Roundtable: Muslim members of the sports media on discrimination, faith, Twitter and more
- Given the larger landscape in which they now work, Richard Deitsch impaneled seven Muslims working in the sports media for a roundtable discussion on a number of issues, from their jobs to their faith to their feelings about Twitter.
When Adnan Virk was a guest on the Sports Illustrated Media podcast last May, one of the subjects that came up was Virk being the first Muslim anchor to work at ESPN.
“There have been trailblazers in other disciplines much more important than me than being the first Muslim sportscaster at ESPN but it is pretty cool when I go to the mosque or when I meet kids and they say, 'It’s very cool you are on ESPN.' … But it had never been an issue until recently with unfortunately the rise of Muslim extremists, and then [Donald] Trump and [Ted] Cruz [speaking out],” Virk said. “People will go to me and ask, 'I wonder what you think about these big issues?' I think to myself, 'Can I tweet about it? Can I not tweet about it?'"
What Virk ultimately decided to do was to be public about his faith via the #TrueIslam campaign. Over the past eight months since that interview, the dialogue in the United States on Muslims and Islam has gotten much more heated. The now-President Trump signed an executive order on Jan. 27 temporarily banning travelers from seven predominately Muslim countries (Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) and halting the entrance of all Syrian refugees. After a court-imposed suspension on the ban, the White House has said there will be a revised travel ban.
That’s the backdrop to this column. Given the larger landscape in which they now work, I impaneled seven Muslims working in the sports media for a roundtable discussion on a number of issues:
•Adam Amin, ESPN, play by play broadcaster.
Arda Ocal, host, Madison Square Garden Network.
Members of the panel were asked to go as long or as short as they wanted with their answers. They were free to skip any questions. Some of the answers have been edited for clarity. This is long but I think you will find it illuminating. I know I did.
SI.com: Have you experienced discrimination or repression in your job? If yes, can you shed some light on what happened?
Ahmed: I am one of the few Muslim women sports writers out there. I would say that I have been passed up and editors don't return my emails, but that also happens to non-Muslim writers. I get annoyed when I see white women who have so little clue about a subject (for example writing about Muslim women in sports) when I had pitched something similar. But I have a lot of opportunities to write and speak to folks who are genuinely interested in my work. I enjoy freelancing because I work from home. But I have been told by trusted friends that a certain editor has not even considered me because I am too “radical" or "too political” which is total bull----. The reality is that my lens is different than the majority of sportswriters out there (90% white, male, able-bodied, cisgendered, and probably 95 % in Canada).
Amin: When I was first starting my career, I did have a general manager at a radio station in a smaller, mostly-white town ask if I would consider using an on-air last name instead of Amin (“Adam Kelly.” I still laugh about it today). I wasn't keen on the idea and when I expressed that to the GM, she was very understanding and had no issue with me using my given name on-air. I hesitate to call that discrimination because I wasn't offended by the request and because she was merely suggesting it, not demanding it. Currently, I cannot think of an instance at ESPN where I truly felt discriminated against. Other than the occasions on Twitter or in person where someone will mix me up with another broadcaster with a similar complexion who works at ESPN, I don't really think about my race or religion in the scope of sports or my job. I work for a company that encourages diversity, both on and off camera, so I've never really felt out of place.
Husain: I haven't faced discrimination.
Karim: Yes. Back in 2013, myself and Gurdeep Ahluwalia were targets of racial backlash on three separate occasions while hosting SportsCentre together. The third time around, it really got ugly. The interactions gained traction and were trending all over Twitter. We got everything from “Why are Osama and Saddam hosting SC” to “When did SC outsource to India” to other weak terrorist-type references. And then there were others who didn’t believe we were qualified to deliver sports news because of our race and ethnicity. Listen, I’ve learned not to take Twitter too seriously, and I understand there are a lot of “keyboard cowboys” out there, but I won’t lie—it hurt and affected me. I questioned a lot of things at the time—including the decision to continue with TSN. I knew I couldn’t take years of racial backlash. I wouldn’t last mentally. It’s not what I signed up for. I read a lot of my mentions over the next few days after that third incident, and realized that the support that I received far outweighed any of the trash. People of all backgrounds stood up for us, including a lot of young kids—which brought a positive twist to the whole thing. TSN was also fantastic throughout the entire incident. I got calls immediately from our President, along with others in management to make sure, first and foremost, that I was okay. I will always appreciate that.
Khamisa: Once a week I’m told to stick to cricket, which is interesting because if I had to rank sports in terms of my knowledge base of them, cricket would be near the bottom of the list. It’s not in my job, but after a few years of seeing it, I’m able to let it bounce off me now.
Ocal: Certainly not as much as others. My name is different, it's not a common Muslim name. Most people think I'm Italian or Irish (O'Cal I guess). I remember one time years ago at an employer that shall remain nameless, we had a conversation about religion while eating lunch and I mentioned I was Muslim. Later that day I was rounding a corner in the office and overheard my name. Two or more people were laughing at what a dumb name I had and said, "Well, now we got a Towel Head.” Without them seeing me I turned around and walked the opposite way. At the time I was mortified, and it really taught me a lesson to not be so open about anything that might cause people to take issue with you. Looking back, I wish I had interrupted them and said, "you don't even have the right country!"
Virk: Well, there was the entire Curt Schilling episode which I've talked about in detail. Schill and I always got along great and he was a wonderful asset to all of us at ESPN; smart, incredibly knowledgeable about a game I love so dearly, and funny. But his tweet about Islam was misguided and to his credit, he apologized to me profusely and sincerely and we were totally fine moving forward. I genuinely miss his insight for all of us at Baseball Tonight and the laughs.
SI.com: How comfortable are you discussing your faith on public platforms, and why?
Ahmed: I don't hesitate at all. It is a conscious choice I made when I started sports writing full time. Also, I wear hijab, have brown skin, and have a name that is indistinguishably Muslim. I can't separate those pieces of my identity when I write or am asked to speak publicly. I don't think I would say that I use my practice of my Faith for talking points but for me issues of justice — be it fighting any form of bigotry — are encapsulated in Islam. It's not difficult to intersect at many points. I might share anecdotes of my family and we try to observe our religion in a meaningful way. Being Muslim today in the public eye is not easy. But it is something I am proud of, so I engage in the best ways I can.
