Dexter Rogers

Dexter Rogers

Monday, January 24, 2011

Pittsburgh Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger Evades Media Scrutiny, Seeks Third Ring

Ben Roethlisberger is on the cusp of leading the Pittsburgh Steelers to another Super Bowl appearance.  All he has to do is lead his team past the persistent Green Bay Packers in two weeks.

Roethlisberger has quietly positioned himself to win as many Super Bowls as the New England Patriots’ Tom Brady.

Roethlisberger has been characterized by the media as a leader. He’s hailed as the guy who can evade the rush, play through injuries and make big plays when it counts the most.

By most accounts, Big Ben has had a great year.  He’s passed for 3,200 yards and 17 touchdowns with just five interceptions.  Roethlisberger’s totals would be higher, but he missed the first four games because he violated the NFL’s personal conduct policy.

Anyone remember?

Based on how the media has protected and praised Roethlisberger, it doesn’t seem like he’s missed any time at all.

Unlike African-American athletes Tiger Woods, LeBron James, Michael Vick and Terrell Owens, Roethlisberger has been given the ultimate pass by the sports media.

What else do you expect from a mainstream sports media that is lily-white?

When 94, 88 and 89 of the sports editors, columnists and reporters are white, one can logically expect whites to get preferential treatment.

I have been consistent in stating why I feel the latter is true, and I will continue to do so: Big Ben has received preferential treatment because of a combination of his celebrity, complexion and media protection.

Roethlisberger plays for one of the storied franchises in professional sports.  Personally, I am not a Steelers fan, but I give respect when respect is due.  But on an individual level, I find it difficult to respect the likes of Roethlisberger.

The Steelers are arguably the best franchise in NFL history.  I have always had high regard for the Rooney family and how they run their franchise.

I respect the Steelers for giving Joe Gilliam a chance to start at quarterback in 1974.  Most NFL franchises were reluctant to have African-American quarterbacks on their team, let alone as starters.  While Gilliam’s stint at quarterback was cut short, the Rooney family and the great Chuck Noll gave him an opportunity most teams would not.

I respect the Steelers for giving a relative unknown in Mike Tomlin a chance to flourish.  Tomlin is just the third head coach in Steelers history.  He has already won a Super Bowl and is gearing up for another one. The Steelers are a first-rate franchise.  They win the right way, and players are rarely embroiled in controversy.

The Steelers typically draft players who fit their brand.  That being said, while Roethlisberger is a solid quarterback, he surely does not fit the Steelers mold.  Roethlisberger has been accused of sexual assault at least two times and has consistently displayed behavior that is unbecoming of an NFL quarterback.

The Steelers will be facing former Steelers wide receiver and Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes. Holmes had some off-the-field issues like Roethlisberger.  Those issues were cited as why he was essentially gift wrapped and handed to the Jets for a fifth-round draft pick.

It can be asserted Roethlisberger’s behavior was just as detrimental to the team, yet the Steelers made Holmes an example, but they kept Roethlisberger.

Why?

What’s good for the goose should be good for the gander.

Most of us know there are different strokes for different folks.  Bottom line: White athletes in the media like Roethlisberger are often cut slack, while African-American athletes like Holmes are shafted unfairly.

Even ESPN admitted as such.  They showcased a poll during a round-table discussion in celebrating the legacy of Mr. Luther King, Jr. last week.  The poll indicated African-American athletes like Michael Vick were disliked more than whites like Roethlisberger.  A strong contributing factor how the athletes were viewed resulted from the inequitable media coverage provided.

Slice the pie as you wish, Roethlisberger has clearly been protected.  The Steelers sent him to detention, the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell slapped him on the wrist and the media sent him to his room without dinner.

Meanwhile, the other quarterback in Pennsylvania who wears No. 7 has been scrutinized beyond measure.  Michael Vick is two years removed from prison, yet he still is scrutinized by a segment of the mainstream resulting from the persistent coverage of the media.

Despite Vick’s stellar play and contributions he’s making off the field, he is still viewed as a convict who should have been “executed”, as FOX personality Tucker Carlson put it.

Vick has been subject to newspaper headlines such as “Con Vick” and “Top Dog”.

