Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

Rapid growing sports website starts slowly in diversity efforts

By Allana J. Barefield
SJI Class of 2018

Last August, The Athletic, a subscription-based sports website, released a photo of their college sports staff.

They were all white.

Gregory Lee, former President of The National Association of Black Journalists and editorial director of NBA.com, felt compelled to look further into The Athletic’s diversity numbers. In early April, he tweeted his findings: only four percent of the website’s staff were black and none were women or editors. 74.6 percent were made up of white males.

Lee said he wanted to remind organizations like The Athletic that they need to do better.

“It’s the same old, new media is like old media,” he said. “They came out and said they wanted to change the face of sports journalism but it’s a reflection of old sports journalism and media where diverse voices are not being hired.”

Lee is not the only person who thinks The Athletic needs to change their hiring practices. Carron J. Phillips, a columnist for The New York Daily News, wrote an article that questioned, “Why is everybody in this picture white?

“I wasn’t shocked by it. I wasn’t surprised,” he said. “I was highly disappointed about what The Athletic has done, is doing and will continue to do based on the false hope.”

Phillips, the first black journalist to participate in both the Sports Journalism Institute and the Associated Press of Sports Editors Diversity Fellowship, said that The Athletic has another hiring issue.

“I’m not seeing Hispanic men or Hispanic women or that many Asian men or Asian women or Middle Eastern men and women,” he said. “Their diversity as a whole sucks and the fact that they don’t have a black woman on staff is a complete joke to me.

That said, there are organizations, such as the board of the Associated Press Sports Editors Diversity Fellowship, who are invested in diversity, Phillips said.

“They will reach out to the Greg Lees of the world when they have job openings,” Phillips said. “It’s not like people of color are not there or unavailable or can’t do the work.”

Reporters such as Maria Taylor, Cari Champion and Jemele Hill are prime examples.

“If you see a person of color, especially a black woman on TV, you can guarantee that she’s better than anyone else because she had to be,” Phillips said.

The Athletic is still in its growing stages, said Taylor Patterson, director of communications of The Athletic. The website did not have updated diversity numbers to disclose at this time.

“Diversity is a priority for us,” Patterson said. “We are a new company. We’ve been around for two years.

“I think as we grow we know that we need to be building editorial teams that reflect the diverse nature and makeup of our readership.”

As of now, The Athletic has markets in 28 cities and in Canada.

“Every time we launch a market we have this conversation to see, ‘OK, we’re launching Boston. Who in Boston might be a great asset?” Patterson said. ““The more we grow, the more that we hope to continue to build a team that reflects different ranges of thinking and writing.”

This summer, The Athletic will be a sponsor at the National Association of Black Journalists convention.

Organizations such as The Association for Women in Sports Media and NABJ are where networking is important, said Sherrod Blakely, who covers the Boston Celtics and the NBA for NBC Sports and is chair of The National Association of Black Journalists Sports Task Force.

“The beautiful thing about NABJ is that there is a connection and an obligation that members, as they get older, feel towards those who are behind them,” he said. “That’s what makes us strong, that’s why the NABJ Sports Task continues to grow, bigger, better, stronger, bolder and more visible.”

“It’s not so much hiring people of color but getting them in the applicant pool where they have a chance to compete.”

Blakely tries to use his leadership platform to push other talented young journalists to be their absolute best.

“Don’t settle to being OK because OK is just not OK,” he said. “I don’t care if you’re 25 or been in the business for 25 years, you should never be content where you are or what you’re doing.”

Minorities can’t be discouraged because of low employment numbers, but instead show employers that they deserve an opportunity just like their counterpart.

“We have arrived,” Blakely said, “and we are not going anywhere.”

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