A man earlier this year said to me, “You get into games for free and talk to players. It must be fun.” I quickly pointed out that I pay dearly the price of humiliation and disrespect for such “fun.”
It once was fun covering sports. Nowadays, however, media days and post-game press conferences more resemble White House press briefings. Team media relations folk are more controlling than ever; players and coaches are less accessible than ever. During the recently ended Wolves season, my 30th year of covering them, I too often was subjected to media row musical chairs that other media seemingly didn’t have to go through.
It wasn’t always that way, but this current Wolves media relations regime has mostly treated the local Black media as an afterthought, clustering the few of us together in a ghettoized fashion I call “the Black row.”
Last weekend at the new spaceship-looking soccer stadium in St. Paul’s Midway, there to cover the Minnesota United FC’s first game, we left barely 15 minutes after our arrival. We followed MNUFC media relations protocol and emailed our intention to be in attendance, but I had no press box seat, nor was my name listed anywhere.
They gave me a seat in the “overflow” section facing a nice white wall with no way of seeing the playing field. I left without ever taking off my coat.
Other than the Gophers, the Minnesota Twins, the St. Paul Saints, the MIAC and the Lynx to a certain extent, our coverage is largely marginalized, underestimated and undervalued. It took a couple of “Come to Jesus” meetings with Gophers and Twins staff and higher-ups before they finally understood this reporter’s primary mission of covering their teams.
Then the respect level greatly improved. We politely explained that I provide critical, unbiased analysis and other pieces for our readers, not rah-rah for the home team feel-good stories. I provide a different perspective and context not often found in the mainstream media.
The Lynx, which I have covered for 20 seasons, is respectful depending on who’s in their media relations office at the time. But away from home is remarkably different. WNBA league staff routinely do not differentiate between us and mainstream media types.
The National Collegiate Hockey Conference, which I have covered since its inception, also treats me respectfully even though I don’t cover a specific league team. The MIAC commissioner sought me out recently and praised our coverage of his league.
But back at home, especially with some home teams, my body of work that spans over four decades is instead treated like that of a first-time blogger.
My treatment lately doesn’t compare to that accorded Wendell Smith, who wasn’t allowed to work in the baseball press box when he covered Jackie Robinson’s first Major League Baseball season. Or that of basketball reporter Amber Dodd, who published in February her experience as the only Black reporter covering Mississippi State women’s basketball in hoopfeed.com.
“I’m not the typical face you see in the White-male-dominated [sports media] field… [With] my chocolate-skinned self always standing out,” she recalled, “I didn’t feel welcomed.”
The frequent disrespect by home teams such as the Wolves over the years has built up like journalist scar tissue, hard to ignore. To expect that I should be treated fairly and respectfully isn’t asking too much.
I only want what Aretha demanded in song — a little respect. But these days it’s more like a B.B. King classic — the thrill of covering sports in this town is slowly disappearing.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.