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‘Actually pathetic.’ Black journalists are severely underrepresented in the Boston sports media landscape

Scan the locker room at Gillette Stadium, and you'll see mostly white faces interviewing Patriots players. In a region that is 25 percent Black, only 10 percent of full-time sports media professionals in Greater Boston identify as Black.
Scan the locker room at Gillette Stadium, and you'll see mostly white faces interviewing Patriots players. In a region that is 25 percent Black, only 10 percent of full-time sports media professionals in Greater Boston identify as Black.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

If you read, listen, or watch anything to do with the Greater Boston sports scene, there’s only a 1 in 10 chance that a Black person is telling you those stories.

“That’s not representative — that’s actually pathetic,” said Michael Holley, a Black journalist with local experience in newspaper, radio, and television. “You want a range of storytellers, you want a range of ideas to really bring out the best of what we’ve seen here in Boston. I don’t think you can do that if you keep hiring and running into the same patterns and keep hiring the same types of people.”

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In a year in which the United States continued to grapple with its history of systemic racism, in a region with a large Black audience, and in an industry where many Black athletes command the spotlight, Black representation among on-air talent and writers in Greater Boston can be conservatively described as minimal.

Ten percent, or 12 of the 126 full-time TV reporters and anchors, sports radio hosts, play-by-play announcers, analysts, and newspaper and website reporters and columnists in Greater Boston are Black, according to a Globe survey.

Black people comprise 25 percent of the Boston population, and across the state Black people represent 9 percent of the population, according to the latest US Census data.

Michael Holley, a former Globe columnist, is the host of "Brother From Another" with Michael Smith on Peacock.
Michael Holley, a former Globe columnist, is the host of "Brother From Another" with Michael Smith on Peacock.Jamison Wexler

Across the Greater Boston sports media landscape, four of the 13 local television sports reporters or anchors are Black (31 percent), with two from WBZ-TV and one each from WCVB and WHDH.

After that, the numbers dwindle rapidly.

The two sports-only TV channels, NBC Sports Boston and NESN, have three Black regular on-air reporter-analysts (all at NESN) out of 37 (8 percent).

Among the 43 reporters and columnists dedicated to covering sports in newspapers and websites in Greater Boston, only three, all at the Globe, are Black (7 percent).

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At the two sports radio stations, 98.5 The Sports Hub and WEEI, each have one Black voice among the 33 heard on programming and game broadcasts, or 6 percent Black representation.

These figures do not surprise Richard Lapchick.

Lapchick is the director of the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport at the University of Central Florida, where the institute has helped serve as the social conscience of the sports industry, churning out sport-centric racial and gender report cards for years.

When the sports media’s report cards come out, they tend to make the professional sports teams and leagues’ front office diversity numbers sparkle.

“The media is the worst,” said Lapchick, who in 1984 helped found and served as the director at the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University. “They’re getting better representation than they were, but they’re the only report cards where we give F’s in because they’re so bad, especially with women.”

When it comes to gender diversity, 10 percent of the sports media in Greater Boston is female, with Chelsi McDonald, a reporter at Channel 7, the only Black woman. The percentage of white male sports media talent in Greater Boston is 79 percent. There are two Asian writers and two Hispanic TV broadcasters.

A. Sherrod Blakely, now a lecturer at the Boston University College of Communication, was among those laid off at NBC Sports Boston in August.

The sports media diversity numbers here “are not all that shocking or surprising,” said Blakely, a Black journalist. “Boston, for as long as I’ve been here, the media has not been diverse on any level of significance.

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“I love this community, but it’s very disturbing that I’ve been here more than a decade and I can probably count on one hand and still have room to spare the number of people who have come into the sports journalism market here, whereas if you were looking at white counterparts who have come in, it’s significantly more.

“To me, I want to get to the point where a person of color will come into sports in Boston and it will be like, ‘Oh, there’s a new person in the market.’ That doesn’t happen. When a person of color comes into New England, it’s like, ‘Wow, what are you doing here?’ ”

The reason for the disparity and lack of progress is not difficult to discern, said Blakely, who also chairs the diversity-focused Sports Task Force of the National Association of Black Journalists.

“When you have folks in those decision-making positions that look like each other, chances are at the end of the day when the dust settles, the people that they’re going to be surrounded by are going to be the people who look like them,” said Blakely. “There doesn’t seem to necessarily be as great an appetite for folks to be comfortable with being uncomfortable, to bring someone in the fold who isn’t quite like them.

‘When you have folks in those decision-making positions that look like each other, chances are at the end of the day when the dust settles, the people that they’re going to be surrounded by are going to be the people who look like them.”’

A. Sherrod Blakely on hiring practices in sports media

“It’s sad. We’re at a time where diversity is ‘in.’ Having a staff that is closer to reflecting society as a whole, there is an appetite for that. There are some places where maybe they didn’t get that memo.”

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Blakely stressed that he bears no ill will or anger toward anyone at NBC Sports Boston.

