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Archive for Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Broadcast booth still lacks diversity

January 31, 2007

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— The media are making a big deal out of Lovie Smith and Tony Dungy becoming the first African-American head coaches in the Super Bowl.

Good. It provides the perfect contrast to an untold story about the media.

In the previous 40 Super Bowls, there has been only one African-American who sat in the broadcast booth: Greg Gumbel called the play-by-play for the 2001 and 2004 games for CBS.

In a sport where more than 60 percent of the players are African-American, there never has been an African-American analyst in the booth for a Super Bowl.

That's stunning, considering the large pool of African-Americans who not only are the game's biggest stars but also are glib and quotable.

Jim Nantz and Phil Simms will work this year's Super Bowl for CBS. Unless the lead broadcast teams for CBS, NBC or Fox unexpectedly change, there won't be another African-American in the booth through at least 2012, the length of the current NFL television contract.

James Brown, an African-American who is the host of CBS' "NFL Today," said when apprised of the facts: "I should not be surprised, but I am."

The lack of diversity in the media goes beyond the Super Bowl booth. While African-Americans have prominent roles as hosts and analysts on the various NFL studio shows, there are only a handful of African-American play-by-play voices and analysts working NFL games for the networks.

The situation isn't just limited to television. Scanning the vast pressroom at the Miami Convention Center, you hardly see any African-American faces. Here's why: According to an Associated Press Sports Editors racial and gender report card released last June, African-American men and women make up 7 percent of all sports writers.

Columnist Fred Mitchell is the lone African-American sports writer for the Chicago Tribune.

Obviously, the media, which critique the hiring practices of pro sports, have plenty of room to be criticized.

"I always thought our business was worse than pro sports," said Michael Wilbon, an African-American sports columnist for the Washington Post and co-host of ESPN's "Pardon the Interruption."

"When you talk about those statistics, it does jump off the page at you. Both the electronic and print media use the high-beam flashlight on Major League Baseball and the NFL (for their hiring practices). Maybe it's time to use that flashlight on our own industry."

Brown said he did just that when he compiled a report on the Shoal Creek controversy in 1991, which dealt with the exclusionary practice of private golf clubs. With CBS at the time, he insisted his story include a line about the lack of diversity in the network's sports department.

"I couldn't adopt the tone of contempt about golf without talking about our business," Brown said. "Here we are years later, and it's essentially the same."

The networks always will trot out the line that they merely look to hire the best man for the job. But that doesn't hold much weight anymore.

"It sounds like the newspapers and networks should have to invoke the 'Rooney rule,'" said Wilbon of the requirement that NFL teams have to interview minorities when they hire a head coach.

Brown repeatedly said, "There is no excuse."

Brown is right. The next time you read or see a report bemoaning the lack of diversity in sports, just consider the source.

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