Amin: Unlike most other topics, I'm fairly uncomfortable discussing my own faith publicly or in depth. Partly because I grew up very devout and that has shifted as I've gotten older. I do feel a level of discomfort with openly discussing it. But while I would never claim to be strict in practicing faith (as anyone who knows about my past would confirm), it is still ingrained in me and it has shaped much of my life, especially in how I try to treat the people around me. If someone were to ask me about Muslims in the current climate, or my past, or my family, or how people's misguided views have an impact on me or others, I would have no issue (and have had no issue) discussing those things.
Husain: Very comfortable, because I don't think my religion is anything to be ashamed of. I want people to know I'm Muslim and that I love being Muslim.
Karim: I’m very comfortable speaking about it. I am a proud Ismaili Muslim. Our Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, is one of the most respected world leaders having received a number of honorary degrees, awards and prestigious distinctions from countries around the world—including becoming an honorary Canadian back in 2010. Our faith teaches us that Islam is practice of tolerance, peace, intellect and service, among other pillars. The Aga Khan’s mandate is not only to help those in our community, but to also help those in need in the developing world. That’s the goal of AKDN (Aga Khan Development Network) which works in over 30 countries around the globe, by building institutions and providing essential services. It’s that type of philanthropy and humanity that sets the example for the roughly 15 million Ismailis across the world. I could talk about my faith and our principles all day.
Khamisa: Having grown up practicing my faith, I’m very comfortable discussing its nuances on a public platform. I think in today’s day and age, if you’re going to express an opinion on the happenings, you have to be confident enough to have a follow-up conversation because we know that fact often gets ignored initially.
Ocal: I've made a conscious decision not to post much about religion or politics on social media. That has worked for me. Though I understand and respect people using their platform and voice to discuss it.
Virk: I've always followed my Dad's advice, which is to refrain from discussing politics and religion at work. It's a no-win situation. However, once you wanted to discuss my faith on your podcast, the floodgates were opened and I've been open to discussing whatever aspects of Islam people wish to engage me on.
SI.com: How would you assess the coverage of Muslim athletes in terms of frequency, depth, and tone?
Amin: As far as I can recall, the stories of Muslim athletes (especially during the Rio Olympics) have been positive. I feel like we haven't heard enough about these athletes, and when we do, the stories are often delivered with a lack of context, presented with the assumption that everyone reading or watching is fully familiar with the religion. I would hope that the more exposure these athletes get, the more educated and comfortable people would feel about the religion. I do say that while understanding that it's difficult to ask those unfamiliar to equate one athlete they see on TV to an entire group of people in a positive manner.
Ahmed: One of the main reasons I started sports writing (with a focus on Muslim women in sports) was because I was completely fed-up with the tone and angles with which their stories were presented. There is erasure of non-hijab wearing athletes and the histories of Muslim women at international competition levels, outdated tropes about oppression of Muslim women, and even attempts to outlandishly glorify efforts, or insert issues with a broad stroke that would not apply to everyone. A complete lack of nuance was evident. Basically, mainstream media was not quite sure how to cover those stories. I actually drafted a "bingo card" as satire. It was mortifying how true it was when reading people write about Muslim women. My biggest problem is with who was telling the story and how they did it. Always much respect to the athletes — always. But the reality is that sports media is 90% male and I would add, white, able-bodied and cisgendered. So that's who has been writing about Muslim women. Don't even get me started on the reductive ledes and those who picked the click-baiting titles.
Husain: I definitely think there's more that can be done. I get extremely happy and excited when I see a Muslim athlete in the headline of a mainstream outlet, which I think shows it isn't as common as it could be. Any time an athlete pops up on my feed with a Muslim-sounding name, I immediately research to find out if they're Muslim and where they're from. Many times, an athlete's Muslim identity is left out of the story, and I'd like to see it mentioned. However, this depends on the specific athletes and whether or not their faith plays a huge role in their life and their story because it varies from person to person.
Karim: It’s changed in a uncomfortable way. There are Muslim athletes in all of the major sports around the world that are making an impact. In fact, I bet there are some athletes who people might not know to be Muslim. And, that’s not a bad thing. An athlete’s faith shouldn’t matter whatsoever. However, for Muslims in particular, it’s unavoidable now. The U.S. travel ban has heightened that coverage. It’s become news.
Khamisa: Seeing how now I’ve changed my Twitter bio to openly state that I am a Muslim, I feel I would identify the athlete as one as well but only if the situation warranted it. An athlete isn’t going to make a certain play based on his or her religion and as such, if I were simply reading a highlight pack, or reporting on sports-related content, I don’t feel there’s a need to identify ones religious affiliation, whatever that may be. But if someone is speaking out on something that’s going on the in the world, it would be important to, and almost irresponsible not to make it clear especially if he or she is a Muslim. Context is so important right now and people have strong affiliations to their sports teams, and perhaps identifying their favorite player as Muslim could get someone to think a little more about what’s happening outside of the sports bubble.
Ocal: When the "Muslim Ban" became a hot topic, it seemed like athletes with any ties to the countries on the list were suddenly thrust in the spotlight and sought after for interviews. In the NHL, there was a focus on Mika Zibanejad, a forward with the New York Rangers who was born and raised in Sweden. His father is from Iran. Mika has said publicly that he is Christian and only has Swedish citizenship. His name has Iranian roots and so that sparked a story. Another was Arash Markazi of ESPN who wrote a great piece on WWE wrestler Sami Zayn, a Syrian-Canadian. A lot of the articles I saw online were asking "how do you feel about this?" and had a "despite this, (athlete's name) excels in her/his craft" kind of tone.
Virk: I think because of the rise of poisonous attitudes towards Islam, more Muslim athletes have been sought after for their views on what's happening in this country and abroad. Thus, the frequency has increased and as long as the depth and tone are reasonable, I think the athletes are eager to have their voice heard. From Ibtihaj Muhammad to Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, more Muslim athletes are speaking out to have their voice heard.
SI.com: How many other Muslims (that you know of) work in your organization, if applicable?
Ahmed: I am one of the few Muslim women writing about sports. I know a lot of sports activists and Muslim women involved in sports at competition, coaching and administrative ways in a global context. But Muslim women in sports media — I would say I know 10 worldwide. And I make a concerted effort to find them. There are aspiring journalists but thus far, I’ve only met one young Muslim woman in Montreal keen on sports. Obviously, I hope these numbers explode.
Amin: I honestly would not be able to put a number on it. Adnan Virk and I are good friends who talk about our backgrounds often and I'm sure there are many others, but I haven't gone out of my way to find out.
Husain: I actually work from home, so I only have contact with a small group of the employees at our organization. Among these four or five people, as far as I know, there are no other Muslims. There may be some at the other publications within the organization.
