Interview with ESPN Senior Writer, Chris Broussard Part I
With all the craziness currently surrounding sports, I thought it was imperitive to post another in the long line of top notch journalism interviews we’ve done here at TSF. I got a chance to meet Chris Broussard at the NABJ conference right after another buddy of mine Brian Cook (nominated for an award for a feature he did on Buck O’Neil) and I were talking about the blog panel I moderated. He was part of a susequent panel discussing the Black athlete along with Jemele Hill, Neil Scarborough, Justice B. Hill and David Aldridge. I’ll have the transcript of that plenary later on this week. Chris is one of the few who openly discusses his religious beliefs and in this present climate you really can’t blame him.
MT: What was the idea behind the book, Not Without Scars: The Inspiring Life Journey of Mark C. Olds?
CB: It’s along the lines of the Autobiography of Malcom X. It’s about a Black man that went the wrong way and ended up in prison–sixteen years in prison for armed bank robbery. When he was in prison, he became a Christian. He also became an ordained minister in prison–not through correspondence classes–having Baptist ministers come into the prison and orally testing him. The same as they do on the outside. He became a minister and was released after ten years on parole. He did sixteen years total after his last bid. He became a community activist and went on to get his PhD. He did a lot of great things for the community in Cleveland.
It’s also sort of a history lesson. He grew up in North Carolina the son of sharecroppers. It talks a lot about the system of sharecropping and really how it worked against Blacks. In his teenage years, and not unlike a lot of young Black men of the time, he moved up north and lived in New York with some of his older brothers. That’s how he became involved in crime. All types of petty crime that eventually led to bank robbery. We wanted it to be a message to today’s youth. Unfortunately, a lot of our Black youth emulate the gangster or really emulate the gangsta lifestyle. Obviously, that lifestyle leads to a dead end–either to prison or the grave. He’s someone that lived that lifestyle and found a better way to live through Jesus Christ. We felt like that was a relevant and timely way to get the message out there to a lot of today’s young men. It’s been well received by the people who’ve read it. It’s been in churches where I did some book signings.
Within the last couple of years, he found himself back in trouble. He’d been out of prison for years. He started a charter school and was accused of mishandling funds. He was convicted of the crime but maintains his innocence. I haven’t spoken to him since he was convicted and I think he is in jail now.
MT: Spirituality of some form should be important to our youth so they can gain a certain consciousness about their existence. It also lends itself to a certain lifestyle that could be beneficial to us all.
CB: Spirtuality obviously is important for everyone. When you look at America, it is a society that lacks spirituality. It’s very secular. You see the fruit of that now–across racial lines. There’s just rampant immorality. We wonder why our kids are doing what they are doing. Kids are being exposed to stuff they just shouldn’t be exposed to at early ages–whether it’s TV, music or whatever. Most aren’t being led into a spiritual path by their parents. That’s just one example of not having a spiritual base and being so materialistic as a society can lead you astray. In terms of our youth, the Bible says the Lord your God is a sun and a shield. The sun obviously lights your path and shows you where to go. The shield is protection. If you look at our history, our protection was Jesus Christ and the Black church. Every major African American freedom fighter up to Malcom X had a Christian base and that’s what motivated them to fight on behalf of our people–whether it was Sojourner Truth, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglas or even Marcus Garvey. Henry Highland Garnet, David Walker, Richard Allen–these are the people that started the first Black newspaper and started the first free African societies. They started mutual aid societies, Black schools, churches and insurance companies. They had a Christian base. That faith in God protected them from the stereotypical thinking of the day. The racist White slavemasters would tell them Blacks aren’t intelligent. Blacks are lazy. They can’t do this. They can’t do that. They are oversexed. All this stuff damaged and corrupted our thinking of ourselves. A lot of our people were protected from thinking this way because God is our shield. We believed what God said instead of what White society said. That’s why we could say we shall overcome against all odds. There was no reason to think that we should overcome. With this generation of Black youth, they are cut off not only from our historical spirituality, but also the rich knowledge of what our ancestors went through to get to this point. Now they don’t have the shield that protected our ancestors in the past, so they are falling prey to every stereotype that the KKK and racist White society would put on us. If you look at some of the Hip Hop videos, the way some of us are behaving publicly and the way some of us think about ourselves–insisting on calling ourselves niggas–all of this could be an advertisement for the KKK. It’s almost something out of The Birth of a Nation. We are beginning to believe the stereotypes–being oversexed, we’re thieves, you can’t trust us, we have no interest in academics–and we are acting all of this out.
