[Editor’s Note: In an earlier edition of the article, Mr. Spears was quoted incorrectly in regards to a quote about the hiring process in the sports industry. The quote has been corrected to match Mr. Spears’ original intent.]
Marc Spears, a Yahoo! sports writer for nearly 21 years, warned an audience of Penn State Students about the importance of being resilient regarding instances of race and discrimination in the sports journalism industry on Wednesday.
Spears is considered an industry leader on the interplay between race and sports, according to the John Curley Center for Sports Journalism. He has covered 17 NBA seasons, Major League Baseball games and the 2008 Beijing Olympics over the course of his career and he frequently appears on TV and radio shows nationwide.
“When I was born, no one asked me what color I wanted to be,” said Spears as he discussed his experience with discrimination in the sports industry in The HUB-Robeson Center.
He went on to speak about the experiences he has had since becoming a sports writer such as being called the “n-word” on Twitter and receiving threats from the Ku Klux Klan.
Spears addressed the reason for the current majority Caucasian demographic of the sports journalism industry.
“Many people have friends that they hire and if the majority of the people making decisions are white men, then sports journalism will continue to be dominated by white men,” said Spears.
Spears continued by saying that the excuse that is made by many of his white counterparts is that there aren’t enough qualified minority applicants. He said that this claim is untrue because he has personally recommended minority applicants that are just as qualified if not more qualified than the white men that are being hired.
Spears attributes his success as a sports journalists to various mentors and organizations that were there to help him begin and develop his career.
“Join a group that will help you move up the ladder in this business because it is really hard to do it by yourself,” said Spears.
As an NBA journalist during the time of the racist rant of former Clippers owner, Donald Sterling, Spears recounted one particular instance of an offensive racial comment made by Sterling. He talked about a time when Sterling entered the Clippers locker room and said, “Look at these beautiful black bodies.”
The audience seemed to be shocked by the story that Spears told. This reaction caused Spears to respond by saying that despite personal feelings about a comment, as a journalist, the job requires objectivity.
He amended his statement by saying that it is important to also command respect while remaining objective. Spears said that at this point in his career, racism is hidden, but if it becomes overt, he will not hesitate to address it.
The speech by Spears is part of the Conversation Series sponsored by The John Curley Center for Sports Journalism.