An Alarming Lack Of Diversity Among Sportswriting’s Mad Men

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By Jesse Taylor / @JesseTaylor74

Glancing at your newspaper’s sports page or going online for stories is like walking through the offices of Sterling Cooper in 1960. Except it’s 2014, and Don Draper runs Grantland. Until leaders in the sportswriting industry decide to value diversity, readers will continue to be stuck with uninformed, insensitive content.

The lack of diversity in sports coverage was recently brought to the forefront once again due to Colin Kaepernick’s sideways cap, the outing of Dr. V and Richard Sherman, Richard Sherman, Richard Sherman.

Embarrassing and oblivious takes from sportswriters are nothing new. Now we call them “Hot Takes.” Narrow-minded reactions have always been a problem. The issue stems from an industry full of diverse athletes from varied backgrounds having their stories told by writers who don’t relate to their subject matter. Sportswriting is like taking the writers from Friends and asking them to script episodes of Chappelle’s Show.

According to a 2012 report by The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport, two-thirds of NFL players are non-white, 81% for NBA rosters and 39% for MLB athletes. That same report revealed that in 2012, 90.9% of sports editors, 86.6% of assistant sports editors, 83.9% percent of columnists, 86.3% of reporters and 86% of copy editors/designers were white.

The white male dominates sportswriting connection with Mad Men is a literal one.

The institute’s study comprised a very significant portion of the U.S. sportswriting industry: more than 150 major newspapers and websites. As expected, sportswriting demographics are also male-dominated. The percentages of males in those positions are 90.4, 82.8, 90.2, 88.3 and 80.4.

Those opposing this data would claim it’s unfair because there aren’t enough diverse candidates, and hiring managers are merely selecting from qualified applicants. Entry-level sportswriting positions don’t pay well, but they are sought after. The talent pool for sportswriting outlets and professional sports teams is very similar. So if newspapers aren’t hiring non-whites, why are the three professional sports’ teams doing it? In the NFL, 26% of management positions are non-white. The NBA (35%) and MLB (28%) are doing even better. While not best-in-class, these are still solid results.

So what’s the point? Why does having a diverse sportswriting workforce matter? If the best person for the job is a bunch of white guys, so be it. May the best man win.

But readers lose when this happens. And so does the media corporation that employs these white males. Building corporate diversity is not just the right moral thing to do. It’s the right thing to do for business.

Diversity breeds creativity, knowledge, engagement and innovation. These things drive business results. Research conducted to support this position is vast. To avoid overload, here’s one example. In 2011, Professor Ron Burt of the University of Chicago conducted an empirical study that revealed people with more diverse sources of information generate consistently better ideas. A higher diversity of connections translates to higher quality ideas, which is a fundamental component of innovation.

Diversity and inclusion are also about the differences each individual adds to the conversation. It’s a person’s life experience, upbringing and unique stories. A more diverse staff may have stopped the Dr. V story from running on Grantland — a site, by the way, that covers sports and pop/hip-hop culture. That’s an extremely diverse subject matter, but of the 71 contributors listed on the site, I counted 13 non-white Grantand writers. I couldn’t find data to support my eyeball test, so given human error, let’s equate that to roughly 18%-25% of Grantland’s staff being non-white. This is above those 10% sportswriting standards. However, companies that are recognized for valuing diversity have non-white workforces in the range of 40% and higher. Given the subject matter Grantland is covering and a recent launch date that allowed it to build a staff from scratch with knowledge of the benefits of diversity, Grantland should be more aware and already have a percentage around 40.

I’m a white male. I enjoy writing about everything Grantland covers – sports, music, movies and TV. But if I surround myself with mostly other white males, I’m stagnating my professional and personal growth. While writing this article, I realized that in 17 years as a PR/communications professional working for seven companies, I’ve had nine supervisors — five black, three white (two males) and one gay Latino. Of my five black supervisors, two were female. Among my non-white managers, two were directors, two were VPs and one was a chief. So the companies I’ve worked for did an excellent job promoting diverse leadership. All of my supervisors were extremely qualified and well-respected.

10 Replies to “An Alarming Lack Of Diversity Among Sportswriting’s Mad Men”

  1. All excellent points here. I work with a lot of people in the media. Even though I’m not as mainstreamed as some other places, I see a large portion of the writing is done predominantly by white males. Most of the one’s I know personally are pretty fair but the fact that there are those guys out there who don’t understand any culture other than their own really shades the imagery of what could and should be reported on.
    This was insightful. Good stuff.

  2. Really insightful, awesome post. And it’s so true, needing a better representation of the diversity in sports in the writing field to get a more well-rounded picture.

    I’m not sure what to do about numbers and quotas and the like. That always gets a bit murky in my eyes, but I totally agree there needs to be some semblance of more representative diversity in the field. As a white male, I certainly cannot pretend all the dynamics that go in to what other people, other races, other genders, other sexualities, might unearth.

    At the end of the day, diversity is so much better than the alternative, and as you laid out, it also brings out the best, encourages more innovation and collaboration and understanding. You can’t become a more understanding, a more knowledgeable person if all you do is surround yourself with others exactly like you. Great stuff here.

  3. The question becomes how do we diversify the industry? Is there a long list of female, black writers waiting to break in? I think you’ll see the numbers improve in the next decade as people like Michael Wilbon, Bomani Jones, and even Rembert Browne have become highly respected personalities. I want to shy away from “diversity=black” but I frankly can’t name one mainstream Latino writer.

    1. Co-Sign with Tins. I can definitely say this group is the perfect example of how things could be in the industry given time and opportunity.

  4. This is a great article, and like Dillon brought up how do we fix it? I think the one thing I have noticed this past year covering sports more seriously is that there is a lot of diversity on the independent circuit but many of those outlets are still looking to get the respect needed to be a legitimate player in the “big boys club.”

    This website, Black Sports Online and bottom line sports are just a few that have served as inspiration to me in my goal to become a respected voice but its hard when I cant even get press credentials to cover many of these events — and im not even talking the exclusive events like All-Star weekend or the superbowl but low end bowl games like the Beef O’Brady Bowl… cmon son the schools dont even want to be there to play in it.

    But all I (we) can do is continue to push and work on the craft and force the powers that be to recognize the talent out there and alot of it doesnt have a comb-over and wear shoes with velcro.

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