Karim: Farhan Lalji has been a mainstay at TSN for a long before myself, reporting out of Vancouver. There are also other Muslims who on-air talent, who fall under the umbrella at Bell. Plus, other talented individuals who work behind the scenes.
Khamisa: There are a couple of Muslims working on-air for Sportsnet across Canada, and more that work behind the scenes or for our parent company Rogers. I didn’t know just how many until several reached out following the terror attack in Quebec City to offer support and appreciation for speaking out.
Ocal: I've only been at MSG Network for under a year so I wouldn't be able to tell you. I honestly am not the guy to go around keeping score anyway. When I was working in media in Canada, the percentage would be low but not to an alarming degree. I never felt like I was outnumbered or it was a difficult place for me to work because of faith. I freelance with ESPN and I know Bristol has many in the offices, and I've met a couple in my travels there.
Virk: The rising star that is Adam Amin is one of the best and brightest talents we have in the ESPN play by play ranks. He's smart, funny, has great pipes, and included the rivalry between India and Pakistan cricket during a college basketball telecast discussing the most heated rivalries in sports. That means he's on the fast track for the Broadcasting Hall of Fame.
Arash Markazi is a terrific writer, Amin El Haasen is outspoken and funny while Molly Qerim is a rare Muslim female sportscaster who is thriving on a major ESPN show.
"A plumber, a teacher, a TV host, a cashier, a CEO, we all have our rights to express an opinion on a number of subjects. I just hope the opinions are backed up by facts and I hope people can be civil while discussing them." —Adam Amin
SI.com: In your opinion, should people in the sports media make their political viewpoints or viewpoints on social issues known publicly? If yes, why? If no, why?
Ahmed: I have always believed that sincere commentary will only strengthen the sports media world. Sports writing is not just match reports and game scores. It is so much more about human stories, experiences, journeys and athletes. Those things are fascinating. I think there is a tendency for people to cringe and argue for the separation of politics and sport. The people making those vacuous arguments are generally folks who have never had to endure systems of oppression of any kind. People who face these challenges have a incredible and unique lens with which to look and share ideas and issues. I can't separate myself from my race or my religion as a writer. It is part of how I view the world. In my opinion, the discussion of "objectivity" in media is a social construct by privileged people. I write about politics and sports like so many other sportswriters from marginalized communities do as well. It isn't a recent phenomenon. However, I recognize that not everyone wants to, and I support that choice. But sports have always been a way to create bridges, cultural understanding and be a vehicle of communication. I see this as an opportunity to reach out. I wanted to wear hijab and play soccer but a hijab ban prevented me. If I express how desperately this hurt me, a fellow soccer lover would feel nothing but empathy. They understand the thrill on the pitch and the thought of being ripped away from that sport is devastating. And so it starts a conversation.
Amin: This is a tremendously difficult question. I want to believe that any declaration on a political or social topic by one person would be taken as just that: one person's viewpoint. But it's a volatile climate, media included. Expressing a view suddenly takes on a life of its own and is tagged as a representation of an entire company's viewpoint. If it's an unpopular stance, then the person and the company may have to go on the defensive. I certainly have been slow to express most of my views, lest I get into a shouting match, 140 characters at a time. It’ not the most nuanced way to have a discussion on important topics. But I also don't buy the “stick to sports” crowd, especially on Twitter. A plumber, a teacher, a TV host, a cashier, a CEO, we all have our rights to express an opinion on a number of subjects. I just hope the opinions are backed up by facts and I hope people can be civil while discussing them. On TV, it's different. If the context is right, I'm OK with hosts and analysts sharing those opinions (like the Inside The NBA crew did after the election). For me, as a play-by-play announcer, I'm certainly not going to dive into those discussions on TV or radio during a game broadcast because the context isn't right for them.
Husain: I think this depends on how comfortable the person is. I don't think anyone should be forced to share. However, the media definitely have influence. I've highly appreciated seeing the journalists I look up to in sports speak out about the discrimination against Muslims and other groups. It shows they acknowledge the importance of the situation enough to tell others about it, and that they realize it affects actual people who are just as human and deserving of rights as anyone else.
Karim: It’s an interesting question. The most basic principle of journalism at any level, is to keep your bias out of your work. As a news organization specializing in sports, I think that rule still applies. However, we live in an interesting time where sports and politics are merging at so many levels. I understand they’ve always been intertwined over massive social issues, but never have so many superstar athletes stood up politically using their platform to make their views heard. Because we report those stories, those facts, there’s a fine line as a member of the media. There’s been plenty of times where I’ve had to think twice about tweeting something related to politics or social issues. And then, there are other times where I think it goes beyond your position in the media. It’s now about being a member of society. We all have an equal voice. And sometimes, starting a conversation/debate can be a positive thing.
Khamisa: I’ve always been of the mindset that I’m a person first. My knowledge is by no means limited to just sports, so I feel it’s important to show the range I can speak on, with regards to my faith, politics, music, television, etc. Now, of course, it’s the political tweets that get the most drawback, and as a result the hate, but they also humanize us, and show we’re more than just a face on a screen. There’s obviously a line to draw when sharing your thoughts, but I’ve never felt I’ve had to censor myself from my thoughts.
Ocal: Not unless they want to. It's their choice to get into that conversation publicly. But if you put it out there, then you should accept that positive and negative feedback will come your way, especially on Twitter. That's just the way it is. In some organizations it's discouraged to do so. I have definitely heard "stay away from politics on social media" during the course of my career (not because I had been tweeting, more as a piece of advice). But no, it definitely shouldn't be a requirement. I don't need to know (or care) if an analyst is a Republican or Democrat, or what their religion is, to appreciate their insight or opinion on a particular sport.
Virk: This is a slippery slope and I think it's up to the individual. If they feel the urge to speak up about issues then I think that's their right; however they may incur unwanted blowback from trolls and even people who just want their sports information, regardless of political affiliation. But if someone doesn't like what you're tweeting or posting, they can always decline to follow you. No harm, no foul.
SI.com: Will you seek out stories that address issues such as immigration and discrimination within a sports milieu? If yes, why? If no, why?
Ahmed: I definitely will. For people who have no connection to Muslim or radicalized communities, some of the only people of color or of different faith they know are athletes. I am impacted as a Muslim woman and the mother of student-athletes. There is a strong possibility that they might be rejected from crossing into the United States for competition — even thought they are Canadian born. This Muslim ban (I refuse to call it a travel ban because it needs to be singled out as the xenophobic and racist legislation that it is) is definitely going to have an effect on the sports world. Iran has already retaliated and refused entry for American citizens which impacts any competition, like the Women's World Chess Championship currently happening in Tehran. This will only snowball. I am unsure of how long the global sports community will tolerate blatant racism from the United States. It certainly doesn't highlight the message of inclusion, equality and universality of sports. I am also very interested in how international federations that govern federations in the USA will navigate through this.
