The subject of race in sports coverage is a dicey one. The way black athletes are portrayed in the press is often far different than the way their white teammates are (there's the classic example of how black athletes are praised for their natural ability, while whites are praised as hard working). Sports is often viewed as being "beyond race" in that it's a meritocracy - it doesn't matter if your black or white if you can play. But that's often not the case. So it's into this hornets' nest that we learn that Michael Vick was voted as the most hated person in sports in a Forbes poll. Not a huge surprise, all things considered. Those dog-fighting convictions have a way of haunting you.
But Dexter Rogers of the Black Athlete Sports Network views it different. He blames the media for Vick's status. "Yes, Vick made a huge mistake and was vilified for it actions but if Vick were white I feel he’d been cut some slack." (link original.) For Rogers, Ben Roethlisberger should be the most hated man in sports, because of the rape accusations he's faced in the recent past. Rogers even writes that "The media essentially has ignored Big Ben. He’s not been covered with the same level of persistence as Vick. Big Ben has been protected by the white mainstream media and Vick wasn't." (link original.) Ahem.
To say that Rothelisberger (or as Rogers so cutely calls him, Rapelisberger, which does not exactly help his case) wasn't covered "with the same level of persistence as Vick" ignores the wall-to-wall coverage that the major networks gave the case earlier this year. And even if we grant that Vick was covered more persistently than Roethlisberger, we could argue that there's a legit reason for that. Roethlisberger was never charged with a crime (Rogers, in his role as DA, writes that he believes there was more than enough evidence to prosecute.) Vick was prosecuted and convicted by state AND federal authorities for running a dog-fighting ring across state lines. That alone could explain the difference in coverage.
Rogers writes that there is a galling lack of diversity in the sports media, which is overwhelmingly white male. That's undeniable. However, he writes that Vick's selection as the most-hated person in sports is a symptom of that problem. But, here's the rest of the top five of the Forbes list:
2. Al Davis - Old White dude. 3. Ben Roethlisberger - Young White dude. 4. Jerry Jones - Old White dude. 5. Tiger Woods - Young mixed-race dude.
So of the top-five hated people in sports, we had three white men - including two old white men. Davis was ranked just three percentage points behind Vick. The poll does not seem to be as clear an indictment of the white media holding the black athletes down as it might seem at first glance.
Besides, there are studies that show that having a diverse staff in a newsroom doesn't necessarily translate into more diverse views making it into the marketplace of ideas (I apologize for not having the cites).
Look, I'm not defending Roethlisberger. If he did do what he was accused of, he's a low-life. And I thought it was sickening how some members of the media elite - I'm looking at you, Michael Wilbon (who I'm a fan of) - went out of their way to defend Roethlisberger. And I am not objective about Vick. I'm too much of a dog person - if you've seen me around a puppy, or my four-year old mutt Zoey, you know this. Intellectually, I know Vick has paid his debt to society and deserves a second chance. But in my gut, he killed dogs. I can't get past that.
Rogers does raise some valid points about the appalling lack of diversity on sports staffs around the country. The sports media is a white-man's world. And the media (as I'm learning in my research) do as much to create reality as they do report on it. But one poll result does not necessarily indicate institutional racism.
What does everyone else think?