A lack of spirituality is one of the main reasons, in my opinion, that we are in such a bad state as a people and it’s being fully illustrated.
Chris and I share a laugh.
MT: Man…Chris you have me kind of messed up now.
CB: I have you in church huh?
MT: Yes you do and also have me seriously thinking about my kids. That’s a good thing.
Why do you think there’s a need for the National Association of Black Journalists?
CB: Oh man! You know I’ve been a member of NABJ off and on throughout my career and I haven’t always gone to the national conferences. The last one I went to prior to this one was Orlando in 2001. In covering the NBA over the years, the NABJ conference was always during my off-season–family time. I also felt that since I was already at ESPN and the New York Times that I didn’t have to look for another job. Going last weekend showed me how important the NABJ is for all Black journalists–from the top to the ones on the edge trying to be included. It was galvanizing being around so many other Black journalists and be able to talk about a lot of the challenges that we face together. That was important. It was also good to see the young college students that were there. It was good for them to see those who have made it. Even to see the ones on TV who are “famous”. It was very inspiring for them to see us and talk to us. We have to mentor them, so I want to make a concerted effort to be more involved to hopefully affect and again inspire the younger generation of aspiring journalists.
I would love for us as a people do start doing something like this nationally, but one thing I do in my church is I have a group called Writer’s Block. It’s for teenagers that are interested in journalism–broadcast, print or what have you. I meet with them once a month and share with them my experiences. Teach them about the different forms of writing for publications and the like. I bring in guest speakers. Next week we are going up to ESPN and tour the campus so they can see what happens on and off camera. They are going to get to see the production of it all. Hopefully it will broaden their horizons and help shape what they might want to do for a living later on in life. I would love to see Blacks of other occupations do similar things–lawyers, doctors, construction workers, carpenters, landscapers and engineers. These types of things will expose our youth to being more career minded so they set goals and do what they have to do to achieve those goals. I know when I was a teenager, I had no clue about what I wanted to do, because I hadn’t been exposed to anything. The NABJ is doing that on a different level.
MT: During the excellent sports plenary on the Black athlete, you echoed a point William C. Rhoden touched on in his outstanding book Forty Million Dollar Slaves. (Which in my opinion should be referenced exponentially more than Game of Shadows, but that obviously is another topic) Mr. Rhoden spoke about the need for Black athletes to form a structured organization geared to developing more dialogue and education among themselves. Your thoughts?
CB: I thought it was a tremendous idea. It really should be across sporting lines–maybe called the Association of African American Athletes.
MT: I like that.
CB: You have associations in every sport. Even in football and basketball where the players are mostly Black, you still can’t address Black issues because you have other races that are represented.
We as a people, because of our unique history, have a different perspective on life here in America. Think about it, every other race that came here as immigrants, came here optimistically. America is the land of milk and honey in their eyes when they touched down here. We never had that luxury. African immigrants nowadays do. Things are changing obviously, but we are still three to four hundred years behind financially. It’s not close to making up all we’ve done for this country for free!
Our history is unique and our current situation is unique. We need to specifically address our issues.
It’s good to come together with other races because they need us just like we need them. We definitely need to have coalitions with them, but there needs to be times where we can meet among ourselves. No other race can fully understand what it’s been like and what it is like to be Black in America. No one but us can come up with plans to better our people but us. A lot of stuff we addressed on the panel could be discussed in such a forum.
