.
 “Make good news happen for our people,” said
Herman Hill.
 Had some help: Commission chair tipped them
off about the time of the meeting.
A Nod From Destiny
 Commission passes resolution banning teams
who discriminate from using Coliseum.
 “That was our cue…”
 Rams taken aback as writers made their case.
 “You could have heard a rat piss on cotton,” said
Abie Robinson.
 Leonard Roach and Washington were friends.
 Congratulated themselves in print.
Economics of Sports
 Do sports love us in return?
 Are we as in love as we used to be?
 Who’s being pushed out?
 Are we just scenery?
Economics of Sports
 Cities should have some say in how teams are
 Finite resources in a city’s budget.
 Publicly funded stadiums became urban policy in
the 1990s.
 Last 25 years: $30 billion in public money spent on
stadium construction/maintenance.
 This despite the fact that we’d rather they didn’t
spend our money in this way.
Economics of Sports
 They’ll say: it creates jobs! Yes, but at what level?
 NEVER has a publicly subsidized stadium in the
U.S. increased employment and economic
 Zirin: it’s “ethnic and economic cleansing.”
 Should be ashamed to ask for public money.
 The true “welfare kings.”
 We can’t afford to support sports as an
affordable escape.
Economics of Sports
 The main revenue streams:
 Public money for stadiums.
 Corporate boxes/PSLs
 TV rights deals/24-hour sports media
Economics of Sports
 Yet journalists gush about the new parks, caught
up in pre-adolescent fervor.
 Those who raise questions aren’t heard.
 A few tries at affordability.
 More out there to capture our attention.
 So how about municipalizing the teams?

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