“There’s nothing I’m upset about,’' he said. “But right now, they, staff-wise, that is a reflection of their values as a company. If they’re good with that, that’s just what it is.”

The pandemic-blighted economy that led to recent layoffs makes this “a difficult moment to assess” NBC Sports Boston’s diversity efforts, said president and general manager Chris Wayland. “Here in Boston there were some diverse candidates that were part of that restructuring. But I think in general our efforts are earnest and I think they’re good. When we can, we do and we have put together as complete and as diverse a field of candidates as possible.”

Read more: The lack of Black leaders in New England college sports is ‘what institutional and systemic racism look like’

The people who have the strongest voices at the table when it comes to hiring a diverse array of sportswriters, anchors, reporters, and talk-show hosts in Greater Boston are nearly all white.

The top three sports editors at the Globe are white and male; there has never been a Black sports editor. It’s also all white men with a say in who’s hired at the Boston Herald, The Athletic-Boston, and Boston Sports Journal. On the radio, the two program directors are white, the heads of NESN and NBC Sports Boston are white, and the general managers at the five TV affiliates are also white.

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Steve Burton’s sports director title at WBZ-TV makes him the only one of the 12 front-facing Black sports media members with a say on hiring new talent.

Steve Burton has been on air in Boston for more than three decades.
Steve Burton has been on air in Boston for more than three decades.handout

Burton has been on the air in Greater Boston the last 31 years, starting at NESN in 1989. He emphasized “my voice is heard” at WBZ, where its management “makes sure our station’s eyes are open to hiring a broad representation of talent.”

Still, he said he thinks the 10 percent figure “should be higher, especially in today’s times.” Burton stressed the quality of the hire is utmost, “but you want to make it fair for everyone — opportunities should open up.” Burton said he believes “the fans are fair and the audience is fair and I think they would accept new faces coming into Boston.”

Read more: Celtics great Bill Russell wants college sports to go further in commitment to diversity with a universal ‘Russell Rule’

Wayland and Mark Hannon, regional president/market manager at Entercom, parent company of WEEI, both said that at the macro level their companies reach out to assorted groups, including historically Black colleges, the National Urban League, and NABJ, to help find a diverse field of candidates for the rare positions that open up.

Wayland said the company employs diversity, equity, and inclusion experts who are diverse themselves and who do have a seat at the table for all hiring decisions.

Rick Radzik, program director at The Sports Hub, said one key factor for why there is no diversity on the station’s main shows is that there has been virtually no turnover over the years. The station’s hosts are “very good, they’re adaptable, they can adjust, and they can entertain, that is why we’re successful. But that doesn’t mean I’m content and think ‘we’re good, we don’t need to do anything for the next three, four years, we’re good,’ ” he said.

Hannon said “there’s room for improvement” in WEEI’s diversity and cited Entercom’s outreach to diverse groups as a sign that “we’re proactively searching and proactively working hard” to bring diversity to its radio stations where “these jobs don’t come around often.”

“From an operations standpoint, as those opportunities do arise on rare occasions it will be up to us to have a very full and inclusive process as we go through making decisions about the future,” Hannon said.

Larry Lawson is the director of news and coordinating producer at NESN, making him one of the highest-ranking Black managers in sports media in Boston. He is hopeful that the nation’s renewed dialogue on race will lead toward progress. He also said he believes that the Greater Boston market would be receptive to more Blacks telling sports stories. But he is a realist when it comes to the limits of hopes and beliefs.

“This conversation was going on pre-George Floyd,” said Lawson. “I don’t want to mince words too much, but I think a lot of folks want to see action now. It’s time for action. What are we going to do?

“I want to be optimistic, but I need hard-core numbers. I have to see it in the numbers. The numbers won’t lie. And once we see the numbers, then I’ll believe it. I do have hope. This does feel different, but I don’t want it to be the old adage, ‘The more things change, the more they stay the same.’ ”

‘I don’t want to mince words too much but I think a lot of folks want to see action now. It’s time for action. What are we going to do?’

Larry Lawson, director of news and coordinating producer at NESN, on improving diversity numbers among local media

Holley, who regularly appears on NBC Sports Boston, and Michael Smith, formerly with ESPN and the Globe, now not only host their new “Brother From Another” streaming talk show on Peacock, but they’re also executive producers.

“We are now in a position of essentially making sure that when we are hiring and putting people in positions that we’re doing what we’re asking other people to do,” said Holley, who said the task for all media is larger than hiring practices.

“It’s not just about counting numbers, it’s about attitudes — that’s how we get better, just an honest self-examination of why we do what we do, why things are the way they are.”

Dorothy Tucker, president of the NABJ, said that she hears about shrinking newsroom size from CEOs, publishers, and editors, “but because of the racial reckoning we are seeing in this country, I’m hearing from many more who are looking to hire Black journalists, Black editors, and Black producers.

“In my gut, it feels like a sudden rush to find Black talent. And I’ll take that.”


Michael Silverman can be reached at michael.silverman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeSilvermanBB.