ESPN is not unlike other U.S. institutions, too often creating and maintaining a toxic workplace for Blacks. The four-letter sports behemoth is not different in falsely believing that hiring Black women and men only checks off diversity workforce boxes. This often presents as assumptions that we are ‘less than’ made by non-Blacks disguised in code words publicly, then whispered loudly behind closed doors.
Whether it’s sports media, education, Tiddlywinks, whatever, cultural conditioning is deeply entrenched in American society, in the hearts and minds of White decision-makers who hire, as well as so-called White allies in their “Smiling Faces Sometimes” poses based on the ‘70s classic hit: They pretend to be your friends…but beware the pat on the back.
Sideline reporter Rachel Nichols’ nearly-year-old private comments, not knowing that her tape recorder was still on, about Maria Taylor being promoted ahead of her for a hosting job was made public in a New York Times article a couple of weeks ago. The Times reported that Nichols, who is White, inferred that Taylor, who is Black, was only a network analyst and host because ESPN felt pressured “about [its] crappy longtime record on diversity.”
The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) last week called for a meeting with ESPN officials and folks from Disney, who owns ESPN, on its “toxic culture of bias” at its Bristol, Connecticut compound. Black Twitter and others came out in waves in support of Taylor, against Nichols as well as against ESPN.
“ESPN isn’t the only company guilty of having a culture that isn’t exactly conducive to Black advancement,” said former ESPNer and award-winning journalist Jemele Hill in one of a long string of tweets.
The MSR reached out to a Black female sports journalist, a longtime academic, and a friend of this column for their respective responses on what happened to Taylor, who is seeking a new contract with ESPN.
“I love my job. I love what I do,” said multimedia journalist Terrika Foster-Brasby. “[It] is mentally draining… I’m tired of constantly having to be better than everyone at everything all the time…and we have to do it with grace.
“Being a Black woman in media is hard,” said Foster-Brasby. “Being a Black woman in sports media—even harder. And speaking up makes you an angry bi**h.”
“The larger discussion is this: Everybody knows how vulnerable Black women are in the workplace,” said former MSR contributor and WCCO talk show host Sheletta Brundidge. “I don’t know how many letters I get from WCCO Radio listeners that say I only got an on-air show at The Good Neighbor Station after George Floyd was killed because I’m Black. That’s not including the hateful messages that come through the station’s text line and the phone calls where they tell me to go back to KMOJ with my own people.”
“They completely discount my stellar 21-year career in broadcasting in both television and radio, my Emmy Award, my two Associated Press Edward R. Murrow Awards. I’m the only person at WCCO Radio who can simultaneously run the board while hosting a show as well as producing it and at the same time taking callers while doing social media in real-time. Nobody else. Not one other host can do that.”
Dr. Akilah Carter-Francique of San Jose State University, when asked if Black females are being attacked these days more than usual, said, “I think we’re always been attacked. We’ve always sort of been at the center of some of these conversations, but nobody has taken the time to really recognize our humanity. It’s an ongoing exhaustive experience.”
The African American Studies associate professor and executive director of the school’s Institute for the Study of Sport, Society and Social Change shared a simple but longstanding fact: No matter what profession, Black females can’t ignore the systemic racism, sexism, “and the intersectionality of all these things” virtually on a daily basis. Historically they have been treated like they are invaders with no recognized credentials.
“These are the challenges that we face,” said Carter-Francique. “So age does not protect you. Education, as we’re seeing, does not protect you, and years of experience does not protect you.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.