Amin: I've kept my eyes open more to stories like this. The Muhammad Ali Jr. story, for example. He was detained and questioned specifically because his name was “Arabic-sounding.” I want to know the reasons behind events like this. What triggers law enforcement or customs officials or TSA agents into actions like these?
Husain: Yes. One of the main stories I covered was about Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir, whose whole story focuses on the discrimination she faced for being Muslim. I feel like these types of stories are necessary to shed light on. Once people become aware that others have to overcome huge roadblocks just to do the same things as them, a lot more bridges of empathy and moral support can be constructed. These types of stories are proof that sport intersects politics. Because of sports' global appeal, a story beyond the box score can really resonate with a large audience and highlight important issues.
Karim: Absolutely, but I don’t think that’s changed because of our recent climate. Back in broadcast school, I was part of a group that worked on a mini-doc about a Sudanese born basketball player named Bol Kong. His story of leaving Sudan and finding refuge in Canada was a human interest piece that went far beyond his phenomenal skill. Most recently, after the US travel ban, I was glued to the story of Thon Maker, of the Bucks, another Sudanese born basketball player, who spent a little time playing in Canada. I covered his story for TSN leading up the NBA draft last year. I’m a firm believer that it’s our job to find/explore and flush out these pieces, which I think could be happening more frequently, heavily depending on the political situation in the United States.
Khamisa: With so many people quick to tell you to stick to sports, if you’re able to relate what’s going on outside that tiny bubble to the rest of the world, it becomes easier to venture away from it. So when NBA players or MLS players begin speaking on things like the immigration ban, it becomes almost convenient of sorts to share your thoughts with regards to that then delve into your own. I don’t feel like that should be the way it’s done, but it becomes easier to justify in the eyes of your followers.
Ocal: I go the opposite, actually—I look for stories that have a positive spin. Even though we all know that feel-good stories don't get nearly the number of clicks as negative stories do, this is how I lean. One story I've absolutely loved to come out of the NHL this year involved the Washington Capitals: Peter Bondra, one of the best Capitals players ever and an ambassador for hockey, went to the United Arab Emirates to help grow the game. He met Fatima Al-Ali, who is a member of the women's UAE national team, and wow, did she have skills. Bondra tweeted a video of her moves and it went viral in the hockey community. The story got so big that after Bondra returned, the Capitals invited her to come practice with the team (including her hero, Caps captain Alex Ovechkin) and drop the puck at a game, which led her to take an epic selfie on the ice. I loved this story, so I made sure we covered it on the MSG Hockey Show every step of the way.
Virk: If I was a reporter for ESPN, I probably would seek out such stories since I think they're important. However as an anchor on Baseball Tonight, and our college football and college basketball content, there's really no natural avenue for me to pursue this.
"A month ago I spoke about being in Quebec City while covering hockey, and it was right down the street from our hotel that a terrorist attack on a Muslim Mosque claimed six lives. A day or so later I checked my Twitter mentions, and they were 100% positive and supportive of not only my message, but the network and show that allowed for that conversation to happen. It gave me hope in a very dark time." –Faizal Khamisa
SI.com: Are you fearful of doing your job, given the current atmosphere on social media and in the public in general?
Ahmed: Traveling for work is common for me. As someone who is "randomly selected" for extra security screening (which renders the word "randomly" totally laughable) it makes me feel very uneasy. Toronto has passengers clear U.S. Immigration before departure so there is the comfort of just being able to get in a cab and go home if I am rejected — as opposed to sitting in an airport after a flight and being denied. I do worry about how that will affect my career. I can't speak somewhere if I am unable to get there. It is totally not my fault and people realize this but it is still awful to have to experience.
Amin: I have no fear doing my job. But I do think I come at it from a different place than many of my friends and colleagues, including those you have on this panel. First, I'm a play-by-play announcer. I'm not expected to editorialize that often, and when I do, it's typically related to the action in front of me during a game or the subjects related to that. Second, my name is Adam. Despite my last name, my first name doesn't draw much attention. My brothers, all of whom were born in Pakistan and have traditional Pakistani and Muslim names, had attended school in the United States for about a year by the time I was born and had dealt with typical ridicule from their classmates. They convinced my mother, who had wanted to name me Mohammed after my father, to name me Adam. In some small ways, I'm sure that saved me from prejudice or bullying or heartache or even a questioning glance from those around me who may have otherwise been fearful. So, perhaps my particular job and my name shield me from some of the problems that my colleagues may have to endure.
Karim: Not at all. I haven’t changed a thing in my approach on-air.
Khamisa: I’m not fearful at all. For every tweet of hate that comes in, and there are some nearly every week, there’s several more of positivity. Most people who reach out on Twitter have been positive. For example, a month ago I spoke about being in Quebec City while covering hockey, and it was right down the street from our hotel that a terrorist attack on a Muslim Mosque claimed six lives. I was given a platform to speak about my experience and reactions after and decided I’d turn off my mentions simply because I was already in such a low spot. I didn’t want be made more angry. A day or so later I checked them, and they were 100% positive and supportive of not only my message, but the network and show that allowed for that conversation to happen. It gave me hope in a very dark time.
Ocal: I honestly have not received much hate about religion on Twitter because I don't tweet much about it. Maybe doing this will bring out the trolls. If it does, then that will be a good case study, because the increase will be maximal!
Virk: I don't worry about my job. I know I work for a great employer and a genuinely supportive boss in [ESPN president] John Skipper. John has always made it clear to me that he prides our company on having diversity and inclusion and he's sincere in his approach and has always had my back in this regard. I have colleagues who have been supportive of my religious views. I think most couldn't care less and recognize we're not friends but put together to do a job and as long as we focus on sports, we should all be able to co-exist in the same sandbox.
"The day after the election, I told my eight-year old son, Yusuf Roshaan Scorsese Virk, that Trump had won. He was stunned and then said, 'Now I'm going to have a worse childhood than Jackie Robinson.'" —Adnan Virk
SI.com: Has social media changed for you since the election of Donald Trump and if so, how?
Ahmed: There has always been a cesspool of racist and misogynists bigots online. They have just been gloating more after the election.
