It’s rare these days at sporting events to sit with someone who clearly remembers when reporting was more than blogs and tweets. When players and coaches weren’t shielded by team protectors and didn’t talk in 15-second post-game sound bites. When reporters knew it was more important to tell the reader what really happened rather than showing how smart they are.
We didn’t sit on a park bench, but rather in the media room at Detroit’s Joe Louis Arena: two veteran Black sportswriters — me and William “Butch” Davis — swapping stories about the golden age of sports in the 1960s and 1970s. We also learned that both our birthdays are in the same fourth month of the year.
“The best game I ever saw was when Dave Bing dunked on Nate Thurmond,” recalled Davis, a sports editor and reporter at the Telegraph News, a suburban Detroit weekly, of the clash of two eventual Hall of Famers. Over his two-decades-plus career, Davis covered the 2000 Olympics in Australia among major events, as well as all the Detroit pro sports teams for his paper and other outlets, including the BBC. “Thirty-two years of doing this, you get to see a whole lot of stuff.”
Communications and sports are in his blood. His father, William Davis, Jr., owned a local radio and television business in Ecorse, a Detroit suburb, and his mother when she was younger ran track in Louisville, Kentucky. Their son played four sports as a youngster and earned a football scholarship at Portland State University, where he studied labor relations and radio and television.
One of his mentors at a Portland television station where he interned was Bill O’Reilly, now a conservative darling on Fox. “Bill O’Reilly is a Republican and I’m Black. I know him personally, and [he] taught me the business,” noted Davis. “I owe him a whole heck of a lot.”
We also commiserated about having to constantly prove ourselves to both mainstream media and team PR types alike as we do our jobs covering sports for our respective weeklies. “I’ve seen some improvement” over the years, but at times “it’s been a tuggle and a struggle,” said Davis, who remembered when the Detroit Tigers for five years wouldn’t give him full credentials. I remember the Gophers giving me similar hassles years ago.
He could cover games but wasn’t allowed in the clubhouse afterwards because he wrote for a weekly, continued Davis. “When you’re a reporter, you should have the right to cover the game from beginning to end. You should be able to do your job, and part of that job is to cover the game and get all the facts. If you can’t get that personal touch by talking to that player or coach like any other [media] individual can, it takes away from what you can do.”
It eventually took a change in the Tigers’ PR office, along with help from such friends as O’Reilly, who “made phone calls or threatened to mention it on their television show[s]” for his clubhouse “exile” to finally end, he pointed out.
“I don’t get mad about it,” but he advises those who want to get into this business, especially those who are non-White, not to “let anybody discourage you.”
His teenage niece, who lives in Philadelphia, proved her mettle last summer: “I’m very proud of her,” boasted Davis of Little League pitcher Mo’ne Davis — a typical Davis according to her sportswriter-uncle.
Next week: a conversation with the Godfather of Sports Talk
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.