Sports broadcasters of color on the rise

The number of people of color in radio and television broadcasting roles for NBA teams this season reached an all-time high according to the “2012

Racial and Gender Report Card” (RGRC) by the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport. Blacks made up 19 percent, two percent more than 2010-11, and women broadcasters were up one percent over that same period, from three percent to four.

Overall, 31 percent of NBA broadcasters are of color, the report reveals.

Adia Barnes
Photo by Sophia Hantzes

Although RGRC author Richard Lapchick hasn’t yet released this year’s WNBA report card, it’s safe to assume that broadcasters of color aren’t nearly as high there. Adia Barnes is one of the league’s few Black women broadcasters as a color analyst for the Seattle Storm. She played seven seasons (1998-2004), including one season with Minnesota (1999), and earned two W championship rings — one as a Storm player in 2004, and her second as a Seattle broadcaster in 2010.

“When I was playing, I had a couple of opportunities to do NBA TV to call a playoff game,” recalls Barnes. She later accepted an offer to join the Seattle broadcast team after she retired in 2005.

“I had never done radio in my life, but I thought it’s a great chance to stay around the game, work on my skills, and see if I like it,” admits Barnes, who does both Storm radio and television broadcasts. “I got better every year.”

“Television is a lot more fun as an analyst, not because you are on camera, but it’s 70 percent analysis and 30 percent play-by-play,” she explains. “It’s the opposite on radio, because people can’t see the game on radio, so the play-by-play [announcer] has to explain a lot more, and there’s less time for the analyst to analyze and talk. I think they’re both great, and a great chance for a player to talk about the game they love.”

At a National Association of Black Journalists convention a while back, many Black journalists complained that former pro athletes were taking jobs away from “classically trained” journalists, those who have gone to school to become media members and paid dues along the way. I listened with amusement to the spirited discussion, because it was a divide-and-conquer strategy used by Da Man — watch us fight over the few crumbs they offer rather than the entire broadcasting pie, or at least a truly representative piece of it.


“If you really want to do it, you have to

start little and work your way up.”


I admit there are some former athletes-turned-analysts who embarrass themselves because they can’t translate their athletic knowledge into language the viewer can understand. Also, Da Man too often hires White females simply for their looks, and they too aren’t properly prepared to do the job. Meanwhile, Black females who paid long and hard dues in this business aren’t given the same chances as their less talented White counterparts.

Former WNBA player Chasity Melvin recently became the first female participant in the five-year history of Sportscaster U, a broadcasting training program at Syracuse University for current NBA players. Each participant pays his or her own way to the four-day session, says adjunct professor and Syracuse play-by-play announcer Mark Park.

“When they come to us, we know that they know basketball,” Park told me. “We work on the presentation and polish of it.”

Melvin, a communications major at North Carolina State, “knows the game — she has potential,” said Park.

“You don’t see a lot of people of color [in broadcasting],” continues Barnes, “but if you aspire to do it and really want to do it, you have to start in college where there’s different opportunities where you can do local stuff.”

“I think for former WNBA players there are a lot of opportunities in this type of field, whether it’s going to your old team like I did, or going to your old college. I was someone who prepared for the transition” from player to broadcaster.

Barnes advises young Black females who wish to go into broadcasting (which, she points out, is “extremely competitive”) to start as early as possible. “If you really want to do it, you have to start little and work your way up,” she says.

Being a career broadcaster is not for everyone. “I want to be a head coach someday,” says Barnes, who is also a University of Washington assistant women’s basketball coach. “I feel that I can analyze on the side. I never thought it would be a career.”


Did you know…?

Name the Minnesota Timberwolves’ first and only Black television play-by-play person. (Answer in next week’s “View.”)

Answer to last week’s question: Can you name a historical footnote that occurred this season in the NBA?  According to the 2012 RGRC, there were more head coaches of color (53 percent) than White head coaches for the first time in NBA history. Black head coaches represented 47 percent of all league head coaches, the highest percentage since 2001-02.


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to