Tag Archives: Jonah Hall at Splice Today

Enlightenment: Considerations on Race, Gender and Journalism in Light of Richard Sherman and Grantland’s “Dr. V” Controversy

Kyle Allums, writing for The Nation, on his experience as an openly transgender athlete and the media’s lack of awareness and sensitivity to trans issues:

As a former George Washington University basketball player and the first Division I openly transgender athlete, Kye Allums is no stranger to transgender ignorance in the media.

After struggling to read Caleb Hannan’s piece “Dr. V’s Magical Putter,” on ESPN’s long-form journalism site Grantland, I felt angry. I felt sad. I felt worthless. For many of the reasons that ESPN contributor Christina Kahrl pointed out in her response, Hannan’s article should have never been published. But it was. How many more lives will it take before we are valued? And what is to be done?

For starters, Grantland could take the piece down. It’s quite obvious that Dr. V had no interest in sharing this story. When Dr. V’s own lawyers asked her to reveal her name in order to move forward on a lawsuit, she refused. That should have been respected, not investigated. Caleb Hannan’s story had more than enough golf content to respect Dr. V’s wishes by focusing on the science behind her invention. Sadly, once Hannan got word that Dr. V might be transgender, he felt that he had the authority to take Dr. Essay Anne Vanderbilt’s story into his own hands.

As a former George Washington University basketball player and the first Division I openly transgender athlete, I am no stranger to transgender ignorance in the media. When Hannan stated that he was going to publish the story despite Dr. V’s wishes of keeping certain things private, tears began to run down my face. Much like Dr. V, I too found myself in a conversation with an ESPN journalist, fighting to keep pieces of my story private.

http://www.thenation.com/article/178042/grantland-dr-v-and-being-enough

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Melissa Harris-Perry‘s MSNBC show (one of the more progressive political and culturally-aware shows on television), highlighted some recent trans issues in an interview related to CeCe McDonald, that Simmons, Caleb Hannan, and Grantland’s editors would have done well to watch: 

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I’ve written about the “Dr. V” piece and the Grantland controversy at Splice Today, considering the complicated story, the role of the editors, and journalistic ethics and empathy.

From the above excerpt, Simmons writes, “Had we pushed Caleb to include a deeper perspective about his own feelings, and his own fears of culpability, that would have softened those criticisms.” 

Actually, if they had asked Hannan to think more deeply about his own part in the whole process, and the emotional tangle that he’d ended up in after finding out his subject had committed suicide, he would’ve re-written the ending. It would’ve been the natural progression of the person reporting the story to conclude on an empathetic and philosophical note, probably including a mention of the high suicide rate that is a reality of the trans-community. This was the story of a young writer who had spent seven months trying to get to the bottom of what started as a whimsical story and realizing that getting “to the bottom” of it had resulted in a transgendered con-artist’s suicide. The complexity of the story, and its gradual unwinding, makes the story fascinating. However, the ending feels purposely edgy and dark, rather than human and empathetic.

Simmons and Grantland were in over their head with the subject matter, and the fact that they didn’t consult a single member of the Trans community in the editing process, was clearly a mistake. In the letter, Simmons focuses on his team’s editorial process, rather than certain editorial lapses regarding the reporter and the reporting.

Any good journalist is both a keen observer and a good listener. Both of these traits involve empathy.

To continue, click here: http://splicetoday.com/sports/grantland-under-fire

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On Richard Sherman, the Word “Thug” and the Modern Black Male Athlete.

Richard Sherman’s post-game interview exploded the boundaries of what athletes, especially black male athletes, are supposed to say in those usually-meaningless 30-second chats. While it’s fair to say Sherman’s outburst was surprising, even shocking, in its bravado and arrogance, as well as in his general unleashing of unfiltered words on the football grid-iron (not exactly a place we expect honest articulation from an athlete), the backlash against Sherman has been full of so much racist hatred for two reasons:

1) He was staring directly into the camera and shouting (unleashing America’s fear of the “angry black man” (to use polite words)

2) Because he was standing next to Erin Andrews, a tall, blonde, white woman who was understandably surprised by the interaction.

Here’s some excellent commentary from Deadspin and Dave Zirin, of The Nation. Also, below is a must-read profile by Lee Jenkins on Richard Sherman from a July edition of Sports Illustrated.

If you plan on watching the Super Bowl, do yourself a favor and read these two pieces first.

