If Brian Flores can sue the NFL for its racist hiring practices when it comes to selecting coaches, then Gus Johnson should be allowed to sue television networks for whitewashing the NFL broadcasting booth.
With preseason games and Week 1 officially in the NFL’s rearview mirror, fans have had a chance to see every lead broadcasting duo that will call games this season. ESPN has Joe Buck and Troy Aikman. Kevin Burkhardt and Greg Olsen are at FOX. Jim Nantz and Tony Romo are still at CBS. Amazon has Al Michaels and Kirk Herbstreit. And NBC has Cris Collinsworth and Mike Tirico.
Not a single Black man in sight.
If you’re in the know, then that last line made you chuckle. If you aren’t, you think that line is omitting Tirico. Well, despite his skin color or what he would be listed as on a census or police report, Tirico doesn’t identify as Black.
“Why do I have to check any box?” the self-proclaimed “Italian guy from Queens,” told the New York Times in 2017.
In 1991, the Blackest Italian of all time told the Syracuse Post-Standard that he wasn’t sure what race he was, although we can all see that he’s Black.
“When people go around and say, ‘You are black’ — well, I don’t encourage it, but by the same token I don’t back off of it, “ he explained. “If you want to call me that, that’s fine. But, you know, in my whole family, there’s nobody I know who is black.”
Since Tirico doesn’t consider himself Black, NBC shouldn’t count him as a minority hire in their diversity numbers. So, going by his logic, only white men, Tony Romo, and Italians are being allowed to lead broadcast booths this season.
I’m mentioning Romo here because people forget that his name is Antonio Ramiro Romo, in the same way that Ted Cruz likes to act like his real name isn’t Rafael Edward Cruz. Cruz was born in Canada and his father is Cuban. Romo — like Cameron Diaz — has Latino heritage. So for the sake of cultural awareness and sensitivity, in giving him his own category.
But back to Tirico.
As frightening, and funny, as Tirico’s self-identity issues may be, they are an example of just how racist the broadcast booth always has been. Earlier this year when Drew Brees left NBC after a stint that exposed just how bad he is at discussing football on television, the network replaced a white dude with another white dude when they picked former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett to fill his spot on “Football Night in America.” Fortunately, that show has some diversity. It’s hosted by Maria Taylor — a Black woman — and former NFL head coach Tony Dungy — a Black man — is also part of the team, despite his affinity for constantly being used as a prop by white bigots.
Oh, and if you’re wondering if things are better in the college ranks, they’re not. While Gus Johnson serves as the No. 1 play-by-play man for FOX Sports, check out those Saturday morning pregame shows and take note of the lack of color. If it wasn’t for Desmond Howard on ESPN’s “College Gameday” and Reggie Bush on FOX’s “Big Noon Kickoff” those sets would be all white, too.
What does it say about a country whose favorite game is football, and at that game’s highest level, the men coaching on the field and the ones who bring it to you over television are overwhelmingly white in a sport that’s made up of a majority of Black players?
It’s the ultimate insult to Black people and our intelligence. It says we’re only good enough to be entertaining, and lack the mental capacity to not only teach the game we dominate, but aren’t capable of analyzing it for audiences.
From players kneeling in the NFL and college, to sports tackling racial and social issues, talking about the game now demands that the talent in the booth have a grasp on things bigger than football. But, as we’ve seen — especially since 2016 — it often leads to multiple gaffes and apologies.
There’s a simple fix to all of this, but it requires something that’s historically been a tough sell — hiring Black people. From the sidelines to the broadcast booth, the whitewashing that occurs in football is as natural as a first down. And despite how some will say that things are better than they’ve ever been, it doesn’t mean it’s a good excuse for them not being better than they should be.