April 14, 2011

USA Today Editor: "Not Our Best Moment"

A panel of sports journalists spoke on the second day of the Losing To Win Conference about the role of sports media in perpetuating racial stereotypes of athletes. USA Today colleges editor Tom O’Toole held up a 2007 issue of the newspaper, which featured the headline “NFL Confronts Issues of Discipline.” Mug shots of 41 NFL players dominate the page. All but two of the faces staring back at the reader are African American.

“This was not our best moment,” O’Toole said. He went on to discuss how the article ignored any issues of race. The photo told its own story. “We did not offer any context or discuss the racial make up of the NFL,” he said.

O’Toole noted that the paper’s black editors agreed to let the data stand on its own – as long as everyone was treated equally and no crimes (or criminals) were left out and the whole story was told. “We didn’t do that,” O’Toole said.

The story failed to include two additional white players, who were also accused of crimes. “We missed half of that population,” said O’Toole. The article also failed to mention that many of the charges had been dropped against the African American players.

“To this day, the deputy sports editor at USA Today keeps this page hanging on his wall,” O’Toole said. It serves as a reminder of the responsibilities of sports editors and journalists to pay attention to the bias they help create.-- Brett Eaton

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