Has Roethlisberger been subject to such scrutiny?

Was Big Ben subject to headlines such as “Rapelisberger?”

Has Roethlisberger been consistently interviewed by networks about his rehab, rocky past or his sexual assault allegations?

No.

As Roethlisberger tries to keep the Steelers on track to win their record seventh Super Bowl, he has benefited from the witness protection program the media placed him in.

While I have a great deal of respect for the Steelers organization, I don’t subscribe to how they—along with the NFL and the media—allowed Roethlisberger back into the fold without paying the media piper.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

NFL: Jim Harbaugh, The Rooney Rule, and the Good Ole Boy Network

Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh has his pick of NFL and NCAA jobs.  In my opinion Harbaugh has it going on because of his complexion, his days as a quarterback in the NFL and the good old boys network. 

Yeah, I know.  Dexter is playing the race card again right?

Not so.  Just bear with me.

Harbaugh is a Michigan man.  He played quarterback there before embarking on his 15-year NFL career.  All he has to do is sneeze and he can have the job if he wants it. 

Harbaugh has amassed 59-27 overall record but he just a 29-21 record at Stanford.   He did most of his damage at San Diego where he was 29-6.

Why is everyone so enamored with Harbaugh? 

Rumor has it Harbaugh met with the San Francisco 49ers for five hours yesterday and he met with the Miami Dolphins today.  Last time I checked the Dolphins still have a head coach.

Reports have consistently surfaced that Harbaugh is the hottest coach out there.  ESPN even suggested the Dolphins are prepared to make Harbaugh the highest paid coach in the NFL.

Based on what?

There is a rule in place called the Rooney Rule.  NFL franchises are mandated to interview at least one minority candidate for any head coaching or upper-management position. 

The NFL should actually change the name of the rule to the “Good Old Boy Network Rule.”   It appears it is not about a coach’s ability to coach: It is their ability to establish connections because of their complexion.

Teams like the Dolphins and 49ers have made their intentions clear they want Harbaugh.   What inclination does an African-American candidate have to interview with teams that have made it clear they are want someone else?

Leslie Frazier finally got a shot with the Minnesota Vikings when they removed the interim tag from his name.  Frazier finally got the opportunity to show what he could when the organization ridded themselves of the embattled Brad Childress.

In my opinion Frazier was used over the past seven years as the guy to fulfill the Rooney Rule requirement: He was interviewed by teams knowing they already had their guy in place. 

The preeminent example was last season.  The Seattle Seahawks knew they wanted Pete Carroll.  That is who they hired.   Frazier himself had this to say about the Seahawks and the interview process, "With those interviews that I was in back in January, I went into them with the best intentions, based on advice I got from key people, and just tried to approach it the right way.” 

Frazier continued, “Now, I can't answer for ownership, you know, what they were looking for and what they wanted out of the interviews. But I went into it believing each one would be a legitimate interview."

Frazier was asked specifically which team (the Seahawks) he felt wasn’t a legitimate interview and he issued the following: "I don't want to say which team, but one of them I was a little concerned about, and we went right down to the wire about whether I should even do the interview," he said. "On one of them, I left just wondering."

Let me be clear here.  Part of the reason Harbaugh is a hot commodity is because he is solid coach but he is not great.  The media is acting like he is the second coming of Vince Lombardi. 

If Harbaugh were African-American with the same credentials would the media be so excited?
Furthermore, what makes Harbaugh so attractive to teams is his complexion and his ability to establish the right connections.

Dolphins owner Stephen Ross is a Michigan man.  According to ESPN Ross has donated over $100 million to the University of Michigan. 

Harbaugh played quarterback at Michigan and the Dolphins want him despite the fact they have a coach in place in Tony Sparano.  The Dolphins have disrespected Sparano and the Rooney Rule.

In case of the Rooney Rule, why have it in place when franchises don’t respect it?

The Dolphins can’t use Frazier for token interviews anymore.  I am quite sure teams will round up some potential African-American interview candidates and essentially waste their time. 

But perhaps the Dolphins will pull a Matt Millen and simply not comply with the rule and hire who they want.  In 2003 the Detroit Lions’ Millen was in charge of personnel decisions.  On of those decisions was to hire a head coach.  Millen wanted Steve Mariucci so bad he did not interview any minority candidates. 

