By: Lesley Messer
The 32nd annual Associated Press Sports Editors convention kicked off today and will run through Sunday at the posh Ritz-Carlton in Orlando, Florida. Attendees will enjoy access to a golf course, a spa, and tennis courts, among other amenities. There is even a child care service and, of course, plenty of speakers and sessions.
Earlier this week, however, after some attendees arrived early, an incident in the lobby lounge left three Sports Journalism Institute instructors questioning the integrity of the establishment. One, in an e-mail to E&P today, called it an “appalling” incident.
Late Monday night, 30 minutes after Greg Lee, Graham Watson, and Anthony Witrado were told that it was the bar?s last call, Witrado, 23, a reporter at the Fresno Bee, noticed the staff still serving a group of six or seven middle-aged white men.
?If you say that final call is 11:45, then it?s final call for everyone,? said Lee, 31, senior assistant sports editor at the Boston Globe, in the conference newspaper today. ?Not 11:45 for one set of people and 12:15 for another set of people. I just want to see consistency, treating every customer the same way, no matter what they look like.?
The instructors, who are a black male, a black female and a Hispanic male, said their waitress told them that the later group was being served at the discretion of the bar manager. After Lee made his request for equal treatment, the waitress, who was white, did not come back to their table. Instead, a black waitress took their check, he said.
?I don?t know if she was consciously being the way she was perceived,? said Watson, 25, a reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said, in the newspaper. ?At the same time, because it was perceived that way, I do believe she owes us an apology or someone owes the three of us an apology, because it was out of the realm of what should be normal treatment.?
Hotel general manager John McGavin spoke later to the involved employees and concluded that the incident was simply a miscommunication between his staff and guests. Still, he did apologize to SJI co-director and New York Daily News sports editor Leon Carter on behalf of the hotel and its employees, who are not allowed to issue private statements, according to the newspaper. At present, he has not expressed regret to Lee, Watson or Witrado, they say.
?Perhaps these folks did not think we belong, when in fact, if they had known we were three minorities working for major newspapers, perhaps we would have been treated differently,? Lee told E&P today. He explained that this group was young and casually dressed. (Lee was wearing a windbreaker, jean shorts and sneakers.) ?But that is the America we live in today and it is appalling,” he added.