A Dialogue With Lisa Wilson, Executive Sports Editor of The Buffalo News

UPDATED: Lisa Wilson has since responded and I have, in turn, offered some deeper feedback, found below my initial letter:

Lisa Wilson,

It’s funny, in reading your responses to your SI interview with Richard Deitsch, to see you say “change can never happen without a conversation.”  I say this because myself and others have attempted numerous times to begin a conversation with you and your writers (specifically Tim Graham and Mike Harrington) about the coverage of LGBT athletes and been stonewalled at pretty much every turn.  The best TBN’s sports department has done is an article (so far as I know anyway) that Harrington tweeted at me focusing more on who would be the first to interview an out LGBT athlete (or who would ‘get’ the first crack at the coming out story) than on the gender identity and orientation inequities in sports.

To be perfectly honest, I think it’s abominable that the paper’s first thought about such a controversial topic (and a potentially humanitarian response) would be to jerk itself off.  (And unlike Mr. Harrington, I think colorful language and salient points can coexist.)   Equally abominable was my phone call to the sports section in January of this year in which no one on staff (and I regret not recording the names of the two people I talked to) seemed to have any idea what the You Can Play Project, (now an official NHL partner) was. 

The last I checked, we have one rostered (sorry Jason Collins, Wade Davis) out LGBT athlete in the big five sports, Robbie Rogers of the Los Angeles Galaxy.  Change cannot happen without a conversation.  Where exactly is the News’s half?

Sincerely, Alexander S. Bauer

Hello Alexander,
 
What type of coverage did you have in mind? What local LGBT sports stories that we are missing? I’m not sure what you mean by numerous attempts to begin a conversation with me because I only remember one email from you, which I saved in my story idea files. So please tell me more. I’m willing to listen.
 
Lisa
Lisa Wilson,
Thank you for responding and I apologize for making some of my (erroneous) assumptions.  ‘Numerous’ was referencing attempts to start conversations with various News writers, which to be perfectly fair I understand that it’s no one’s job to engage me personally.  Mostly I’m firing off in the hope that someone will listen.
The NHL has recently officially partnered with the You Can Play Project (http://youcanplayproject.org/), whose mission is to curb the bullying of LGBT individuals in sports.  Jason Pominville ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wuRzlxemzMo (
Preview) ) produced a video for them (while a Sabre), as did the Rochester Amerks ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BrhFH3BD1zk (Preview) ) as an organization.  (Democrat and Chronicle’s realm I would imagine, but I digress.)  These videos have been played in their respective arenas numerous times.
Given that this is a topic that is groundbreaking, controversial, and has (or at least had) direct ties to the Sabres and their affiliate organizations, I’m surprised that the News has not covered it any capacity (at least per my phone call to the sports department in January and a recent conversation with Amy Moritz on Twitter).
What’s more surprising is that, based on the aforementioned conversations no one at The Buffalo News seems to have even heard of it.  This is not some grassroots fan-based initiative (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/You_Can_Play).  It was founded by Patrick Burke, son of NHL GM Brian Burke in 2012 and has featured over 50 current NHL players, 1 NHL minority owner (Preds’ W. Brett Wilson), 7 AHL teams, 14 North American Universities, 1 OHL team, 1 MLS team, the entire CWHL, 1 ECHL team, an aspiring Olympian (Akil Patterson, Grecco-Roman Wrestling) and TSN reporters James Duthie, Darren Dregger, Pierre LeBrun, and Bob McKenzie.
I find it mind boggling that no one at the News’s Sports Department whose partial reason for existence is to cover hockey, hasn’t even heard of it.
This entire thing further boggles my mind because I am a writer myself, and I’m making assumptions again, but I imagine that one of the biggest dreams of a sportswriter is writing the sort of piece that can make a tangible difference in the world.  And I like to have high expectations for the things coming out of (or remaining in) my hometown.  One of those is that the local paper is going to try to be extraordinary and trailblaze and that the writers are going to be acutely aware of the happenings of the sports they cover, and that maybe I would see “NHL Paving the Road for LGBT Athletes With You Can Play Partnership” or “Jason Pominville Contributes to Anti-Bullying Campaign” or even “Sabres Affiliate Teams with You Can Play” (I don’t honestly know if the Amerks are solely the D&C’s turf unless they do something specifically regarding Buffalo or the Sabres.)  I mean even The Niagara Falls Reporter is aware of and has done pieces on You Can Play (although they’re less reporting and more homophobic rants).
It’s especially troubling in a place like Buffalo that is not exactly known for being gay friendly (http://www.hrc.org/files/assets/resources/MEI_buffalo_2013.pdf).
Okay, so that was a lot of words, allow me to sum up a little:
  1. I think You Can Play is newsworthy and I know it’s related to the local teams that TBN is tasked with covering.
  2. I think at the very least if TBN wants to claim otherwise to the above, the writers should be aware of, again, an official NHL partner.  We can debate the first point all night, but why is no one at the news even aware of something that has gotten a fair amount of publicity?
  3. With Buffalo being a city in a blue state with marriage equality and sexual orientation-inclusive non-discrimination laws, it would surprise me if anyone at the news was overtly or willfully homophobic.  The ignorance of You Can Play does strike me as subtle homophobia though, either in the refusal to acknowledge such a major issue or the refusal to cover it, thus tacitly supporting an inherently unequal status quo.  (Kind of the same way it’s problematic to assume the current landscape of sports broadcasting is just fine the way it is and not have pieces like the Deitch one you contributed to.)

That last one actually inspires a question that I have for you.  I don’t know that Deitch had a reason to take an issue like gender inequalities in sports broadcasting.  But I don’t know that he needs one either.  Likewise, I’m not sure The News needs a reason to write a piece about You Can Play or even LGBT athletes (but it does have them).
Thanks for your time.
Sincerely, Alexander S. Bauer

Hello again Alexander,

 Thanks for your email. I appreciate the links and information. This is certainly something we can look into this season. I would imagine some current Sabres are involved with the project. Perhaps there will be a local event in the future as well.

 Have a nice Thanksgiving,

Lisa

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About Alex

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