There are too many “only’s” when it comes to Black play-by-play announcers in sports.
The Ringer’s Bryan Curtis reported in July that among over 100 minor league baseball announcers, “only a tiny handful of Black[s]” existed in 2019. Writer David Jones earlier in June found no Blacks among the 130 Football Bowl Subdivision college football teams doing play-by-play. Darrell Thompson has been the Gophers radio analyst since 1998.
Despite Blacks constituting the majority of its players, only one of the 30 NBA teams had a Black play-by-play television announcer in 2019-20, Chicago’s Eric Collins. Canadian native Meghan McPeak is the only Black play-by-play in both the NBA G-League (Capital City) and a WNBA team (Washington), as well as the only female television play-by-play for a pro basketball team.
Fellow Canadian native Paul Jones (Toronto) is a part-time television announcer, and his brother Mark Jones is the only Black NBA play-by-play announcer on two cable networks, ESPN and Turner Sports. McPeak and the Joneses are among less than a dozen play-by-play announcers of color in North America.
Earlier this month the Seattle NHL expansion team that will start playing in 2021-22 announced the hiring of Everett Fitzhugh as their main play-by-play guy—the only Black full-time hockey announcer in any North American professional hockey league. Fitzhugh previously did play-by-play for the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones.
Too many “only’s” may seem oxymoronic, but sadly when it comes to Blacks it’s so true. If Black voices were few before COVID-19, with games now being called remotely by announcers due to the pandemic will voices of color become even fewer in post-COVID sports media?
“I realized when I was in high school and college that there are a lot less people that look like me doing this,” admitted Victor Anderson, who started his broadcasting career in the early 2000s as an 18-year-old freshman at Central Florida. He has called games for Saint Leo (Fla.) University and football for ESPN+ when Stetson (Fla.) University plays for the past two seasons. He also has done play-by-play for Rollins (Fla.) College for eight seasons.
Anderson said he always wanted to do play-by-play, practicing in front of relatives whenever games were on television. “I [would] always say I wanted to be a broadcaster for ESPN when I grow up,” he recalled. “It was something that was ingrained that I wanted to do.”
Two veteran voices of color Anderson used for modeling purposes were Gus Johnson “with his energy and how he really was dynamic in his delivery,” and the aforementioned Mark Jones, whose usage of “urban slang” impressed Anderson.
“Those were the two guys I looked [to as models],” said Anderson, who added Greg Gumbel on that rarefied list. Gumbel was the first and remains the only Black to call a Super Bowl (2001) on American television.
Anderson has honed his craft, partly by learning from mistakes and using the old non-White mantra: Work twice as harder to get hired and stayed hired. “I realized that I had to do different things to really make myself stand out from my other colleagues,” he pointed out. “I had to go through student-run radio stations to get those experiences, to get those football and basketball games.”
On post-coronavirus sports, “I’ve had experience with remote broadcasting in the past. It won’t be a problem for me personally if that presents itself again,” Anderson surmised. “The great broadcasters are going to adjust.”
That’s a “great broadcasters” list he wants to be a part of. “You have to connect with the audience, no matter what sport you do. If you don’t have that connection with the viewer, that is going to mess up everything that you are trying to do.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.