The Circle of Social Justice Coverage
By: Adam Susman
The Oregon School of Journalism and Communication hosted a webinar on October 12th discussing the importance and present state of social justice and activism in sport. The moderated panel featured three prominent speakers: Associate Professor in the Advertising Sequence, Troy Elias, Professor of Practice at the SOJC, Lori Shontz and former Oregon Football Safety Jevon Holland.
Social justice and activism have reached new heights in America. Since the killing of George Floyd in May of 2020, unrest and demand for change has been immense.
“I think particularly those that are my age and older were somewhat caught off guard by just how rapidly these conversations took hold in mainstream America with the death of George Floyd. I think that was a tipping point,” said Elias.
Athletes, teams and even leagues have been at the forefront after the aforementioned ‘tipping point’. The awareness spread and traction for the Black Lives Matter movement in sport was unprecedented.
Covering sporting post-BLM for modern media outlets has been labeled a touchy subject. All three on the panel saw an unsettling problem with the coverage of activism from sports media outlets.
“We live in a very trendy type environment now. That’s what it was, that’s why you see a lot of the major TV reporting companies speak up so fondly for the BLM movement. But then, as people’s attention shifts to another situation, then everybody’s not paying attention to it even though it’s still going on it’s still happening. It’s just not trending anymore,” Holland said.
Elias expressed frustration with trendy reporting as well, “It is problematic for networks like ESPN to try their best to highlight conversations, and then once that period is over, go back to just reporting about sports and ignoring what is clearly a very important issue.”
When asking a sports reporter about only reporting social justice when ‘trendy’ he said:
“As viewers, it (what is topical) is what they tune in to… If people are talking about it, the media will cover it from all levels from local to national,” said KEZI Sports Reporter, Julian Mininsohn.
Mininsohn mentioned the ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ criteria in news. That mantra is often a criticism of media but ultimately, people want to see and be educated on what is topical.
A clear circle forms where each side has an onus that relies on one another.
Holland was a leader of the #WeAreUnited movement which unified PAC-12 Football players through a list of demands for the PAC-12 conference if football was to be played. The timing of the movement was unfortunate because it was just days before the PAC-12 announced it was postponing all athletics until 2021.
Then the PAC-12 decided to follow other conferences and elect to come back and play. The movement lost traction after the overarching want to play towered the continued fight for college athletes.
Although the movement lost steam, Shontz put responsibility on journalists who did not do the movement justice.
“One thing that really strikes me is that I went back to look for more coverage of the PAC-12 United and that disappeared.”
Holland, who was the number 17 high school football recruit coming out of California in 2017 according to ESPN, became a massive role model for the Eugene community.
“It isn’t just LeBron James out there who has a platform that can promote change. Somebody like Jevon Holland for a community like Eugene is seen as the prominent athlete in our area. So, I think, what you’ve seen from somebody like him is he understands the responsibility they have knowing how big an athlete’s voice is today with social media,” said Mininsohn.
Holland sees himself as more than a football player and someone willing to put social change first.
Oregon athletics as a whole has taken several initiatives, according to the official Instagram pages of Oregon Men’s and Women’s Basketball, Softball and Women’s Soccer 100% of the players on those teams are registered to vote.
Recently, Oregon Football Cornerback Deommodore Lenoir took Jevon Holland’s former jersey number zero, switching from six, to symbolize his “zero tolerance for racism.”
“It’s easy to say, Oregon didn’t play well today, or he struggled tonight, or he had a bad game,” said Mininsohn, but covering sports post-BLM is and will continue to be much more.
I decided to pick the coverage angle of social justice in sport because when the three panelist were talking about how it only gets coverage when it’s trendy, that was something that I’m guilty of covering sport. I have interviewed Holland specifically a couple of times post-game and now I regret not asking him more about stuff outside football. Hearing an athlete talk about the media you don’t often get, and Holland gave some excellent insights from him perspective that I wanted to run with for this article. I picked Julian because he was a great counter to what the three panelist were saying and it created some discourse in my piece which gets the reader thinking.