The NFL fined the Lions $200,000 and they got the coach they wanted.

With all of the vacancies rumored to be opening up not one legitimate African-American candidate is mentioned.  My guess once the dust settles few if any African-American coaches will get an opportunity to show what they can do.

I personally don’t think the Rooney Rule is working properly.  It is not creating a genuine pipe line for African-American coaches to get opportunities.

Despite the flaws one has to look at the success of African-American coaches have had at the highest level.  In the past five seasons Tony Dungy and Mike Tomlin won Super Bowls as head coaches.  Lovie Smith guided the Chicago Bears to Super Bowl in 2006 where faced off against his friend and mentor Tony Dungy.

This season Raheem Morris led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 10-6 record with second year quarterback in Josh Freeman.

On the executive the General Manager of the New York Giants guided his team to a Super Bowl in 2007. 

When African-American head coaches and executives have received genuine opportunities far more times than not they have succeeded.

The Rooney Rule is supposed to lead to more opportunities for minorities: As it stands right now it is merely showing that the good old boy network is still the rule that matters most.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Michael Vick, Tucker Carlson: Analyst Out of Line Calling for Vick's Execution

Fox News commentator and animal rights activist Tucker Carlson recently suggested Michael Vick should be executed for the dogs he killed and tortured that resulted in him being incarcerated.

Carlson also took a jab at President Barack Obama. Carlson finds it hard to believe that President Obama would endorse Vick’s second chance based on his past.

Carlson issued the following: “I’m Christian. I’ve made mistakes. I believe fervently in second chances. Michael Vick killed dogs in a heartless and cruel way. I think, firstly, he should have been executed for that. The idea the president of the United States would be getting behind someone who murdered dogs is beyond the pale.”

The sad thing about Carlson’s comments is there are some who embrace his line of reasoning.

Regardless, the NFL and the Philadelphia Eagles organization felt Vick deserved a second chance. Now he has it, and he is taking it all the way. But let’s keep it real. Vick is getting a second chance because he is helping his team win games. His MVP-type play this season is putting butts in the seats.

What would the media write if the Eagles were 6-10 and out of the playoffs?

Personally I am over what Vick did in the past. But a segment of white America still cannot embrace a man who shot, electrocuted and drowned dogs getting a second chance.

Vick paid his societal debt. He continues to speak out against dog fighting and is playing great football. Despite the latter, he is still scrutinized by the likes of Carlson for moving on with his life.

What more can Vick do to atone?

While it is next to impossible to apply logic to idiotic statements from the likes of Carlson, I will attempt to provide clarity to illustrate his utter lunacy.

To put Vick’s actions into perspective, it is vital to reflect upon a time in American history where unthinkable crimes were committed humans. Unlike Vick, no one to date has ever been brought to justice for those crimes. Nor has anyone suggested they should be executed.

In many segments of American society, it’s never talked about because the subject is taboo. The most monstrous crime ever committed in American history is allowing the institution of slavery to thrive in a so-called free democratic society.

One might wonder what slavery has to do with sports or Michael Vick. Well, if history is properly examined, it is clear American slavery set the stage for much of what we see today in society and sports.

During the rise of American slavery, human beings in Africa were kidnapped from their homeland, stripped of their culture and language and forced into a life of servitude.

During the early 1600s upon slave ships, Africans weren’t treated as humans because there were considered chattel. The chattel was aboard those ships headed for America for the purposes of providing free labor for their masters.

Slaves were chained together with barely enough room to move an inch. During their voyage slaves were forced to eat their own defecation if they refused to eat food provided on the ship. If they still refused, slaves were beaten, tortured and then thrown overboard into the sea.

Child and infant slaves who refused to eat were beaten to near death. If they were deemed to be disobedient, planks were tied around their little necks, and they were thrown overboard into the sea like the elder slaves.

These were human beings, mind you, not dogs.

Once upon land, slaves were taken to the “breaking grounds” in the Caribbean. Those slaves who survived the voyage were forced into submission by way of torture. Methods employed were extremely heinous.
One specific tactic oppressors utilized was to tie slaves’ limbs (arms and legs) to adjoining trees tightly. If they refused submission, the ropes were cut, thus ripping their limbs from their body. This act was performed in front of their family and other slaves to instill fear.

