BWB4: Why aren’t more blacks in the sports blogosphere?

Greetings from Sunny Southern California. I’m in The Forum on Jim Rome is Burning through Thursday (4:30 ET on ESPN2). The stop before was NYC, where I was a panelist at Blogs with Balls 4.

This post was edited for length.

This was my first chance to meet Dr. Meatpeeper, A.J. Daulerio, in the flesh. Seems a cool cat, though he didn’t seem so excited when I asked him at his panel when Deadspin realized that heterosexual male sports fans had such interest in looking at their heroes’ penises on the Internet. I think that’s a compelling question. I also realize I asked that after an hour of penis questions were sent his way. That, of course, is the price you pay when you’re a well-known source for penis pictures. We’re all gonna try to figure out exactly what the hell got us to this point.

Now, the Deadspin panel is where things get interesting, though I wasn’t in the room for the best part. As I understand it, Jemele Hill asked A.J. why there were no black people on Deadspin’s staff (the delegation at BWB4 was all white men, save for Emma Carmichael and the best writer in the building, Tommy Craggs). You certainly could ask why there weren’t any Latinos, also, but that’s not terribly crucial at this moment, based on the answer offered. I’ll use quotes, but this is paraphrased, at best.

“It’s a white industry. I just don’t see that many black people in new media.”

Now, I’ve had more than a few people ask me if I was going to skewer A.J., and I’m not. I don’t think it’s necessarily productive, nor do I think it’s fair to single Deadspin out when hardly any of these new media outlets have any black people on the case. I checked out a startup a few weeks ago that had the same problem (and a much bigger staff). This isn’t a Deadspin problem or a Daulerio problem, so I’m not going to pretend either of them is THE problem. Hell, the crowd at BWB barely had enough black people to play a game of spades, and nearly all of them were on a panel. Yeah, we’ve got something bigger going on here.

The obvious question, of course, is why this is the case. A.J. knew that question was coming — and that part I can tell you as fact — and couldn’t come up with a better answer than the one above. Now, for that, we can give A.J. some hell (but really, what’s the good?). At the same time, I don’t think he gets up in the morning wondering about the racial inequities and imbalances of his industry.

I, on the other hand, do. And I still don’t have an answer for why this is, exactly.

It’s not as if there aren’t a slew of black bloggers on a range of other topics. Black people blog plenty on music, politics, fashion, hair and everything else one individual could be passionate about. They do so with little expectation of generating revenue, and they do so diligently. The bloggers range from professors to enthusiasts. Hell, just about every black person I see on Twitter has a blog of some sort. Just check the profiles.

What’s confusing is how few noteworthy black sports bloggers there are. That isn’t to say there isn’t talent, and that isn’t to say there aren’t any black sports bloggers at all. But the mere fact that all these basketball blogs are out there, and just about every single one of them the general sports fan might be aware of is written by a white person, should give serious pause.

This is a discussion I’ve had a lot with Myles Brown a lot over the last few weeks. Neither of us can make any sense of it. One person posited to him that black people aren’t big fans of doing work for free. I don’t know who the hell is fond of doing things for free — white people didn’t acquire all this wealth working pro bono – so I’m not buying that one. Plus, do you see all those cats trying to be rappers and singers? Ain’t a dime in that these days…but the raps keep coming.

I have no desire to tackle this topic outside of sports. I’m not looking at this in a particularly scientific way, so I’m not going to move too far outside of what I know, for fear of making a fool of myself.

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However, it does appear that sports blogging isn’t perceived as being as amorphous as blogs you see in other areas. I don’t get the feeling there’s an overarching, preconceived notion of what a politics or music blog should be. In sports, right or wrong, people think they know what a blog is. Mainstream sportswriters often use “blogger” pejoratively. Readers, informed or not, tend to have an expectation that a blog must be either snarky or hyperintellectual, centered around diction and topicality that is, for lack of a better term, white.

Let’s be real here: there’s a segment of the population that thinks Deadspin is the template for what a sports blog is. I’d argue much of that segment sells the site short in many ways (their work with sports’ teams financial data, for example, has been absolutely illuminating), but the sports blogosphere has been defined by many by…well, stuff like pics of dicks. And not to go all bad comedian on you, but John Karelis was right: the line of black people looking to write for a site that profits from Caucasian men’s peculiar relationship with their penises vis-a-vis others’ penises probably won’t have a line of Negritude applying to get on. I don’t care if you think I’m generalizing or not. I’d bet my house on that.