Example: Does the Black athlete have a responsibility to the community? That could be talked about. Let everybody speak. There are going to be athletes who definitely want that committment. There are going to be those who care less. We could have leaders and older players give their thoughts–which would be great education for younger players. A lot of them might be intelligent, but they aren’t educated. Some of them are pushed through school and don’t get the great education that they need to flourish properly in society. I know it was the case with me, but most people get their sense of Black consciousness in college. That’s when you are first exposed to Black professors. You begin to read Black history books that you didn’t know existed. With me, I was always raised to be proud of my race. Pro Black, but it was almost in a pop culture sense. I loved the fact that we were great in sports and music. I never thought about the plight of our people or looked at how we can help our people. Getting that college education we would realize that we would want to help our people through that connection developed in college. A lot of our athletes aren’t doing that. Hypothetically dude just got a 100 million dollar contract. Why isn’t he helping the community in a massive way–not just building rec or community centers. Those are good, but we need major help. If you had a group of African American athletes get together, you would see a difference in the consciousness of our people. Then they would think about being not only better role models, but using their connections to help change things. We also have connections with the corporations that endorse athletes. You could get Nike to start hiring more Black people or build more computer labs in the inner city. Whatever it may be. We are endorsing all these companies so…..
We have very little leverage in this country. We need to use our resources in music, athletics, consumerism and entertainment for all of our people. I’m a “successful” individual. I could just say I got mine and not worry about anybody else, but it pains me to see the situation that we are in.
70% of our kids are born out of wedlock and 50% are raised without a father. There’s a 50% unemployment rate for Black men in major cities. In some cities 60% of Black kids are dropping out of high school. We need to wake up! You are not going to be able to survive with those kinds of things going on in the community. Especially when society has historically been against you.
I know I’ve went off on a tangent, but you could specifically address those issues if you had a Black athlete organization. We need our athletes, entertainers, journalists, lawyers, doctors, and professors to think of us as being unified. We have to use our success to impact the Black community just like everyone else does for their communities. There’s nothing wrong with having your Lexus, your BMW or your nice home. Just make sure you do for those less fortunate. Imagine if Blacks freed from slavery didn’t help out others. We would have not been liberated. It’s as simple as that. Martin Luther King was doing fine. He could have went on as a middle class preacher. He gave his life to help others and it benefited us.
I talked with Billy Hunter…maybe six years ago. He spoke of having a forum over several days where Black athletes, entertainers, spiritual leaders, economists and accountants etc., came together and came up with a plan of how to economically impact our people. It never came to pass, but one of the reasons why is that Billy represents players of all kinds of races. He can’t do specifically Black things. If you had this Black association, you could do these things. I don’t expect Kevin Garnett, Le Bron James or Chauncey Billups to know how to fix the Black educational system. There are plenty of Black professionals out there that have started schools with limited resources and done wonders. They could add some insight to others. Marva Collins and Kenny Gamble in Philadelphia…what could they do with a mass amount of money behind them?
David Robinson’s Carver Academy. You could have one of those in every major metropolitan city. Those are the things you could really sit down and discuss if you had such an organization. You have them in a lot of other fields, why not the Black athlete?
MT: Who are your friends in the field?
CB: I hate to name them because I don’t want to leave anybody out but…Stephen A. Smith is a good friend. I’ve known him since ’95. I’m very happy for all his success. When Quite Frankly was on the air, that brotha put Black journalists on there en masse.
MT: Yes he did.
CB: Young kids watching his show had to be suprised that so many Black journalists existed. He did not have a crabs in a barrell mentality.
Michael Wilbon. We’re not like hanging buddies but he and David Aldridge are two of the most genuine people you can ever meet. They never appear stuck up. I met Mike when I was at the Beacon Journal. With all his success, I’ve never felt like he was big timing me. Same with David Aldridge. Michael Holley. He’s doing radio now. We used to cover high school sports in Akron together. Mark Spears. Bill Eichenberger is an editor at Newsday. He was at the Philly Inquirer and was sports editor at the Akron Beacon Journal and gave me my first shot putting me on the Cavs beat after covering high school sports. Of course Bill Rhoden. We bounce a lot of these ideas off of each other. Very good friend. Branson Wright in Cleveland. Percy Allen, Terry Pluto, Mike Wise, Ivan Carter. I can go on and on. Sorry if I forgot anyone.
Click here for Part II of Chris Broussard’s interview.