Amin: In my life, I've never been as politically engaged as I am right now, which might be typical for someone my age (30). The first presidential election I was eligible to vote in was 2008, while I was in college and when I was new to Twitter. So my view of politics had been shaped in a positive, uplifting way. Seeing a minority become president in my first election gave me a near-constant feeling of hope. Perhaps that was naive of me. That has shifted dramatically over the last few years as people have become more comfortable, perhaps emboldened, to share less positive opinions on how we view those that attempt to serve our best interests. My timeline now consists of many more sources of political information than it ever has and I tweet and engage more about political subjects than I have in the past (although I still have a tendency to avoid it unless I feel I have a unique or important perspective to add).
Husain: There's a lot more news about Donald Trump in my feed, that's for sure. That, and I'm seeing a lot of support for Muslims in general since the attacks from the president have been so direct.
Karim: I’ve had a few more mentions on my Twitter feed with racial undertones. However, for the most part, my sports-related social media interactions haven’t changed. Now, when I comment about social issues/politics, that’s when I open myself up to a wider range of emotions from followers. Which is to be expected, and frankly, fair for the most part.
Khamisa: Twitter is really just not as fun anymore. I used to rely on it for humor, jokes, memes, and gifs. Now, for every one of those, there are 10 about the state of the world, and nine of those 10 are negative or controversial. It’s no longer a release for me, and I feel at times it becomes difficult to even tweet about sports simply because much of what else is going on is just more important.
Ocal: Twitter has become Politics Central. So many accounts I follow are now tweeting politics more than anything. At least it feels that way. You just can't get away from it. I have to swim the entire length of the pool just to get news I'm actually looking for. Instead of "watch these ads before we take you to the video you actually want to see," the new annoying is "read these seven political tweets before we take you to the tweet you actually want to see".
Virk: Ah, Donald J. I, like many, was amused by his bluster early on and found him entertaining. However once he started speaking about a Muslim ban ("TEMPORARY ban, I love the Muslim people, they're wonderful people") I became legitimately concerned. The tipping point for me was when I saw him answer a question at a town hall about Islamophobia by completely ignoring the question and instead piling onto the same nonsensical rhetoric that he had been espousing on the campaign trail, specifically that Muslims in San Bernadino knew about the criminal act occurred and didn't report it. There was zero fact in that instance but clearly for 62 million Americans that voted for him, they don't care for his clear cut disdain and bias towards lumping a billion Muslims with a minute group of radical terrorists who preach nothing that is true to what Islam represents and its message.
The day after the election, I was shell shocked like many by the result and told my eight-year old son Yusuf Roshaan Scorsese Virk that Trump had won. He was stunned and then said, "Now I'm going to have a worse childhood than Jackie Robinson." (He had just done a book report on the baseball great and civil rights pioneer.) It saddens me to no end that that was Yusuf's first thought and while I reassured him that we are going to be alright, I'm skeptical and fearful about what lies ahead for Muslims and indeed, all Americans. The President, in my view, is an unrepentant bully, an arrogant man who has harmfully spread terrible stereotypes about Muslims and other minority groups but I recognize for a large segment of the population they view him as feisty, assertive and decisive. As a Canadian who adores the diversity and inclusion of my home country, it's deeply upsetting how divided this country has become, regardless of whether a person is a liberal or conservative.
SI.com: How often have you referenced something political or religious on your social media feed and what has been the reaction?
Ahmed: All the time. I rant often — and unapologetically. Many sports writers do, and I defer to people with actual experience. I will get tweets that are so offensive but that account is seldom identifiable (usually a dog as the avatar and a star-spangled banner as the cover photo with Trump slogan as a hashtag or something similarly pathetic). But the reality is that female sportswriters have been talking about sexist and misogynistic abuse in the industry for a VERY LONG time. Mine just happens to be marinated in racism, too. But it's only when the male majority realize there is a problem does it actually get any attention. We saw this with the #MoreThanMean video of [ESPN’s] Sarah Spain and my close friend, [Chicago’s 670 The Score] Julie DiCaro. Julie has never been shy to address the misogyny she faces. The video struck a chord. But this wasn't new. I don't engage with bigots online and I block very quickly. And I don't expect it to end anytime soon. There are terrible people out there and a lot of them have Internet access.
Amin: Every so often and more lately, I've tweeted links to op-eds or columns focusing on policies that could affect my family or people like my parents. When [ESPN’s] Kate Fagan wrote about Indiana's “religious freedom” bill two years ago or last year when Aziz Ansari wrote about why Trump made him fear for his parents, I shared those articles with personal takes to illustrate why I felt they were important. I'm not a confrontational person and I think those who follow me on social media know that. Many of the interactions I had with people after posting those links were very respectful. Any time I post, I want those who follow me to understand where I'm coming from and I will always attempt to understand where someone else is coming from if they choose to interact.
Husain: Many times. I have Muslim written right in my bio. I've never experienced anything negative that I can remember, but my number of followers is very small and most likely, my audience has a similar mindset to me.
Karim: Not often. However, I think the frequency has turned up, due to what’s going on in the world. There’s been so much tragedy, hate, violence, and divisive behavior through misinterpretation over the past few years. It’s sad. It’s scary. I fear for my son and the next generation. When I do tweet, it’s with emotion, but I do try and be sensitive. I’m not doing it to create controversy or to gain Twitter followers. It’s genuine sadness in how I see the world.
Khamisa: I’m fairly regular in tweeting my thoughts with regards to religions, and what’s going on in the world. I know what comes with that as well in terms of hate tweets or racist mentions. It’s bothersome, simply because you see the year we’re in, and you question how we can be so backwards in 2017. That’s why I feel I have to continue to share those thoughts. The hate isn’t going to silence me, and by restricting myself, it’s like the haters win.
Ocal: I don't often, so I don't think I can answer this question fairly.
Virk: My cousin Nusrat Qadir asked me to support the True Islam campaign with a quote which was posted on Twitter and I retweeted it last year. Immediately my friends and colleagues quote tweeted it and pledged their support in rooting out misconceptions about Islam. I'm grateful to have friends like Andy Katz, Keith Law, Dallas Braden, Jessica Mendoza, Seth Greenberg, Gregg Colli, Krista LePard and scores of others who supported me with that tweet. I did think about doing it since I recognize many follow me on Twitter for sports and now movie information thanks to the surprising success of my podcast, Cinephile. But my cousin asked me and I recognize it's an important time for Muslims so I took the plunge and if John Skipper or anyone in our talent office had an issue with, I'm confident they would've let me know. Since they didn't, I feel free to tweet whatever messages I like from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.
SI.com: How comfortable would you feel talking about your faith on television or an audio platform?
