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University of Southern California

The IJPC Journal, Volume 10 - Fall 2021 - Fall 2022

The Black Radical Sports Writing Tradition: Challenging the Ontological Impossibility of the Black Sports Journalist

Ben Carrington


In this essay I examine the image of the black sports journalist in popular culture. First, I discuss the question of the politics of representation, and the image of the sports journalist within popular culture. Second, I address a sociological question, namely the actual position of black journalists within the sports media industries. Third, I examine the consequences of the marginal position of black sports journalists on our understandings of the relationship between sports and politics. Contrary to the idea that the black sports journalist is a recent phenomenon, I show that there is a rich if underappreciated history of black writing on sports. This body of work challenges the idea that black people have only contributed to the sports fields and not the sports pages. I argue that black sports journalists and the black press more generally, helped to facilitate a black radical tradition of sports writing, a tradition that was supported at times by politically conscious white writers. From the earlier writings of Sam Lacy and Wendell Smith through to the ideas of C.L.R. James, the black radical tradition of sports writing is one we are only just beginning to appreciate. I argue that the black radical tradition of sports writing is a live tradition, open to the creative contributions of artists and musicians, poets and playwrights as much as those formally trained within schools of journalism. This living tradition can be seen today in the voices of numerous contemporary writers. I conclude that far from being an ontological impossibility, the black sportswriter today is at the forefront of not just rewriting the dominant sports scripts of the 20th century that helped to shore up the destructive borders of race, but is reimagining what the broader landscape of sports culture will look like in the twenty-first century.

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