So how in the hell did the personality of the entire sports blogosphere become so damn white? Why does it seem every single startup has a paucity of African-Americans? I don’t know of any that write for The Big Lead. I know of two who write for Grantland, one of whom has referred to himself as “The Assimilated Negro” and has a book coming that purports to explain black people to the rest of the world (FYI: not cool at all). The more noteworthy startups may have black writers, but I’m not familiar with any of them.

Well, I’ve got a bit of an idea…

The sports blogosphere is considered to be the voice of the fan. To me, this differentiates it from other blog worlds because people, for years and years, have been able to put a face on “the fan.” Look, I’ve been on many a conference call and in many a meeting where we tried to figure out how to best serve “the sports fan.” And I’m telling you now: that person is white. No one has to say it out loud, but it’s clear that’s what is being said.

If you don’t believe me, consider the way it was covered when Michael Vick signed with the Eagles. Think of how many people said, “man, you know how those Philly sports fans are,” with the expectation that there would be an immediate backlash against the signing.

The problem, for me, was that all the Philly sports fans I knew personally were black. Couple of em had long beards and koufis and all that stuff. That’s what I think of when I think of what is uniquely Philadelphia. Cats like this.

But that’s not the Philly fan, right?

Nope, the Philly fan is a working class white person. Probably Italian. That’s the definition of a fan. Hell, that’s what you see when the cameras pan to the crowd at games, right? Yeah, that’s Philly.

Right?

Hell no, it’s not Philly. It’s some neighborhoods. But for years, we have decided that sports fans are white men. The media has long put out content intended to serve that demographic almost exclusively. Sports radio, from its content to its advertising, reinforces this notion, and programming directors are absolutely petrified in most markets of putting on a black person who didn’t play ball in a previous life for that very reason: they don’t fit the brand.

Now, it’s possible that last part is me being too personal. That’s what I believe happened to me in one of my more recent employment situations, but every bit of evidence anyone has lends to the truth in that statement. Look at the ads that run in game you watch, on shows you listen to, and even on websites you frequent. The content is geared toward whites, the advertisers are seeking out whites, and they work in concert to keep this stuff as white as possible, in spite of my fervent belief that white people in the 21st century are both capable of handling varying viewpoints and would like to see the model change.

Or do you think it’s coincidental I’ve set fire to every airwave I’ve been on for the last three years, and the only people to come to me about a radio job since November ’09 were in Canada? When we said “I had to run like a fugitive” at 9 a.m. on The Morning Jones, there was a message.

So yes, it’s a “white industry,” this new media. At least it is now, and we have to be careful not to pretend like that’s what it’s supposed to be. Any media game is supposed to provide a representative cross-section of what takes place on the field. Given the emphasis on opinion in the blogosphere, the viewpoints and those offering them need to cover that range. And given how important the black perspective is to sports — so long as so many of these games are played by black people — the idea that this new media in our post-racial universe continues to reinforce this confining notion that white people are the only fans that matter is incredibly problematic.

Now, there will certainly be someone to post on this and say that they just don’t know who the good black writers are. It’s a common retort, and it’s as big a load of bullshit today as it ever was. People will say they can’t find blacks to offer their views on sports, but they love to find out what the discussion is at the barbershop.

At some point, folks in the new media gam need to realize they may have a hard time finding black bloggers in sports because they’re scaring them away. It’s not necessarily their fault. After all, they can only do them, and they’re as tied up in this racial madness as anyone else is. There is no racism repellent other than self-awareness and knowledge, and we all know both are in short supply in this world (especially with regards to race).

But I do think, in large measure, a lot of people are living in a world they inherited and didn’t make, and they’re knee-deep in issues they didn’t even know exist.

But I bet, if you close your eyes and think about what a “sports fan” looks like, sounds like, and likes to do in any given American city, you’ll picture a white man. Yanno, kinda how people say Atlanta sports fans only care about SEC football because of all the alums in the city…as if the SWATS don’t exist? Who’s moving to Atlanta after going to Vanderbilt? See what I mean?

And if you see that, I bet you see why there aren’t that many black folks in the sports blogosphere.

So if new media wants to truly be new, we need to shake off the construct of “the fan” inherited from the media world so many claim they want to break away from.

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