Deadspin and Richard Sherman help enlighten the masses again:

The day after the Seahawks’ win, the word “thug” was uttered 625 times on American television, or more than on any single day in at least three years. In case you haven’t thought about the racial coding involved in tossing around the word “thug,” Richard Sherman’s recent press conference should enlighten you:

http://deadspin.com/richard-sherman-explains-what-people-mean-when-they-cal-1506821800

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Sports Illustrated‘s Lee Jenkins wrote a deeply compelling profile of Richard Sherman last July. Thanks Natasha, for sending it my way. Writing for The Nation, the wise Dave Zirin, explains what’s so important about Sherman, quoting the Jenkins profile:

The article reveals someone who has journeyed successfully from Compton, California, to Stanford, to fifth-round draft pick, to NFL star, which has a degree of difficulty somewhat higher than “son of quarterback becomes quarterback.” As Sherman says in the piece (and this is one of my favorite quotes of all-time), “I’m an awkward guy. People used to tell me all the time, You’re not from here. And that’s the way I felt, like somebody took me from somewhere else and dropped me down into this place. I was strange because I went to class, did the work, read the books and was still pretty good at sports. If you’re like me, people think you’re weird. They pull you in different directions. But those people aren’t going where you’re going. I know the jock stereotype—cool guy, walking around with your friends, not caring about school, not caring about anything. I hate that stereotype. I want to destroy it. I want to kill it.”

Here’s the opening of Jenkins’ profile on Sherman:

RICHARD SHERMAN’S house is so quiet that you can hear kids playing in the cul-de-sac, the birds chirping in the pines, the charcoal crackling on the Weber. A fish tank gurgles and a flat screen hums. It is one of those endless summer days in the Seattle suburbs, the sun refusing to set before 9 p.m., Sherman grilling enough baby back ribs, chicken breasts and tri-tip to feed a good chunk of CenturyLink Field’s 67,000 fans. Sitting at a picnic table on the wooden deck in his backyard, hidden by plumes of smoke, the Seahawks’ All-Pro cornerback is admiring a picture on his iPhone: two deer that he recently spotted in the forest flanking his property. The iPhone screen is cracked in three places, the result of a fumble one week earlier on Lake Chelan in north central Washington, where Sherman vacations with Seattle’s other defensive backs, whiling away the hours on a pontoon boat. He savors tranquil moments, perhaps because they are so few.

Sherman tears open a pack of Fruit Gushers—a kids’ snack, though he has no kids—and the syrupy taste transports him from the serenity of summer to the bedlam of fall. See, Sherman gobbles Gushers every Sunday morning during the season, followed by a shower in the dark, followed by a game of catch with Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin. “Time to put on a show,” Sherman announces, and Baldwin nods in agreement.

As training camp kicks off, odds are high that the next Super Bowl winner will come from the meat mincer that is the NFC West, a division defined by the Seahawks’ and the 49ers’ biannual battle royale. And Sherman is the face—or, perhaps more appropriately, the voice—of the NFL’s most rollicking rivalry. “I’m not the type to let a sleeping giant lie,” he crows. “I wake up the giant, slap him around, make him mad and beat him to the ground. I talk a big game because I carry a big stick.”

Judging by sound bites, Twitter battles and disputed drug tests, the 25-year-old Sherman is a dreadlocked motormouth from Compton, Calif., with a fighter’s instincts for promotion and confrontation. He unleashes freestyle raps in the locker room. He dances on the sideline. When receivers line up across from him, he studies their splits and broadcasts the routes they’re about to run, applauding excitedly. “You want this noise?” When Sherman hollers, words come so quickly that his tongue can barely keep up. “You asked for this noise!” He begs quarterbacks to throw in his direction—”I’m just your friendly DB,” he tells them. “Don’t be scared to come my way.” When they do, he eyes their coaches on the sideline and circles the ear hole on his helmet, as if wondering why anybody would be so deranged as to take him seriously. He is the rare player who has provoked the ire of Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll, who has taunted Tom Brady, who has been punched by an opponent while congratulating him on a good game. (That would be 6’5″, 325-pound Redskins left tackle Trent Williams.) “I used to tell him to quiet down,” says Seattle safety Kam Chancellor. “Then I saw the results.  To continue, click here:

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1208083/1/index.htm

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Will Leitch, writing for Sports on Earth (which is yet another site to bookmark), has written about one of my favorite documentaries ever, Hoop Dreams, twenty years after it came out:

Hoop Dreams, 20 years later, remains one of the best moviegoing experiences of my lifetime. I use those words organically, but specifically: That phrase, “one of the best moviegoing experiences of my lifetime,” was how Roger Ebert (whose avid boostership of the movie is widely considered to be the reason anyone ever saw it) ended his famous review of the film, and those words land like a thunderbolt, today as then. Hoop Dreams is a film that transcends movies, and ennobles them.