Ahmed: I am not a Muslim scholar and can only speak to my experience. But I have been on radio, television and film many times to talk about my faith, racism and a variety of other things.
Amin: I would feel more comfortable about it in an audio setting. I'm confident on-camera talking about conference tournaments or the college football playoff. But I don't know if I could get past the feeling of judgment I would surely experience by looking into a camera and trying to explain my view on an incredibly personal and diverse subject like that. I don't feel that judgment when the camera isn't there. I give an incredible amount of credit and respect to Faizal Khamisa for speaking as personally and eloquently about the Quebec City Mosque attack as he did. I don't think I could have done that so calmly and powerfully.
Husain: Very comfortable.
Karim: I’m very comfortable in the right, respectful setting—such as this panel.
Khamisa: One of the moments I’m most proud of in my career has been speaking on my experience in Quebec City, just three days after the attack, and two days after I was scheduled to work. It was one of the more articulate and intelligent conversations I’ve had on my job, and gave me the confidence to continue having those conversations if someone were to seek them out.
Ocal: You won't see me signing up for a debate on CNN about politics or religion, but participating in discussions like this one, or if it comes up in a conversation in a TV segment or podcast, that's totally fine. I have no desire to be particularly confrontational or adversarial on any medium. That's not at all who I am.
Virk: I'm totally comfortable to do so and in fact now welcome any opportunities that come my way. I take pride in being a Muslim and hope to do whatever small part I can in erasing negative images or ideas people may have of us.
SI.com: How does your employer feel about political opinions made public by staffers?
Ahmed: I am freelance. Usually I negotiate a point if an editor has a concern. I never shy away. It's not my style.
Amin: I think ESPN's policies have, at times, been made public. But I've never had anyone tell me that anything I've posted was crossing a line or should be deleted or anything like that.
Husain: I work from home, so this question isn't too applicable to my situation.
Karim: I think the guidelines don’t ever change. You’re responsible for what you put out on social media. No matter the subject content.
Khamisa: I’ve always felt encouraged to be more than just a sports anchor. I was provided a platform on a sports show to speak about being Muslim in Quebec City, and why I felt I had to leave the city and not work. I’m proud to work where I do, but never more proud than at that moment.
Ocal: I'm sure it's the same for most companies—your opinions are your opinions alone. If they cause a big stir online, there are repercussions, that's the world we live in. That's a big reason why I largely stay away from that on social media: who wants a few accounts with 20 followers taking your words out of context, creating false narratives and calling for your head? Who wants that grief?
Virk: ESPN has made it clear through the talent office that they'd prefer we refrain from commenting on politics. However judging by my feed over the last six months, I have seen lots of comments from people and I can only assume there aren't any repercussions. I refrain from tweeting politics but will retweet a column I find of interest. A specific example would be the President's attempted travel ban. I didn't tweet any original content but did RT columns from the New York Times and Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star who has done a masterful job detailing the genuine fears of Muslims and the problems facing us.
I was appalled by and incredulous of some of the tweets from my colleagues because of how tone deaf they were to what the ban represented. At best, it was executed clumsily and at worst, it was a horrific and unconstitutional attempt at scapegoating Muslims who pose no threat whatsoever to national security. The last time I checked, Syrian refugees are seeking asylum and a better life for their families, just as my Pakistani parents sought for themselves when they immigrated to Canada in 1972. I take comfort in the fact that the courts rightfully dismissed the President's reckless action but of course, as we've learned from him, he doesn't take defeat lightly or with class. I'm grateful to colleagues like Buster Olney, Elida Witthoeft, Pete McConville, Justin Havens, Alexa Dettelbach, Mike Bonzagni, and David Brofsky who immediately reached out to me and pledged their support for me and my family and told me they were horrified that such an action would ever occur in their beloved country.
SI.com: What do you see as your role, if at all, to help the perception of people of your faith?
Ahmed: I am not an advocate of my Faith but I am a de facto ambassador of sorts. I am not white passing and I wear hijab. But I get a lot of solace and strength from my faith. I believe Islamic principles are rooted in justice. My family practices the way we feel is required. I am not here to humanize myself or other Muslims. I do believe that sharing experiences helps to create an understanding. There are so many people who have thanked me for my tweets, my writing and my discussions because they simply had never interacted with a Muslim woman before, beyond their physician, or taxi driver or something. Neither had many of my soccer teammates and they have a lot of questions. Answering and educating can be exhausting but if someone is sincere, they realize this. I refuse to educate someone because they feel entitled to my time. That isn't happening.
I enjoy talking about sports. People often get shocked when they find out how many professional or college athletes are, in fact, Muslim. And so politics, culture and other topics might seep into those discussions and there are points that can be raised that were obvious to me but not to others.
Sometimes people will ask about why I am allowed to choose hijab and play sports when other women are not. It is so important to recognize that Muslims are over 1 billion in the world. Different countries and cultures affect the way Islam is practiced. Many in the general public don't realize that Muslims extend beyond Iran and Saudi Arabia. There are tremendous women's sports in Muslim-majority countries: Indonesians have a great field hockey team, Central Asian countries are so committed in weightlifting and South Asia boasts a fantastic women's cricket team. There is a huge history of Muslim women in sports at international levels. Perhaps the athletes were not easily identifiable as Muslim (e.g. women did not cover.) I could go on and on about this. Muslims are not a monolith, and definitely not when it comes to sports.
Amin: On-air, I try to put my head down and do my job to the best of my ability without taking attention away from the games I cover. My job is different than those who are hosts or opinion-makers or pundits. But when asked questions on social media or on panels or in person, when presented with information that I feel strongly about, when given the opportunity to shed some light on subjects that someone may be ignorant to, I do feel I can add some perspective to conversations that can be difficult to have. I consider myself an affable person, easy to get along with and not easily offended. If you ask, I'll answer if I can or I'll try to point out information that can educate.
Husain: My role is to be unapologetically myself. If people have questions, I'd be more than happy to have a conversation. Because I am identifiably Muslim with my hijab, I have to conduct myself in a certain way. If I honk my horn at someone or cut someone off on the road, it's easy to associate my rude action with all Muslims—so I avoid doing those things. But if I try to hold doors open for people or pick up litter, who's to say that act won't resonate with others as a positive image of Muslims? That's what I hope for, that my actions and behavior will help others perceive Muslims as good people. In terms of my career, I want to write stories about Muslims because our lives are also worth reading about. When our names and our stories make their way into people's newsfeeds and newspapers and news shows, of course the perception will change for the better.
Karim: I'm a big believer in creating conversations — even if they can be uncomfortable at times. And this is just that. Educating ourselves and our society is imperative. Understanding and acceptance is the key. I can only hope to help strive towards that in a small way.