Another method involved pregnant slaves. They had ropes tied around their ankles and were hung upside down from a tree. With other slaves and the woman’s family present, the slave’s stomach was cut open with a knife. Once the baby fell from the mother’s stomach to the ground, the offspring was stomped to death, and the mother’s fate followed.

Once in America, slaves were forced to tirelessly work from sunup to sundown with no compensation. This arrangement went on for over four centuries.

We are talking about human beings, mind you, not dogs.

Read The American Slave Trade by John R. Spears for more specific accounts on the heinous institution of American slavery.

The debilitating and criminal deeds perpetrated by slave masters were allowed to flourish on the watch of the “Founding Fathers.” Thomas Jefferson was busy authoring the Declaration of Independence, yet simultaneously he had slaves in his backyard and fathered seven children by a slave.

Such heinous and consistent crimes of kidnapping, murder and criminal confinement have never been talked about to any substantial degree in any public forum, the public education system or institutions of higher learning.

It’s bewildering that a segment of this country can be in such an uproar over some animals compared to the millions upon millions of slaves killed and the others that were treated as subhuman for centuries.

A more contemporary example is what’s been happening in Darfur the last eight years. No one talks about the slaughter of approximately 500,000 Africans in the name of genocide. China funds the Sudanese government, which in turn buys weapons that they utilize to kill innocent Africans.

Yet America allowed its athletes to participate in the Olympics in Beijing, China in 2008?

Hypocrisy.

How would Carlson characterize the bitter cruelties human beings endured for which no one has ever been brought to justice, like Vick was for killing dogs?

Does Carlson believe a dog's life has greater value than an African-American life?

It is agreed Vick’s actions were despicable. But if what Vick did in the past is so heinous, how would Carlson characterize what transpired during the rise of American slavery?

Carlson, though ignorant, has the right to express how he feels. But if he believes Vick should be executed for killing some dogs, he should be asked for reaction about America's checkered past.

I believe Carlson’s comments about Michael Vick and the President of the United States were totally out of line. I know there are some who agree with my assessment.

The sad thing is there are those who embrace Carlson’s vantage point as well.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

The White World of Sports Journalism

January is a month of sports news. From college bowl games to NFL playoffs, we hide from the cold and indulge our inner fanatics. As someone who’s made a career of chronicling sports, it’s both an exciting and troubling time, because it reminds me that sports media remains a bastion of white privilege in journalism. 

I covered my first World Series in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 2008 at Tropicana Field, when the Tampa Bay Rays squared off against the Philadelphia Phillies. As I walked into the stadium, it was packed with fans and full of energy, and I was reminded of my love for the beat I work. But when I made my way to the press box, I suddenly realized the real story wasn’t on the field.

As I entered press row, I was first shocked by how many journalists were there—nearly 1,000—and then more stunned by how few of them looked like me, a person of color.  So while most of the writers on hand for Game 1 were watching the play with a keen eye, I spent my time researching the industry pioneers who set the table for African-American writers like myself today. I had nine innings to identify just how lily white the sports media has always been, and to chronicle how little has changed in terms of diversity over time. 

It’s clear African Americans, and people of color broadly, have made strides as athletes. Jackie Robinson’s signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947 sparked even greater African-American participation in the National Football League and, later, the National Basketball Association. Notably, Robinson’s entry into Major League Baseball not only helped begin the methodical task of integrating professional sports, it helped tear down the color bar for the entire country as well. 

American Newsrooms in the 1940s were as segregated as the society they reported on. Unable to be hired by white-owned newspapers, African-American journalists instead worked largely for predominately black-owned newspapers. But a handful of African-American writers like Wendell Smith, Joe Bostic and Sam Lacy still wielded their pens to push baseball toward integration. 

In the 1940’s, writers like Lacy, who wrote for 60 years for the Baltimore Sun, were granted media credentials to cover Major League games, but were sometimes denied entry into the press box. On other occasions, whites allowed Lacy to cover games from the dugout—sitting on top of it. 