I first saw Hoop Dreams in college, in a screening organized by Ebert himself in Champaign, Illinois,where I was a sophomore journalism student. It was at the old Virginia Theater in Champaign, Ebert’s favorite theater, and he introduced the film along with Frederick Marx, the film’s producer and editor (and a Champaign resident). I had an interview scheduled with Marx for the Daily Illini after the film was over, but I was so stunned by the film — so blown away by its scope and vast empathy — that most of my questions felt like the Chris Farley Show. So, remember that time when you followed Arthur Agee to Champaign? That was awesome. I feel fortunate that particular clipping is lost to time.

Hoop Dreams is 20 years old this year, but it’s eternal: The film’s themes of hope, pain and redemption, its creeping sense that the deck is just stacked against some kids, its seething anger over a system that uses kids and spits them out when they no longer have use for them … those are even more relevant today than they were in 1994. (If anything, today, kids in the position of William Gates and Arthur Agee, the two “stars” of Hoop Dreams have it even harder.) I’m not sure the film would be made the same way today, though. The film is almost too earnest, too invested, too attached; it takes on the veneer of real life that a documentary today would inevitably back away from. The filmmakers love their subjects so much you almost expect them to throw away the camera and move in with them. In a way, I guess they sort of did.

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Grantland Under Fire: On Sports Journalism, Ethics and Bill Simmons

Writing for Grantland.com, Caleb Hannan’s long document of a story about an inventor of a golf putter who committed suicide lit up the Internet and social media over the weekend with its stunning lack of compassion. Grantland is under the ethical microscope at websites from Slate, (Josh Levin’s considered piece)  to Salon (Mary Elizabeth Williams’ take), to Think Progress (Alyssa Rosenberg’s breakdown) to Harvard’s Niemen Lab of Journalism. Bill Simmons, Grantland’s creator and big chief wrote a detailed explanation of the editorial process, a “Letter from the Editor,” after ESPN formally apologized for allowing Grantland to publish the story. The ethical dilemma Simmons addresses is whether or not the story should have ever been published. From Simmons’ letter:

For us, this had become a story about a writer falling into, for lack of a better phrase, a reporting abyss. The writer originally asked a simple question—So what’s up with this putter?—that evolved into something else entirely. His latest draft captured that journey as cleanly and crisply as possible. As editors, we read his final draft through the lens of everything we had already learned over those eight months, as well as a slew of additional information that ended up not making the final piece.

When anyone criticizes the Dr. V feature for lacking empathy in the final few paragraphs, they’re right. Had we pushed Caleb to include a deeper perspective about his own feelings, and his own fears of culpability, that would have softened those criticisms. Then again, Caleb had spent the piece presenting himself as a curious reporter, nothing more. Had he shoehorned his own perspective/feelings/emotions into the ending, it could have been perceived as unnecessarily contrived. And that’s not a good outcome, either.

From the above excerpt, Simmons writes, “Had we pushed Caleb to include a deeper perspective about his own feelings, and his own fears of culpability, that would have softened those criticisms.” 

Actually, if they had asked Hannan to think more deeply about his own part in the whole process, and the emotional tangle that he’d ended up in after finding out his subject had committed suicide, he would have re-written the ending. If he coudn’t find a way to articulate his confusion and develop a sense of empathy, they shouldn’t have published the piece. It would have been the natural progression of the person reporting the story to conclude on an empathetic and philosophical note, probably including a mention of the high suicide rate that is a reality of the trans-community.

This was the story of a young writer who had spent seven months trying to get to the bottom of what started as a whimsical story and realizing that getting “to the bottom” of it had resulted in a person’s suicide. The complexity of the story, and its gradual unwinding, makes the story fascinating. However, the ending feels purposely edgy and dark, rather than human and empathetic.

To read the rest, click here: http://splicetoday.com/sports/grantland-under-fire

 

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