Khamisa: One of the reasons I chose to speak out on the Quebec City incident was because of my moral responsibility. I’m in a job that’s very public, being a national television anchor. I’m also Muslim. Those are two of the more defining elements of my life. As a someone who has a following, no matter how small, it’s important to be a voice for those who at times either feel they can’t, don’t feel safe doing it, or simply can’t articulate their thoughts cohesively. I’m able to do so, and so I feel I have, especially in this day in age. I’m very fortunate to have a job that allows me to do what I love, but after a few years in it, I know it comes with a responsibility, and at a time where the world needs some positive voices, I’m not only happy to do it, but feel I have to for myself and others.
Ocal: There are better suited people than sports broadcasters to inform and educate, especially those who have a degree in these studies. But if someone looks to us and says "I want to do what they do" and is inspired to not let any perceived distraction get the best of them, that's a win for me. Inspiration and motivation are the biggest reasons for me.
Virk: Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Roberto Clemente and Jackie Robinson all rank among my sporting heroes because they stood up against injustice and oppression. If I can help in any small measure as a Muslim in the public eye to help the perception of Muslims, then that's something I take great pride in. I only hope and pray that I and my incredible wife Eamon, whose bright smile is as ever present as her headscarf, and our three darling boys can be representative of all that is good with Islam. I recently had an invitation thanks to Cathy Leogrande to visit LeMoyne College and found the experience of talking to students taking Islamic studies invigorating and inspiring. They have such bright-eyed potential and are brimming with curiosity and asked such genuine and sincere questions about Islam. I was blown away by their generosity and kindness in having me and hope I can have the opportunity to visit other college campuses.
I also thank Graham and Chris who invited me on their Out of Left Field podcast to discuss what it's like to be a Muslim in America right now. Their generosity in providing an outlet for me was therapeutic and deeply appreciated. I also must thank Ryen Russillo, who, the day after the Orlando tragedy offered me the opportunity to discuss my current experiences on Russillo & Kanell, and how as a Muslim I'm affected when these devastating incidents occur. As I told him and the audience, nobody hates these terrorists more than I do for trying to ruin a wonderful religion in Islam and a faith which has given me so much in my life. I also must thank the Meriden Clergy Association who rallied behind us after a shooting occurred at our mosque. It was a scary time for us all–to actually see bullet holes in our place of worship–but having Jews, Christians and all people of faith unite has been heartwarming and in truly uncertain and shaky times, life-affirming. I find comfort in Martin Scorsese's masterpiece Silence, the best film I've ever seen about faith, and am galvanized by the fiery oratory of Keith Olbermann. Ultimately, all we can do now collectively is pray for the best.
THE NOISE REPORT
(SI.com examines some of the most notable sports media stories of the week)
1. Last month I reported that that ESPN executives are moving forward with the plan to shift Mike Greenberg—one half of the long-running Mike & Mike radio show on ESPN Radio—into a new role as the lead host of a television show that would air in the mornings on ESPN. The new show is likely to have elements of SportsCenter—which currently airs at that time—as well as a traditional morning show that plays to Greenberg’s interest. The show is expected to be based in New York City. The new program would put an end to end to Greenberg’s on-air partnership with Mike Golic, which began in October, 1998. Mike & Mike currently airs weekdays on ESPN Radio from 6–10 a.m. ET and is simulcast on ESPN2. Via an ESPN spokesperson, Greenberg and ESPN executives Traug Keller, Burke Magnus and Connor Schell declined comment.
Last week, on The MMQB podcast with my colleague Peter King , Greenberg addressed the report publicly for the first time.
“I can tell you in all honesty that there are a ton of decisions that have to get made that have not yet been made,” Greenberg said. “I am not saying anything that has been written is inaccurate or anything like that. It just is premature. There is a lot of conversation amongst a lot of people—Mike and me and the people that we work for about the way the business is changing. There are different considerations that our executives have to have.
“So the conversation that was brought to me was 'under the right circumstances, would you be interested in trying something new?' And my answer was 'under the right circumstances, yes.' We are working to figure out whether we get to those right circumstances or not. My gut feeling is we will. But the only disappointment I have in this is that our audience which started out as almost nothing and have been with us for all these years…whenever the time comes that this decision gets made, I would have wanted it to be on our show where we announced it to the world.”
That was a very savvy and diplomatic answer by Greenberg. He didn’t deny the reporting, nor try to play too many games (being up front is always appreciated by readers and writers). ESPN recently extended Greenberg’s contract for significant money—he’s now one of the highest paid on-air talents at ESPN—and he’s not making that kind of money to continue on the same path. While the official announcement is still to come, the plans continue.
Now, what’s interesting writ large is that morning television has become very crowded in an era of diminishing eyeballs. Let’s start with sports: The NFL Network has a standalone morning show (Good Morning Football) which is well done but has struggled for viewers as of late (49,000 viewers last Monday). NBCSN and MLB Network rarely draw above 60,000 viewers from 6AM-noon but those are still viewers ESPN wants. FS1 will soon enter the space and I’d expect them to struggle mightily for viewership. SportsCenter now airs on ESPN2 (management moved First Take to ESPN so that show could get more viewers) and the viewership last Monday from 10AM-noon ET was 164,000 viewers. That’s way down from last year.
Away from sports, there are the conventional morning shows (Today, Good Morning America, CBS Early Show, etc..) along with all the politically-oriented talk on cable (CNN’s New Day, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Fox & Friends, etc..). Greenberg is going to enter as competitive a landscape as exists on over the air TV.
1a. Sports Business Daily’s John Ourand broke the news last week that Fox Sports would not renew the contracts of Jay Onrait and Dan O’Toole, marking the end of a three-year run that began with significant fanfare and ended with the Canadian duo being hidden deep into the night on the FS1 opinion-above-all schedule.
Last June I had a 25-minute one-on-one with Eric Shanks, the president, COO and executive producer of FOX Sports. He had a personal investment in Onrait and O’Toole, given he plucked them from Canada and believed they could be a game-changing entity. At the time I told Shanks that I believed Onrait and O’Toole were unique talents and that it was frustrating as a viewer that they seem to be lost in his ecosystem at the moment.
“I feel the same way you do,” Shanks said then. “I am personally invested having recruited them from a cushy job that they never had to leave. We are going to work really, really hard to find what is right for them knowing the reason that they are so special is because of how they delivered the news of the day and the highlights of the day. We have to figure out—and we will work really hard at it—to make sure that we use their personalities to find a successful way to deliver what they are.”
