This story is probably way too complex for me to sum up for those that don’t want to do a bunch of reading, but I will try. A Grantland.com writer, Caleb Hannan decided to do a piece on the creator, Dr. V, of a so-called magical putter for golf. During the investigation, the writer revealed that Dr. V had falsified her credentials and was running a con. He also discovered that she was transgender, born as male (sex, not gender) and transitioned to female. This was linked to her con in that it made her past difficult to research, but it wasn’t part of the con itself. The writer outed the creator to one of her investors and while he didn’t make threats to out her per se, it was generally understood that the piece would do so when published. Before the piece ran, Dr. V killed herself.
There have been numerous critical responses to the piece, most of them very good, and Grantland’s creator, Bill Simmons, has since issued an apology. Simmons goes to great lengths to make sure you know how bad he feels and how much of it is his fault (news flash Bill: it’s not about you) and in doing so highlights some things that are problematic for a great many media outlets.
“I realized over the weekend that I didn’t know nearly enough about the transgender community – and neither does my staff. I read Caleb’s piece a certain way because of my own experiences in life. That’s not an acceptable excuse; it’s just what happened. And it’s what happened to Caleb, and everyone on my staff, and everyone who read/praised/shared that piece during that 56-hour stretch from Wednesday to Friday.”
“Someone familiar with the transgender community should have read Caleb’s final draft. This never occurred to us. Nobody ever brought it up.”
I don’t know everyone that writes for Grantland. From reading it semi-regularly and conversing with a few of those writers, my impression is that it’s a more diverse staff than most places. That isn’t always the case, and that’s what leads me to Buffalo, and to some extent, Rochester.
The Buffalo News’s staff of sportswriters, despite being run by the first black female Executive Sports Editor, Lisa Wilson, looks very similar. And though they don’t have an easily accessible staff page, some research into the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle’s reveals a similar lack of diversity. For the record:
Buffalo (2010 Census)
- 50.4% White
- 45.8% non-Hispanic White
- 38.6% Black
- 10.5% Hispanic/Latino
- 3.2% Asian
- 3.1% Two or More Races
- 0.8% Native American
- 3.9% Other
- 43.7% White
- 41.7$ Black
- 16.4% Hispanic/Latino
- 4.4% Two or More Races
- 3.1% Asian
- 0.5% Native American
- 6.6% Other
Which can get you tweets like this:
Kaepernick. Always so media friendly. Turn your cap around and act like a professional quarterback.
— Sal Maiorana (@salmaiorana) January 12, 2014
I think Maiorana quickly realized that he’d made a racially charged statement because he almost immediately began talking about the classiness of the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson (who is African- and Native American). Somewhere along the way things must have grown more serious because Maiorana has since deleted all of the tweets, all of the conversations he had on the topic, and has been largely Twitter-silent since the incident. The Democrat and Chronicle, who apparently thinks racism will go away if they ignore it or pretend it didn’t happen, has yet to issue an apology. I would argue that they don’t even need to punish Maiorana, just prove that they have a shred of racial awareness by acknowledging the mistake and promising to not make it in the future.
My highlighting of these media outlets’ stunning lack of diversity when compared to that of the cities they serve isn’t to shame them into hiring a racial (or sexual, or any) minority, it’s to point out the subsequent lack of perspective coming out of their reporting. It is that inability to see things someone else’s way (because you don’t have a someone else) that leads to stories like the ill-fated Dr. V piece (as Simmons admits) or the Maiorana tweet (that none of the supposed adults in Rochester seem to want to take responsibility for). It’s that lack of ability to see things someone else’s way that has led to the Buffalo News’s complete ignorance of an official NHL partner, You Can Play (at least when I called them last year). Or that leads to holding LGBT individuals up as objects of ridicule in the still pervasive Gay Kiss Cam gag that occurs in many arenas.
No one bats 1.000 though and mistakes are going to be made. That’s an important lesson in this too, and one of the heartening things about the Simmons apology is not only that he and Grantland’s staff seem to truly understand the issue, but that they also have the resources at their disposal to be better in the future. That’s the best case scenario when a mistake is made, and it’s a pretty good one.