ST. PAUL (AP) -- The media can do a better job of reporting sports news without a racial bias, panelists at a forum sponsored by the Minnesota News Council said Wednesday night.
"I think what the media is doing with some of our athletes, especially African-American athletes, is reinforce stereotypes," said Richard Lapchick, who is white and director of the Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University in Boston.
For example, he said, people often ask why football or basketball players -- who tend to be black -- are more likely to get in fights or be involved in domestic abuse.
But, he said, they don't ask the same questions about hockey players and golfers, who tend to be white.
Mahmoud El Kati, a black Macalester College history professor, said, succintly, "We live in a bigoted and racist society."
McKinley Boston, who is black and resigned as athletic director at the University of Minnesota during the fallout from an academic cheating scandal, said, "Fairness is not necessarily a mantra that the media operates on," he said.
Along with the discussion, the Minnesota News Council presented a report on the media's coverage of several recent sports scandals in Minnesota.
The study, "Reporting in Black and White: Coverage of Coaching Scandals in Minnesota," concluded that perhaps race played a part -- not overtly, but more in the way the questions and stories were framed.
Three main conclusions came out of the report: That there didn't seem to be a racial slant to news coverage in Minnesota; that newspaper coverage critical of white male coaches has less effect on their careers than it has on black coaches; and that news organizations should further explore how racial stereotypes are formed and what can be done to break them.
University of Michigan professor C. Keith Harrison said while he found no blatant racism in the 102 articles he analyzed, the weight of the negative coverage about two black coaches -- former Minnesota basketball coach Clem Haskins and Vikings coach Dennis Green -- created unfairness because of the way white readers might interpret the stories.
The study analyzed whether there was a difference in media coverage for two white coaches and two black coaches -- all with personal and/or professional problems over the past two decades.
There were far more stories written about the black coaches and more were considered "negative" -- that is, they reinforced a stereotype. But Harrison acknowledged that part of the reason more stories were written was simply because the allegations were more serious against the two black coaches.
"Obviously, reporters must tell the facts," the study said. "How they frame the facts is the key."
Don Shelby, an anchor on WCCO-TV and radio in Minneapolis, cautioned that people should not expect the media to shift public thinking alone.
"My concern is ... if a dramatic movement is expected at the hands of the media to change all this, I think we'll be waiting a long time," he said.
He said the audience for news today is different from what it was during the civil rights movement.
"Today television journalism is about the marketing of that which people want to see," he said. "The majority audience does not want to be told they're racist."
Jay Weiner, a white sports reporter for the Star Tribune of Minneapolis, said the culture of sport writing, too, has changed over the years.
"We have in sports journalism today, for better or for worse, an adversarial relationship with the players," he said. "We are not pals with the players."
He said the change might be an inevitable part of reporters covering sports with the same skepticism they bring to coverage of government and business.
Still, "in general, I don't think we are out to get people," Weiner said.
The study and the forum were paid for by a $20,000 grant from the Ford Foundation.
On the Net:
Minnesota News Council: http://www.mtn.org/newscouncil
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.