Sportswriter finds himself invisible even in his hometown

This column continues the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as the only African American journalist on the scene.

AnotherViewsquareDETROIT , Mich. — The “Mindy factor”— coined after the 2014 Super Bowl commercial featuring actress Mindy Kaling playing a woman who everyone treats as invisible —  reared its ugly, insensitive head once again, this time not in Minnesota but in Motown.

After Monday’s Minnesota bowl win at Ford Field, the Only One returned to the stadium press box to wrap things up. While standing at my assigned seat, a man asked to be excused to go by me. Then the man passed out final stats to every media person sitting in my row — all Whites — except to me.

The new Invisible Man at work in the Twins press box Photo by Charles Hallman
Photo by Charles Hallman

I had to chase the guy down, with the help of a Detroit Lion staff person who I met a day earlier, to get this guy’s attention. I then asked why I didn’t get a sheet. His response was something along the line, “You had a blue shirt, so I thought you worked here.”

To him, it was an honest mistake. To me it was a White privilege assumption on his part. He couldn’t fathom that a Black man might be credentialed as a reporter in the press box.

Without being profane, the stat sheet passer got a verbal beat-down. Like a boxer whose opponent is on the ropes, I went at him with a flurry of statements that left him helplessly stunned.

“I didn’t mean to insult you,” said the man. But no matter how hard he tried to backpedal, I gave him no wiggle room.  “I’m 6-foot-5 and a half. I’m Black. I was the first person you saw in the row. I couldn’t be here unless I am a reporter,” he heard from the Only One.

Twice before that, two White people after the game asked me how to get somewhere in the stadium. I guess when all you see are Blacks all around the stadium working, it’s a natural reflex by some Whites to see a “May I Help You?” birthmark on anyone who’s Black.

The stat guy’s snub was strike three.

Getting the “Mindy” treatment in Minnesota is one thing — I am almost immune to that these days. But in my hometown, nearly 15 minutes from where I was born six decades ago and where my mom and I spent my first 14 days, getting the “Mindy” with three days left before the new year was a Marvin Gaye experience — it makes you want to holler and put up both your hands.

This guy, whose job is to pass out white paper to mostly White reporters in a press box, couldn’t understand, no matter how apologetic he felt he was, why his supposedly innocent slap in the face was so upsetting to this reporter. He and the other White media members and others in close proximity, within earshot, heard my disgust as well. I left an impression for the ages.

Just like the Mindy character in the commercial, the stat man treated me in like fashion. It didn’t even occur to him to take a moment and ask if I wanted a stat sheet or not. He passed me by like a Dionne Warwick song. I wonder how many other non-Whites he had done this to before.

I left the area with his face still in shock after the brief tongue lashing he got. It didn’t hurt him nearly as much as did his treatment to this longtime reporter Monday night.


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