Today, the number of African-American journalists writing at mainstream outlets remains appallingly low. According to the Institute of Diversity and Ethics in Sports, whites account for 94 percent of sports editors, 89 percent of assistant sports editors, 88 percent of columnists, 87 percent of reporters and 89 percent of copy editors.  As a result, the vast majority of what we digest about professional sports—which are dominated by black athletes—is written, edited and reported by white journalists.

The NBA’s players are 80 percent black. In the NFL, African Americans are 68 percent of players, and they are 10 percent in Major League Baseball. Meanwhile, according to the Associated Press Sports Editors, African Americans make up just 10.6 percent of all sports positions at mainstream newspapers.  This lack of diversity often contributes to inaccurate and flawed reporting on African-American athletes.

The largest sports story of 2010 was NBA star LeBron James’ much-maligned decision to move from the Cleveland Cavaliers to the Miami Heat. Seemingly endless hours of airtime have been filled by chronicling fans’ outrage at James abandoning Cleveland, but very little coverage has explored the racially tinged nature of that uproar.  It took CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, who identifies as biracial and is not a sports journalist, to ask James about race. O’Brien asked James if he thought race was a factor in the tone fans were taking about his business decision. “I think so, at times. There’s always, you know, a race factor,” James responded. His manager Maverick Carter put a finer point on it: “It definitely played a role in some of the stuff coming out of the media, things that were written for sure.” 

Later, James revealed Twitter messages backing up his claim. One of the Tweets characterized James as a “”a big nosed big lipped bug eyed (racial slur). Ur greedy, u try to hide ur ghettoness,” according to ESPN. 

Few sports reporters followed up on the story with questions about if and how race plays a role in the way in which fans react to the overwhelmingly black athletes they watch on television. Nor has anyone explored why white athletes like, say, NFL quarterback Brett Farve maintain enormous popularity and good-guy reputations despite well-documented off-the-field bad behavior, while black athletes like James become synonymous with bad sportsmanship. 

Amid the James story last year, a Q Score poll came out ranking public opinion about athletes. The six most-hated were all black: Michael Vick, Tiger Woods, Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Where are the likes of Ben Roethlisberger, Roger Clemens, Lance Armstrong and Mark McGwire, all of whom have been in trouble with the law, had doping scandals or otherwise shown bad behavior on or off the field in recent years?

Where are the white guys?

Sports reporters and editors showed no curiosity about this question.  Richard Lapchick is the director for the Instituted of Diversity and Ethics in Sports. He suggests media diversity can enhance the overall quality of sports reporting—both in getting things right and in finding more interesting story lines than the I-hate-LeBron-James drumbeat of 2010. “The chance to make the stories more interesting and, in some cases, more accurate, should be apparent,” says Lapchick. “In addition to the writing of the stories, the assigning of the stories by a sports editor might take a different angle in coverage if there was a team more representative of our athletes and coaches making those decisions.” 

So why, then, aren’t there more people of color on the sports desks of mainstream news?  “Exposure and retention are huge issues,” said ESPN’s Jemele Hill, who is black, when I asked her that question. “A lot of our kids think the only way they can be connected to the game is by playing or coaching it. We have to show them there’s another way.” 

But it’s not just about choices would-be journalists of color make; it’s also about who their erstwhile employers recruit, train and promote. And on that score, history reveals white powers-that-be are slow to change unless they are either forced to do so or they spot an economic benefit from it. Integrating Major League Baseball, for instance, infused the league with new fans. When African-American players began integrating white teams, attendance dropped for Negro League games because many of the best players, like Roy Campanella and Don Newcombe, were fleeing to sign Major League contracts. African-American fans followed their favorite ballplayers, and this wider audience made Major League teams more profitable. 

I also asked ESPN’s Hill if African-American writers have a responsibility to talk openly about these structural forces that keep press boxes so white. Her answer sums up why I spent that 2008 World Series writing about race rather than base hits, and why my mind is there instead of on the gridiron this January.  “We would look foolish if we maintained silence just to make ourselves or others comfortable,” Hill offered. “Our job is to speak for those who don’t have a voice and tell uncomfortable truths.” 

This article was first published in Colorlines. 

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