By: kelvin childs
Did the news coverage of the Latrell Sprewell coach-choking affair lack
balance? Should Sports Illustrated have focused on black athletes’ paternity suits?
Black athletes are often the victims of negative stereotypes used by sports reporters and editors, charged several executives speaking at the 23rd annual convention of the National Association of Black Journalists.
“We don’t dig deep enough into the stereotypes,” said Denver Post executive sports editor Neil Scarborough, at the Washington, D.C., event. He went on to say it was often a struggle to get editors and sportswriters to challenge their own stereotypical thinking.
“It takes a lot of thoughtfulness to design coverage, and we don’t always have the time,” said John Walsh, executive editor of ESPN.
Two subjects dominated a panel discussion about black athletes in the news ? coverage of Latrell Sprewell, a player fired by the Golden State Warriors and suspended for a year by the National Basketball Association after he tried to choke white coach P.J. Carlesimo; and “Where’s Daddy?”, a Sports Illustrated cover story on the out-of-wedlock children of pro athletes.
Sprewell was automatically deemed guilty, said DeNita Turner, president of Image Builders, a consulting firm that helps athletes deal with the media. She said she was concerned about the lack of balance in that coverage.
Scarborough noted that it doesn’t help when athletes act badly. “Sprewell walked into the stereotype of the overpaid thug,” Scarborough said.
He said Sprewell further hurt his image by claiming to be a victim and saying the ban would hurt his ability to make money. “He makes 100 times as much money as I do,” Scarborough said. An arbitrator rescinded the firing and reduced the suspension to the rest of the 1997-98 season.
No one on the panel excused Sprewell’s conduct, including Detroit Pistons player Jerome Williams and Rick “Doc” Walker, a talk radio host who formerly played for the Washington Redskins.
The May 5 Sports Illustrated cover cited hundreds of black athletes facing paternity suits, finding many more examples of NBA players than of players in the National Football League, Major League Baseball or the National Hockey League. And the cover photograph showed the
2-year-old son of black Boston Celtics guard Greg Minor, holding a basketball.
Lester Munson, the author of the article, said, “I don’t feel that we as reporters acted with any bias, in our hearts or in our minds.” Still, he noted that other cover images were available, including a photo of Larry Bird’s out-of-wedlock daughter Corrie. Those photos appeared inside the magazine. Bird is white.
Munson said the magazine got 1,000 letters criticizing the article, with 15% objecting to the cover photo alone. “It was a very close call to use the photo of a real child in a real situation,” he said.
And, he said, “I wish Jim Palmer had been the lead on this story.” Palmer is white.
Sports Illustrated was the first to reveal
that Palmer, the Hall of Fame former Baltimore Orioles pitcher, had a child out of wedlock. However, because of Palmer’s media savvy,
only sketchy information was available, Munson charged. Bird’s case was not the lead because it has been reported before, he said.
photos by jason miccolo johnson
?(NABJ president Vanessa Williams gets kiss from Mayor Marion Barry (far left); DeNita Turner of Image Builders (above); Neil Scarborough of the Denver Post (left).[Photo & Caption]
?( Editor & Publisher Web Site: http:www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher August 8, 1998) [Caption]