Jul 7, 2020 - Economy

Sports media's race reckoning

Illustration of a football player in silhouette kneeling on a field

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The national conversation about systemic racism has found its way to the sports media world, forcing companies to address their shortcomings around coverage of race and their own internal diversity.

Why it matters: Sports leagues, teams and athletes have been thrust into the cultural spotlight in recent weeks, as they often are. Now, the publications that cover sports have turned the camera on themselves.

Driving the news: Disney announced Monday that ESPN Films will produce an exclusive docuseries on political activist and former NFL player Colin Kaepernick as part of a larger deal with Kaepernick’s production arm RA Vision Media.

  • Former ESPN personality Jemele Hill tweeted that she'll be serving as a producer on the docuseries, after leaving the network two years ago following a dramatic falling out in 2018.
  • At the time, Hill's outspoken tweets about President Trump put the network in the crosshairs of a polarizing debate over sports, race and politics.

The big picture: Sports media has long been dominated by mostly white, male voices. Now, under pressure to resolve years-long shortcomings in both employee diversity and coverage of race, companies are addressing some of those criticisms head-on.

  • Barstool Sports founder Dave Portnoy apologized to staff last week for using terms that offended Black employees, while also defending his words as being intentionally spun as racist when he was just trying to be funny.
  • Bleacher Report CEO Howard Mittman has reportedly left the company after being pressed by staff about diversity issues.
  • The Ringer, which is owned by Spotify and run by former ESPN personality Bill Simmons, has found itself on the defense for its lack of diversity (85% of the speakers on Ringer podcasts last year were white, per The Ringer Union).

By the numbers: There's a lot of work to be done. The vast majority of sports journalists are white and male, per the most recent AP Sports Editors Racial and Gender Report Card from 2018, which evaluated over 75 newspapers and websites.

  • Sports editors: 85% white, 90% male
  • Sports reporters: 82% white, 89% male
  • Sports columnists: 80% white, 83% male

For comparison, here is the most recent league data, per The Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports:

  • NBA: 18% white
  • NFL: 27% white
  • MLB: 59% white
  • MLS: 38% white
  • WNBA: 17% white

The bottom line: Changes are underway in sports media, but data shows there's still a long way to go.

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