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Race and Sports Broadcasting


Rule #1 of sports broadcasting–always, always, always compare a player to someone of the same racial background.

At Baseball Prospectus (not sure how much of this you can see without a subscription), Frankie Piliere pokes at what is one of the most annoying parts of sports broadcasting, and something I have complained about for years.

It is acceptable to compare an up-and-coming Brett Gardner to Kenny Lofton, and, every African-American, lefty-swinging slugger isn’t necessarily comparable to Ryan Howard. It’s clearly a gut reaction for people to compare players to current or former big leaguers merely because they resemble each other, and quite often it starts with race. It’s not done intentionally, but it’s done time and time again. Members of the media, particularly when they are less familiar with the player, are as guilty of this as anyone.

I get asked on a daily basis to give comparisons for prospects. The surprise for many people is that there isn’t always an obvious one. They’re surprised because for the longest time they’ve been the fed the idea that every prospect has to compare closely to a past or present big leaguer. Because of that, comparisons have become increasingly lazy.

When I was filing reports for the Rangers, sometimes comparisons were included in the summations, and sometimes they weren’t. Often there would be a comparison that referred to one aspect of a player’s game, but rarely would there be a perfect fit. The need to give the casual fan a visual of what a young player could become is not lost on me, and making a comparison to a big leaguer that they know is a quick and easy way of accomplishing that.

On the other hand, I have no doubt that fans are smart enough to accept a comparison of two players who don’t have the same skin tone. Every white center fielder is not Mickey Mantle, just as every hard-throwing, African-American right-hander is not Dwight Gooden. Some of you may laugh at this, but these examples are ones I’ve heard too many times to count.

These comparisons aren’t always racist, though they used to be more so, such as the idea that black quarterbacks were too dumb to win. They are just incredibly lazy. While Ichiro is a unique player in many ways, I wonder, in the minds of broadcasters, he is that much more unique because there’s not another Japanese player to compare him to. It might be acceptable to compare Brett Gardner to Kenny Lofton (though Lofton seems a much better player to me), but I wonder, if we could somehow go back and figure this out, whether Gardner has not been more often compared to, say, Brett Butler while Kenny Lofton was always seen as a poor man’s Lou Brock.

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