Sports Journalism Institute

Helping women and minorities get into newsrooms since 1993

Opinion: Black women under-represented in management

Ariana Taylor
SJI Class of 2019

If you think the people working in sports departments around the nations tend to look a lot alike, you’re probably right.
The latest study of gender and racial diversity in the industry, issued in 2018 by Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports, gave the more than 75 outlets belonging to APSE a second straight B for racial hiring, a D-plus for overall hiring practices and a failing grade–for the fifth straight time–for gender hires in jobs that include sports editor, columnist, reporter and copy editor.
But at the Louisville Courier-Journal, something–or rather someone–is different. Rana Cash is the sports editor at the Courier-Journal, and she’s the only African-American female sports editor at a U.S. newspaper. She was hired in August 2018.
“The work she has done in Louisville is top notch,”said Sherrod Blakely, the NABJ Sports Task Force chair. “She’s exactly what you want in a journalist. Not for being black, not for being a woman but for a journalist.”
While Cash being the Courier Journal sports editor is an accomplishment worth applauding, the lack of black women holding similar positions is a concern. In 2017, there were two African-American female sports editors at U.S. newspapers, Lisa Wilson and Jewell Walston. Wilson was the executive sports editor at the Buffalo News before moving on to first ESPN’s The Undefeated and, more recently, The Athletic, as managing editor of its NFL vertical. Walston was the sports editor for the Winston-Salem Journal in North Carolina but is now the deputy editor for NewsDay Media Group in New York.
This means for the past eight years, there have only been three black women as sports editors at a U.S. newspaper.
“Women in sports are some of the toughest people, from a journalistic standpoint, that you’ll come across because they have to go through more than us,” Blakely said.
The lack of the presence of women in general and African-American women in particular at the top level of sports management is a concern.
“Our newsrooms need to reflect our audience,” said Patricia Mays, a coordinating producer and senior director at ESPN. “It is so important to have diversity in the managing ranks, where change can be made.”
According to Blakely, the solution can be summed up in three steps; recognize, identify and encourage.
Publications and news outlets need to first recognize the shortage of black female sports editors is an issue everywhere. Ignoring the situation enables it.
Then, newsroom leaders need to evaluate their lineage of editors. If it has not been diverse, then recognize that there are talented black women capable of doing the job. People in leadership who make hires have to be advocates for diversity. They must find and identify diverse individuals, even if they come from smaller operations or unexpected backgrounds.
“There’s a saying around the ESPN offices … ‘diversity is about who’s on the team. Inclusion is about who gets to play,’” Mays said.
Advocacy can be as simple as raising a hand to speak up for someone or giving encouragement to young, black female sports journalists. Giving advice, being that extra push for her to go for an opportunity, recommending her for a top position, all that can go a long way toward changing what today is an all-too-familiar sight in sports departments nationwide.