NFL cities have as many black sports editors as black coaches: 3

Jan 21st, 2013 | By | Category: Internships, News

Photo © Richard Lyons iStockphoto

Photo © Richard Lyons iStockphoto

By Joe Grimm
Michigan State University
School of Journalism

With the Super Bowl on the horizon and coaching contracts setting, sports sections have noted that the number of black coaches in the National Football League is declining. By contrast, about three quarters of NFL players are black.

Newspapers sports departments are worse than NFL coaching staffs. Only three of the 32 NFL cities have black coaches and only three of those cities have newspapers with black sports editors. If you dig deeper, the proportion of black sports editors drops further. The 2010-11 Associated Press Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card found that the proportion of minority sports editors at approximately 300 sections and websites in the study had fallen from six percent to three percent between 2008 and 2010.

One of the black sports editors is Gregory Lee, hired last year as executive sports editor at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Lee is also president of the National Association of Black Journalists.

Lee said minority leadership matters as much to newsrooms as it does to teams.

“It matters in terms of content and presentation. Football, basketball and baseball, the major professional sports, are all dominated by minority players. Blacks dominate football and basketball and Hispanic players dominate baseball.”

But what’s missing is sports journalism lacks diverse leadership?

As an example, Lee said, “The Rooney Rule does not get much coverage from newspapers.”

Since 2003 the Rooney Rule has required NFL teams to include minority candidates in the interview pools for top coaching positions. It was intended to prevent the situation in which African Americans filled none of 14 recent openings for NFL general managers and head coaches. The number of black coaches is now back down to where it was in 2003.
CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora reports the NFL will probably broaden the rule in 2013 to include coordinator and assistant head-coaching positions. The rule is named for Dan Rooney, who was head of the NFL’s diversity committee.

The change would address what had been widely acknowledged as a pipeline problem.

A 2010 University of Iowa study reported little evidence of blatant discrimination, but a clear lack of entry-level coaching opportunities for African Americans.

Lee says the news media also lack a pipeline.

“It’s kind of like the NFL and who you know,” Lee said. “It starts with the copy desk and assistant sports editors.”

“I could have easily been a reporter or a columnist,” he said. A college handling scores on the sports desk at the Times-Picayune put him on the editing track. At the time, Lee was a student at Xavier University in New Orleans.

He said he learned not to fear night work, he had mentors and he learned that “You can still change coverage behind the scenes.”

“There aren’t many of us in the pipeline,” said Lee, with nods to the two other black sports editors in NFL cities, Lisa Bell Wilson of the Buffalo News and Larry Graham of the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Lee and others affiliated with the Sports Journalism Institute, where he is co-director, are trying to make a difference.

It will take time for newsrooms to improve, even just to catch up with the NFL, which at least seems to be talking about action.

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One Comment to “NFL cities have as many black sports editors as black coaches: 3”

  1. Justice B. says:

    Should anybody be shocked by such findings, Joe? Frankly, no! The report card for the industry has been lousy for more than three decades, which explains the shortage of black columnists, black baseball writers, black enterprise reporters and black takeout writers, black freelance writers — not just at daily newspapers but at sports websites and magazines as well. Again, none of this is new. Those of us of a certain age should remember well what Dodgers exec Al Campanis said on the 40th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s breaking the color barrier. Asked why more blacks weren’t in baseball’s management ranks, Campanis said blacks “lacked the necessities.” In all phases of sports management, we apparently still do today, and the white men and women who are in those senior positions make no apologies for the absence of diversity. That’s the pity of it all.

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