The LA Times’ Arash Markazi on Diversity, Staying Healthy and Following Dreams

Gabe Zaldivar

A writer’s voice is their most important tool, an invaluable asset that sets them apart from anyone else. Arash Markazi’s voice is particularly singular.

“For me, it was always sort of like a dream job,” Markazi tells En Fuego on Sports Illustrated. The 40-year-old recently opined on that dream job on Twitter.

“It didn’t seem like a very likely job for the son of two Iranian immigrants who moved to L.A. during the Iran hostage crisis. I didn’t see anyone who looked like me or had a name like mine in the sports section," he writes in the above tweet.

The statement was part of a longer piece he wrote just as he was landing his dream job with the Los Angeles Times. 

Iranian-American boys and girls can now wake up and read Markazi’s work. For Persian kids also dreaming of a life as a journalist, the dreaming is a little easier, the striving a little more plausible.

“When I was coming up, I never saw any Persian or Iranian-American as a sportswriter or a sports journalist, so it was hard to even wonder if that was the job that I could attain,” Markazi said.

Our conversation inevitably turned to diversity in sports media. “Well it needs to improve certainly, you know, it's not in a good place right now,” Markazi said.

A Question of Diversity

The death of George Floyd and subsequent Black Lives Matter protests unlocked a much-needed conversation and opportunity for self-reflection across myriad industries.

Journalism and how stories are covered and who is covering them need ongoing investigation.

The L.A. Times itself had to reexamine its own hiring practices and reported lack of diversity. 

A Times column penned by Meg James and Daniel Hernandez cited internal critics of the paper who claim a number of issues, “created a tiered newsroom, where veteran editors and reporters, who are largely white, have relied on a secondary class of primarily younger, less-experienced Latino, Asian and Black reporters who are paid significantly less than older counterparts.”

Rectifying issues in diversity comes from a place of honesty. And the Times is that rare publication that is looking inward to address the issue. Elsewhere, the numbers aren’t great.

Central Florida’s Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sports last released its biannual report in 2018, centering on diversity among the 75 outlets belonging to the Associated Press Sports Editors.

“According to the report, 85 percent of the sports editors, 76 percent of assistant sports editors, 80 percent of the columnists, 82 percent of the reporters and nearly 78 percent of the copy editors and designers last year were white,” the report found.

The landscape continues to change and evolve. The report from 2018 acknowledges that people of color had procured more jobs in newsrooms than four years before.

Young aspiring writers and editors of color were not only getting more diverse coverage, they were getting a newsroom more representative of the world in which we live. A newsroom that makes it that much easier to aspire to and dream. The road, however, is long.

“I'm cautiously optimistic that's going to improve, hopefully in the very near future,” Markazi said. 

He himself was a little boy growing up amid the fervor and fever that was 1980s Lakers Showtime and the magic of the 1988 Dodgers World Series run.

Arash Markazi is a dynamo rolling through the sports media landscape, and he has the audacity to do it with appreciation and humility.

Speaking with Markazi is effortless, his passion for his craft and for life, in general, is undeniable. 

It’s a life that has seen his byline grace such publications as Sports Illustrated, ESPN and now the Los Angeles Times as a sports columnist, following in the footsteps of great writers such as Jim Murray.

When a lack of height prevented Markazi from realizing his dream of being the next Magic Johnson, he turned to Plan B, one day gracing the pages of that paper ubiquitous across so many Angeleno homes on Sunday morning.

Making it this far has made a profound impact already.

“It's important to know that it is possible, that if you work hard, you know that you can have whatever job that you want in all walks of life, (not just) journalism,” Markazi said. “It's really heartening and it's really what makes me happy is when I do talk to kids who are Iranian or Middle Eastern that they want to be sports journalists, because for a long time, it was sort of like unless you’re a doctor or a lawyer, you know, that wasn't a job that you should aspire towards.”

Losing Weight, Battling Cancer and Dreaming 

Kids eager to learn their craft would certainly get a master class in not only how to succeed but how to do so with class and dignity.

Markazi interned while in high school with the L.A. Times. He also interned at the Los Angeles Daily News and the Associated Press as well as Sports Illustrated in the late 90s, the latter getting him his first big break after college.

Markazi is unrelenting and meticulous in his craft, which makes it all the less shocking that he would do what so many have failed to accomplish.

Markazi committed to attaining a better, healthier life and decided to finally lose weight, which he did to the tune of 130 pounds.

“Consistency is the biggest thing,” Markazi said on his weight loss. “That's all I can say. Consistency has been the biggest thing.”

Markazi wrote about the impetus behind his weight loss, a moment of profound realization when he was forced to use a seatbelt extender while flying.

He then leaned on social media not only for support but for accountability, thousands upon thousands of eyes watching from behind so many phones, an incentive to continue working out and refrain from cheat meals.

“You know, my thing from day one was like not to take any days off, do something active” he continued. “I mean, the goal at the beginning was 60 minutes a day, 1,600 calories. My thing was if I can do that every day, obviously I'm going to see results. And that was a big thing for me; that that was sort of a cool moment to see that first month. I lost 40 pounds or so.”

On the prospect of gaining it back, Markazi holds firm, “I made too much progress and I've changed too much to go back.”

It’s hardly the only life-affirming moment in Markazi’s life, diagnosed with cancer not once, but twice before the age of 30.

“I mean, I always had an appreciation for life and what I got to do,” Markazi said. “But I mean, obviously when you are hit with a cancer diagnosis twice—once when I was 21, once when I was 25—It definitely hits you in a certain way. And you do look at life in a different light. You appreciate things more because you don't know how long you have on this earth. So, it is one of those things where I appreciate like every day of it that I wake up.”

In speaking to one of his former high school classmates recently, I mentioned that I was going to interview the Notre Dame High School alum. He told me, “Arash is just a really good dude.”

You can sense from his positivity when talking to him and the smile that never leaves his face anytime he’s on-air, the man loves what he does.

He’s here now to tell you that you too can do it, regardless of race or religion. It’s not about making newsrooms browner or blacker, it’s about making them more diverse.

And it’s starting to happen. The stories are more varied, and the storytellers come with increasingly unique perspectives.

So, to get where he’s at, you will have to take a different road, your road. But you can certainly get a little help from his success.

“Just don't ever get deterred,” he said. “I know that there's going to be tough spots along the way. (There's) going to be moments in your career where you don't get what you want, or you don't get the proper break. It's not an easy profession, but it is one of those things where I think if you work at it and you're good to people, you're fair, you're going to get what you want.”

Markazi isn’t just an inspiration to Persian kids out there who may one day want to do what he does. He’s a beacon for those of us who want to dominate this game the right way, with class and dignity.

In the end, Markazi can’t say enough about seizing every moment and opportunity afforded.

“Just stick out your dream,” he said. “Don't get discouraged. Don't get bogged down by any negativity. If this is your dream, pursue that dream because you're going to regret it if you don't.”

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

This piece is really lame, Aren't you going to tell your readers that two days after this story ran, Markazi was suspended from the LA Times for unethical behavior?