Eight months later they are gone. Such things happen. Multiple sources said they expect TSN to announce very soon that Onrait is back with his old network. O’Toole could join soon as well.
I wanted to speak with Shanks to get a sense of how he felt after the long journey, given how much he invested in getting them here. I requested him through the Fox Sports PR department on Thursday afternoon at 1:30 PM Eastern. As of this writing, I have yet to hear from the Fox Sports PR department.
1b. World Soccer Talk and Sports Business Daily both reported that Turner Sports picked up the U.S. English-language media rights to the UEFA Champions League starting in fall 2018. Ourand reported that Turner committed more than $60 million per year as part of a three-year deal that runs through the spring of 2021. Univision also agreed to pay around $35 million per year for the Spanish-language rights, according to Ourand.
1c. Awful Announcing’s Ben Koo examined the long-term prospects for Katie Nolan at FS1 after Garbage Time was not renewed. Sporting News writer Mike McCarthy quoted FS1 executives saying they were excited about Nolan’s future with the network. In terms of viewership data, Nolan’s show during Super Bowl week aired between 3-4PM ET. Per Sports TV Ratings.com, it drew between 57,000-86,000 viewers, which isn’t far away from what Colin Cowherd and the Skip Bayless-Undisputed draw regularly.
1d. The always excellent Sports TV Ratings.com ran the viewership numbers for the rebranded 6PM SportsCenter (“The Six”)—featuring Jemele Hill and Michael Smith—against the SportsCenter editions that aired in that timeslot in 2016. As of last Thursday, (Feb. 23), the Hill and Smith version had averaged 553,000 viewers, down 2% (565,000) from the same time period in 2016. The show debuted on Feb. 6.
The Six’s lead-in—Pardon The Interruption—is down 13% (838,000 versus 965,000 in 2016) for the same period. Given huge declines in SportsCenter over the last two years, ESPN management should be very pleased by the start of the Hill and Smith show. As I have said repeatedly both here and in podcast form, I don’t believe there is any show ESPN can put on that will increase the ratings from 6-7PM ET in today’s marketplace.
2. It was incredibly disappointing to see Bleacher Report—an outlet with quality writers and talented behind-the-scenes people—delete editorial content at the behest of Turner Sports following complaints from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban on an admittedly dumb tweet about Dirk Nowitzki. I understand and respect Cuban sticking up for his guy—Cuban is also correct; the tweet was hacky—but there’s a larger principle at play here. Once you start letting league partners dictate your content—Turner Sports is a rights-holder partner with the NBA—you are going down a very dangerous road that often ends up in Propogandaville. Subjects complain about stories and social media posts all the time and you need top media execs to stand up in matters such as these, even over something as banal as a dumb tweet. What’s to prevent another NBA owner from threatening B/R Magazine on more substantive items? That’s where the precedent of this gets dark for readers.
2a. Here’s Pro Football Talk’s Michael David Smith on Cuban, B/R and independent outlets.
3. Episode 105 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features Fox Sports broadcasters Jamie Little and Shannon Spake. Little covers pit road for the NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series and is a reporter for NASCAR Raceday, FS1’s prerace show. Prior to joining FOX, she spent 13 years at ESPN/ABC as a reporter for NASCAR and the IndyCar Series. Spake joined Fox Sports last July and covers NASCAR, college football, college basketball and the NFL. She is the cohost of FS1’s NASCAR Race Hub and nascar Raceday Xfinity after each race.
On this podcast, Little and Spake discussed the significant decline of NASCAR's television viewership and how that impacts them; how they both started in racing reporting and why they wanted to cover NASCAR; how Little prepares each week to work as a pit reporter; how Spake prepares for her hosting role; the most forthcoming drivers, crew chiefs, and owners in the sport; what it’s like to get cursed out by drivers; how viewers should view the inherent conflicts of interest with broadcasters who have financial relationships with drivers and teams; navigating working in a sport that is overwhelmingly male; balancing motherhood with an intense traveling job; the difference between Fox and ESPN; what stories they most want to do, and much more.
You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Google Play and Stitcher.
3a. I asked Little if she could send a photo of her notes for the Daytona 500 broadcast. Here’s how they look:
3b. Broadcast changes are coming to NASCAR.
4. Non sports pieces of note:
•This is truly an extraordinary post from ESPN.com’s Royce Young on his unborn child. I hope you read this.
•A great piece by David Epstein on the epidemic of unnecessary and unhelpful treatment.
• From The New York Times: Kim Jong-nam’s Death: A Geopolitical Whodunit.
•Via The Guardian: Killer, Kleptocrat, genius, spy: the many myths of Vladimir Putin.
•Via The New York Times Magazine: The jobs Americans do.
•From PSMag.com: On the Milo Bus With the Lost Boys of America’s New Right.
•From Foreign Policy: The Shallow State.
•Via Elizabeth Kolbert of The New Yorker: Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds.
•What if California wanted to secede from the United States?
Sports pieces of note:
•How Sports Media Needs to Evolve, by Tal Shachar of the Cherin Group
•How a UFC fighter pulled off the biggest bank heist ever.
•Chicago Sun-Times sports columnist Rick Telander on the Orr High School basketball team.
•NJ.com’s Matthew Stanmyre and Steve Politi, on questions of human trafficking at a N.J. basketball power.
5. KSTV-TV Sports Reporter TJ Beisner had a lovely tribute to his son.
5a. NBC Nightly News profiled NBC Sports and Dallas Stars broadcaster Dave Strader, who is battling cancer.
5b. The Undefeated last week named Lisa Wilson as a new senior editor for sports. Wilson was the executive sports editor at The Buffalo News, and the nation’s only black female sports editor at a major metropolitan daily.
5c. HBO Sports will debut its unscripted series on the University of Connecticut women’s basketball team’s pursuit of a fifth consecutive national championship on March 1 at 10:00 p.m. ET/PT. UConn: The March to Madness debuts a special hour-long edition, followed by half-hour episodes debuting on subsequent Wednesdays.
5d. Univision Deportes’ broadcast of the Súper Clásico between América and Chivas drew 2.4 million total viewers, the top soccer match on any network in 2017, regardless of language.
5e. From the Nielsen Year In Sports Media report: “According to the 2016 Nielsen Total Audience Report for Q3, on average, U.S. adults ages 18-24 spent over 57 hours per week consuming media. Over 20 hours (35.6%) of their media time was spent on their smartphones, while 15.5 hours (27.1%) was spent watching TV. This was the first year that consumption on mobile devices surpassed television across any demo.”